Winter 2014 – 2015 testing and information

If you’ve visited WARMBEES.COM lately, you’ve had the opportunity to view the videos on the main page.  These are of some hives that turned out to be in critical trouble, due to yellowjacket predation, going into this current winter season.  While this is frustrating to me for having basically all of my hives in jeopardy, it is the worst case scenarios that the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS will ever face.  So I’m  posting occasional updates so customers and anyone that wants to follow, can see the progression.

My original intentions for this season, were to continue testing, what I call the standard purpose of the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER, which is to assist a marginal – to – weak colony, to survive our Northern climate winters.  What I consider to be marginal, is 3 to 5 frames of bees.  We have proven in previous years that colonies of this size, are easily preserved using the warmers.  That being said, my goal this year was to attempt to learn what the limitations really are for the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER design.  However, as I identify what I consider to be important feature changes, and modify the design to incorporate them, it obviously changes what the limitations might be.  So I actually have several versions of the warmers in play, which muddies the water just a smidge.  Nevertheless, I purposely left my 4 remaining hives out in the middle of my small apiary, un-protected, separated from each other, and with no wind break or insulation.

I installed the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS into 3 of my weaker hives early in October.  When I returned from a wonderful Halloween vacation to Disneyland, I went out to install warmers in my two strongest hives.  My main objective for this winter’s testing, was to measure the consumption of honey in strong hives, with WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS installed.  However, when I opened the strong hives to install the warmers, I quickly learned that my second strongest hive (2 full deeps of bees in mid September), was completely empty of bees, and was being robbed of the box and a half of honey that it had.  Further, I discovered that my strongest hive (3 full boxes of bees in mid September), was reduced to a baseball size cluster, barely hanging on in the upper most corner of the top super.  It was in the mid 30’s that day, so I took the top super off and set it aside without disturbing further, and then broke down the 3 boxes beneath it, leaving a single deep with several frames of honey and pollen.  I then placed a warmer in the lower box, directly beneath the cluster in the super that I placed back on top.  This allowed the heat to rise from beneath and benefit the small baseball sized cluster that remained.  I did see the queen, so this cluster was still viable!

The first video on the WARMBEES.COM home page, is of this small cluster in the top super.  The 4th video down on the home page, is this same small colony 1 week later.  The cluster had actually moved down from the top super, to the warmer, and took up residence between the same two frames that the warmer occupied!  This is significant to me because, while we have seen bees move their clusters to the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS before, this is the first time, and with the smallest colony, that a colony, particularly this small, has actually moved DOWN from one box to a lower one, to take up residence directly above the warmer!  This move happened during a 2 day cold snap where temperatures went into the lower teens!

The 5th video on the WARMBEES.COM HOME page shows the same colony after surviving a night at 9 deg (F) with wind gusting to 60 mph!  The windchill registered at MINUS -15!  And they are still alive!  The remainder of that week took overnight temperatures clear down to zero!  When I checked hives in that 5th video, they were still fine and all bees were alive, however when I checked them after that week-long cold snap, I found that bees, just one frame away from the warmer, in the second hive, had died or were in the process, so to me this was a clear demonstration of the limits of the current WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER design.  Clearly we want bees to survive more than one frame away from the warmer during critical temperatures, and we need them to survive even harsher climates.  However remaining un-insulated and protected was no longer prudent for testing reasons.  So I rearranged a bit and insulated to preserve the remaining bees as long as possible, and give them a fighting chance at some recovery.  I will also not open and inspect quite as aggressively at temperatures below freezing.  Significant to note, is that the third hive in the videos which had only a handful of bees, still had 6 live bees after the week long single to no digit temperatures!  However with no queen, it didn’t make any sense to continue that hive as a test.  A fourth hive that is not in the videos is actually critical as well, but has about 1 frame of bees or a softball size cluster, and the warmer that I have in that hive, is the oldest version of warmer I have in the yard.  They have taken up residence 1 frame away from the warmer, which could be that it is running hotter than the others.  So as of 2 days ago, I am now down to 3 hives still in testing.  All are critical but still alive.  I’ll have to wait till a warm day to inspect for queens and any brood.

I am interested in any feedback that current customers, with WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS in place, might have.  Specifically, any information about the size and health of your hives going into this winter season, the type and amount of any insulation you may have in place, and the estimates or actual weights that you may have for your hives honey stores.  I don’t expect any of you to open and inspect hives in cold temperatures, but indication of how they might be doing is also appreciated.  Some beeks will put their ear to an entrance and then tap or knock on the hive and listen for the buzzzz.  Some use stethoscopes for this proecdure.  I suggest that you don’t need an actual stethoscope to hear the buz.  Simply take a 1/4″ or larger piece of hose or tubing and place one end up to an entrance, and the other end up to your ear.  Tap or knock on the hive, and if they are alive, you will hear them increase their buzz for you.  You may even be able to tell a bit about strength of the colony by how loud the collective bees can buzz.  Finally, I am very interested in how cold it has gotten in your areas with these hives.  Success is good to hear.  I am also interested in failure information, but I don’t promise to be as excited.  Thanks for reading!  But hey its a blog… and the goal is noble, and positive outcomes should excite all who are interested!  Ren

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