View Full Version : Overwintering concerns: Length and Depth
02-24-2005, 08:18 AM
I am new to beekeeping. I realize that bees will cluster in winter to keep themselves alive. It would seem that the deeper the hive body (such as in a Lang) the better able the bees would be able to cluster (because they are able to arrange themselves more in a ball). Though there seem to be no problems with bees overwintering in TBH's, I am wondering if a TBH is too long (and subsequently too shallow) if this would compromise the clustering ability and therefore lead to a more negative result? I would think that with the same volume of bees in a TBH and them trying to cluster in winter (compared to a Lang), they would not be able to make an optimal cluster (ball)...i.e. the TBH cluster would be too spread out because of the lack of depth of the hive. Maybe I'm just worrying too much...should this be a concern?
02-24-2005, 08:52 AM
> It would seem that the deeper the hive body
> (such as in a Lang) the better able the bees
> would be able to cluster (because they are
> able to arrange themselves more in a ball).
The "sphere" of a winter cluster need not be
a perfect sphere. It can be football shaped,
and many of them are, even in deeps.
Sure, you want the bees to be able to have
maximum volume and minimum external surface
area, which would mean a sphere, but I don't
think that a winter cluster is ever going to
remain in a perfect sphere at all times,
even when they have the room to do so.
Like an amoeba, a cluster is going to distort
its shape to move towards food, and the rest
of the blob will slowly follow. This must
happen for the bees to move around as food
is consumed without "breaking the cluster".
02-24-2005, 03:32 PM
I've had no problems with long hives of medium depth overwintering.
02-25-2005, 01:37 PM
madbee - I have lost 2 of my 3 top bar hives. The one that made it is the biggest. Dennis has more small cells in his so I think his are even better.
Therefore I would go bigger, I think you are correct. Although I do not know yet why my 2 tbh's failed (still too cold to open them up) the most logical explanation is tthe one you have suggested.
I will report on this later when I open them up. Interestingly, my 3 Langs all survived... and they were all started from 3 pound packages. the langs were started a month later than the TBH's.
02-25-2005, 04:43 PM
I have monitored winter cluster movement in my Langs and it is surprising what the bees do. A healthy, normal sized cluster behaves just as Jim describes. It acts like an amoeba and will reach out with it's arms to get the resources it needs. Direction isn't a problem. They will reach up, down and sideways as suits their purposes.
Surprisingly enough, in my cold Wyoming location, the center of the cluster will remain on the same frames from about October through the middle of March. The last brood in October will be raised on the same area as the first brood in January through March.
After that, the cluster will slightly expand toward the warm side of the hive and upward as brood rearing increases. I haven't found the general idea, that bees eat their way upward during the winter, to be true. That upward surge occurs when brood rearing starts during early spring.
If the cluster can't produce enough heat to function normally in the winter, it will move radically upward and toward the warm side of the hive. A cluster that's too small, too old, or infected with tracheal mites often has this problem. And I've seen clusters split and behave abnormally when mite treatment strips are left in a hive as well.
These kinds of clusters can't act like the amoeba. They have very limited abilities to reach sideways or downward.
And these kinds of clusters just can't develop the same kind of internal hive dynamics that allow them to utilize condensed moisture as a winter resource. Clusters that struggle with heat production can also struggle with excessive moisture.
I winter my Langs in three deep boxes. The bees essentially winter in the middle 3/4s of the second box. And they pack that box about 2/3rds full of honey. It tides them over until early spring. So not much more than 9 inchs of comb length is needed before then.
I'm not too worried about wintering tbhs, but I think early spring might be critical if a tbh is low on stores or has a poor cluster.
It would have been neat to have a plex window or two on one of my tbhs, just to observe winter behavior. Sounds like a good project for next year.
02-26-2005, 06:50 AM
Dennis and all
Yes it would be very cool to have plexiglass observation! I failed to use foam above the top bars. So that is one bad thing and may be an explanation for my loss of 2 TBHs. Or maybe I have tracheal mites (I did not use grease patties in any of my hives). Or maybe it is the size of the hives or a combination of things. It will be interesting to try to find out.
Dennis I have been very surprised watching the weather channel this winter at the extremes that Wyoming gets. Here we get weeks at a time below freezing. But you seem to get these extreme swings from the minus teens to the 60's in a matter of a few days. I think the great lakes or something must moderate the swings for us. But I would think the constant ups and downs would, in some ways, be more difficult for the bees to winter than the constant and steadier cold we have here.
02-26-2005, 02:08 PM
It's been a very unusual year. Most of February has seen high temps in the 40's and several periods of three days or more in the high 50's. The bees starting bringing in pollen yesterday. That's a full month before the first pollen from crocus is seen! We are in big trouble if this weather continues.
Today it was above 70 in my backyard so I took a look inside my patio tbh. The queen failed late last fall so it's a goner. I shook the few remaining bees out.
In the process of cleaning the hive out, I found a reason for inverting the comb by rotating inside the plane of the comb. Others have rotated it upward so that the comb ends up resting on the shoulder and arm. I rotate it downward which allows the top bar to set on a level surface. That way all the top bars can be removed from the hive at once.
And I was quite amazed at how strong the comb had become after one season. Handling broodcombs with about 1/3 to 1/2 sealed honey wasn't any problem at all. My larger combs with up 4/5 sealed honey could be handled this way but more care was required.
I didn't find any varroa fecal deposits or any sign of mite damage. Just a failed queen and very old bees.
The broodnest dynamics and use of stores was just what I had expected and have described elsewhere.
I did harvest a couple of combs. The honey is fantastic.
Just some thoughts.
02-27-2005, 10:19 AM
Dennis I am glad to hear that the honey in your queenless TB was good. I am hoping that my failed TB's will at least yield up some of the sweet stuff as a consolation. Was the comb too tough to eat?
It is still quite cold here, no flying for some time (although there was a sunny day or two when they flew and left a path of dead bees in the snow for a distance of 2-300 yards downwind of the hives. Not sure if that was normal or what).
I am waiting to open the presumedly dead TBH's for a nice day, under the long chance that they are still alive and my hearing just can't pick up the buzz.
The surviving TBH does have a strong buzz still. They seriously propolized up the entrance slot to what they no doubt consider the appropriate size. I will take a picture and measure it precisely.
If in fact I did lose 2 of my TBH's, I will have to decide what to do with the comb. I was thinking about trying to use them as a swarm trap. I plan to abandon them as hives because I believe they failed because of their size. If I do, I will probably just put the comb in a solar melter, unless someone has some other suggestions?
02-27-2005, 04:15 PM
>I plan to abandon them as hives because I believe they failed because of their size.
Why not rebuild them? What about the size do you want to change? How hard is that dimension to change? Anthying made of wood can at least be sawn apart. You can shorten it by simply putting in a divider or cut it off and put a new end on it. Longer bars can be shortened.
02-27-2005, 04:34 PM
<What about the size do you want to change?>
Well #3 is too shallow, so I can maybe just add some boards along the top, extending it higher, maybe another six - 8 inches, tack on another piece on each end... then make a new top or somehow widen the existing one.
But the bar length is also too short. Guess I could even just add longer bars and screw the old bars with comb to the longer ones. Might be a good way to help them get rolling quickly.
The other hive, #2... - guess I could do the same for it!
The more I think about it the more I like it! I am hoping to raise some queens so that will give me someplace to add a new queen...
OK, Thanks Michael, hope "springs" eternal! Guess I was just a little depressed about losing them...
I am going to make them wider and deeper by adding another layer of boards at the top. Sounds like a plan!
02-27-2005, 05:17 PM
I can only say you're going the opposite direction I have. I've gone shallower and narrower.
02-28-2005, 03:52 AM
<I've gone shallower and narrower.>
02-28-2005, 05:51 AM
To prevent comb collapse. The combs have been easier to handle and I've had less problems with collapse. I've never had any wintering problems.
My first recent TBH (my first was in about 1975) was a double wide standard Lanstroth Deep with top bars. After it collapsed I built one hive that was shallower (a standard Lanstroth Medium size), and one that was narrower (15" and sloped instead of 19" and square). Both have done very well.