One of my main objectives this winter, is to find out what the limits are with the current WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer design. I have now learned this threshold. My excitement this past week (not to be confused with hubris, as it was my intention to learn these limits), was finally tempered after checking in with the critical colonies after nearly a week in single digit temperatures! Yesterday as I checked the critical hives, I found that bees which were not between the frames where the warmers reside, parished! So the very cold temperatures were able to overpower the periphery of the colonies! So I finally went ahead and insulated the hives with 1″ styrofoam (R5) on all sides. I do want to continue my testing and rescue these colonies if possible. I won’t know, however until warmer weather, weather the queens have survived or not. It is important to note, for those following this blog, that as the inventor and developer of this product, I must know its limits and what it is capable of, to properly showcase and represent the product to the public. My new design coming out, perhaps, next month, still fits the Warre and Topbar designs as well as the Langstroth, however does away with the swiveling elements and the complexity of construction and vulnerability of those flexible cables. This should help lower cost and production time. However this new design also allows for add-on elements, which will allow us to increase the size of the warm zone, the overall amount of heat, as well as lower the critical threshold, for the coldest climates like Alaska.
With the 4 colonies that I have been working with this winter, I now have 3 that are still alive with tiny clusters. I opt’d not to insulate the 4th hive, since there were only 5 live bees left, that I could find. But there were 5 live bees after a week in single digits! I also added some small candy bricks for feed directly above these tiny clusters. I had ensured there was honey frames and polen available to them, however I’ve learned in previous winters, that small colonies cannot move around much within the boxes. With colonies this tiny, it is virtually impossible to move away from the warm zone created by the warmers. So providing feed directly near the clusters is imperative. Larger colonies around 3 frames of bees, will obviously fare better and have more lattitude to move around. We have already succeeded with 3 frame nucs in the past. So learning the threshold of the current model was very important to me, and the losses this week would have been prevented with some insulation and earlier feeding, as previously recommended.
It is also important that followers of this blog not only understand these facts, but also that I have made some subtle changes to the design, over this past year, as we explore the parameters that affect the bees and what we can do to maximize survival, and other positive effects, without increasing any possible negative things! For example, the first model of WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers already incorporated a very tight controller that does not cycle. But it did not turn off 100%, when not calling for heat, nor keep the elements from going above temperatures that the bees could handle. I can make arguments for both of these parameters to go both ways and there of trade-offs, but for now I currently feel that it was best to adopt this current configuration. I may change my mind back on these and other parameters, depending on further testing, depending on what we determine to be best for the bees. So as you can see that there are many parameters and trade-offs to consider and test, and that this is about what is best for the bees and the beekeepers, but that we are still studying and learning. We are proving that we can effectively warm and significantly impact winter survival in a positive way, but must endeavor to now understand all of the ramifications and develop the best products or features to allow for the various needs across the industry. First and foremost survival – (Apply gentle heat only as needed to maintain dormant temperatures). Applying too much heat angers the bees and they will sting the heat source!
Second, by maintaining a warmer range in the 70’s or 80;s (F), we can actually promote laying and brooding. This can be a boost to a weak hive in the fall and in the spring. Promoting brood rearing in February and March, can ramp up bee counts earlier, and empower a hive to hit the nectar flows in force, which is WIN:WIN. However until the nectar flows begin, you may need to artificially feed the extra bees to support the build up, or they could starve. It goes without saying that heat, which is provided by the WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers, is heat that doesn’t require calories consumed and burned, to produce that heat, so less honey is needed or consumed – again WIN:WIN. However a dormant period is needed by bees for proper cycle and health. The lifespan of honeybees is significantly increased by the dormant period, which is what makes it possible to survive the extended winter months without brood rearing. Warming a cluster above dormant temps, but below brooding temperatures, will diminish the extended lifespan without replacing the bees that will now die prior to the spring buildup and flows – which means certain death to the colony, although well meaning! Brood breaks are a positive way to reduce Varoa mites! However warming of hives also probably aids the Varoa mites, so more study needs to be conducted to look at what the WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers are doing to the Varoa mite populations! Standard measures for mite control and disease control must be taken independent of warming.
The BIG OBVIOUS, however, is that a dead colony leaves no more options or opportunities to work out other problems or issues! We can work to resolve disease processes, mite problems, and lack of honey stores… or work with genetics to work on all of these things, until the dreaded deadout! Many beekeepers argue that if a hive doesn’t make it, then it had poor genetics anyway. I personally don’t agree! Good genetics can meet with a bad set of events like a bad year for nectar flows or yellowjackets, followed by an extreme winter, which would stress or take out any “NORMAL” strain, if we can even use the term “NORMAL”.
Sorry for long post, just throwing out current issues and thoughts regarding artificially warming hives. From the purest stance, we are all tired of lost investments, both from a monetary perspective and an emotional or one of time and passion! The WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer gives us another tool to combat the one big thing that we can’t control – the WEATHER! Now at least we have some more options to extend our investments and continue our passion. Sincerely Ren Holmes – Inventor – WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer.