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  1. #1
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    Default insulating scenario

    Would like to discuss the possiblility of insulating a hive outside to keep it near the ideal wintering temperature. They say that the ideal wintering temperature is around 40 degrees, which permits the bees to move cluster to get to new food, but at the same time it is too cold for them to think about flying. So many hives are lost every winter to bees not being able to get to their food supplies because of prolonged extremely cold weather. If we could insulate to the point that the surface of the hive does not get below 35 or 40 degrees, then starvation would be nearly impossible assuming that there is plenty of food, the bees are healthy, and clusters are of sufficient size. So the hypothetical question is, is it possible to insulate enough to accomplish this and how would you do it? John

  2. #2
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    Basically, I would say it depends on how insulation works, and if it will actually have the desired effect.

    I once worked a job replumbing an older RV, using minimal space heating and so the plumbing wouldn't be damaged while being used during Winters with temperatures about -15F. I strongly recommended using thermostatically controlled heat tape applied to the copper pipes, beneath the insulation, the customer adamantly refused to allow the heat tape, insisting that the insulation would be sufficient by itself. Of course, insulation is not a source of heat, after the first night at only 20F, the copper pipes were severely ruptured and the plumbing was completely destroyed.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  3. #3
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    If you knew the exact BTU's your bees cranked out you should be able to calculate it.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    Like Aerindel said, I bet there are formula and plans to figure out how to make it work, like you want it to.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  5. #5
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    Algoma dr. Ontario, Canada
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    It would be hard to factor in the solar gain and the variability of it. Is some fluctuation in temperatures of benefit in allowing the cluster to "ratchet" their way along as stores receded.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    Quote Originally Posted by jmgi View Post
    So the hypothetical question is, is it possible to insulate enough to accomplish this and how would you do it? John
    Of course, the bees do it already. Insulation is only the slowing down of heat transfer. The regulation is done by the bees. So the key is to have healthy bees so they can regulate the hive through the winter. There is a critical population and a critical food supply that will make that happen. Extremes are hard to plan for so what extreme should you design your insulation around?
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  7. #7
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    A beekeeper of over 60 years and many continents of study said it best
    "Indeed, cold seems to have a decided beneficial effect on bees. The normal brood-rearing urge, manifested by the other colonies not thus protected, as well as the upsurge of energy and industry, was completely lacking. The results secured here in Devon as well as in Wiltshire palpably demonstrated that undue protection has a positive harmful effect and that cold – even severe cold – exerts a beneficial influence on the well-being of a colony. Winter losses are not the direct result of exposure to low temperature, but are generally due to a lack of timely cleansing flights, unsatisfactory stores, queenlessness, disease, etc."
    Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey, Brother Adam
    americasbeekeeper.com
    beekeeper@americasbeekeeper.com

  8. #8
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    In my area an extreme situation would be when the temperature does not go over 25 degrees both day and night for about two weeks straight, and the night temps can go down below zero, with wind chills well below zero. That has happened to me once within the last few years, and it was that winter that I lost many hives due to starvation. So, insulating to the point where those low temperatures don't come into contact with the hive itself is what I would be looking to accomplish. John

  9. #9
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    Aug 2011
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    AUBURN IN.
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    JOHN---with a SBB would shot the insulation ideal in the foot --some BK'S swear by the SBB even in temps as you said --I sure wish I knew the the right way to go also

  10. #10
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    It would take a huge amount of insulation and heat/moisture exchange to keep the whole hive at 40 when it's twenty below outside, and it's neither desirable nor necessary to do so.

    The best thing you can do for the survival of the colony is to make sure they have plenty of stores above the cluster, and if they don't, sugar candy or dry sugar in easy reach above them. The moisture generated by the cluster will make syrup on the surface of the candy or dry sugar and the bees can easily use it when they reach it.

    Otherwise, protect them from direct drafts by reducing the entrance and putting a board in SSB stands, make sure there is some ventilation at the top to vent moisture, seal large cracks between boxes and install a windbreak if you don't have a natural one.

    If you have real winter (significant number of days below zero every winter) you should wrap with tar paper -- this both heats the hive on sunny days and prevents wind penetrating cracks.

    Low temps inside the hive are much less of a problem than large amounts of air movement through the hive, or no air movement and condensation dripping on the bees -- wet bees will chill and die very quickly, dry bees will stay warm and survive.

    Peter

  11. #11
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    May 2011
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    Madison, WI, USA
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I agree with Peter, ventilation and dealing with moisture are more important that insulation. Avoid winter hive situations that allow the inner surface of the cover to be cold and impervious to moisture. I use an insulated/ventilated inner cover that has screened holes near the center on the bottom, and screened holes on the sides. It is about 2" thick consisting of 1/4" plywood on each side with 1-3/4" boards around the edges. It is filled with wood shavings (cedar pet bedding). I close off the bottom entrance to about 2" and screen it for mice, I keep one of the upper entrances (1" holes) completely open. This will provide some flow-through ventilation to remove moisture.
    life is finite while knowledge is infinite. - Zhuang Zi

  12. #12
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I struggled with this problem last year and came to the conclusion that I'm not sure insulation is worth it as far as using it to try and control the temp in the hive.

    The first issue I ran into was the idea that whatever you put on for insulation to keep it warm, also keeps it cool. So will the benefit of added warmth over ride the loss of benefit from holding in the cold by preventing warmth from the outside to warm the hive?

    As someone else mentioned you'd probably have to do a heat calculation to actually come up with the actual number, however my guess is that it simply isn't worth it. First you'd have to have a pretty air tight hive to start with. Anyone with leaky windows or doors knows how a tiny crack can suck out a massive amount of heat out of a large room. A tiny entrance hole is probably enough to turn the air over in a hive several times an hour thereby over riding any benefit to insulating.

    Furthermore you don't want to air tight because of condensation issues.

    Again, it's possible that bees put out enough heat to warm up a space and keep it warm even with high air flow, I don't know, but I doubt it. I suspect that rather than acting like humans in a home they act more like penguins and simply create a warm cluster and rotate the guys on the inside to the outside all winter. When the hive warms up enough they scurry over and pick up more food for the cluster. That is where, IMO, the damage of insulation might occur. You might hold the hive at a colder temp for longer not allowing the cluster to break as quickly.

    All speculation on my part.

    ~Matt

  13. #13
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    MJuric, all good points you make, I think there is a reason that wrapping with good ole felt paper and supplying good ventilation is considered all you need to do in a cold climate by most experts who wrote books on the subject. The felt paper acts as a windbreak of sorts, and absorbs heat quickly. I can see where too much insulation could be detrimental, even with good ventilation. Here again, we try to make our bees too comfortable, maybe they would rather we didn't try so hard sometimes. I think if we went back to just providing a good windbreak, ventilation(but not too much), positioning the hives where they get the most winter sun, and wintering only good size clusters well provisioned with food, and letting the bees do what they do, we may come out of winter looking pretty good. John

  14. #14
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    There's actually an interesting study HERE on beesource on the subject.

    There is some data from that study that would suggest benefits from insulation. For instance.

    A cluster held for long periods under freezing conditions declines in strength. The rate of decline is dependent on pollen stores available, but it is slower in insulated than in unprotected colonies.


    And.

    Brood rearing will occur under subzero conditions in insulated colonies with plenty of pollen and honey stores in the cluster.


    The insulated colony is listed as the colony in the hive wrapped with insulation and building paper, referred to as the packed colony but is supposedly further detailed in a reference article I have no looked up.

    So yes there are some advantages, but I'm not sure they are really all that significant in the grand scheme of things. For instance.

    Insulated colonies start brood rearing a few days earlier than unprotected colonies, but the latter tend to catch up shortly after warmer weather arrives.

    Although it's been a while since I read that IIRC the "Taped" colony, the one that was held at 40 degrees via a heat tape didn't have any significant advantages over the other two. Again going from memory.

    ~Matt

  15. #15
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    Oct 2011
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    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I insulated three sides and top and bottom with 2 inches of insulation and then wrapped with black paper.

    A down side seemed to be that bees in a strong hive were fooled into flying on too cold a day. Flights were one way.

    On the plus side, brood rearing started early and I was then afraid to remove the insulation and losing brood and bees if we got a cold snap. One was an amazing hive, building to boiling bees early, producing 225 lbs of honey and a dozen frames of brood for three NUCs. I was very concerned about swarming but took honey and brood frames periodically and they stayed put.

    I also think the insulation modulates the rapid change in temp inside the hive that we can experience on the outside.

    With insulation and black paper only on one side, bees were able to readily get to food. They were often above the inner cover in which my center hole is 3.5 inches feeding on sugar blocks and fondants,

    Think the postives significantly out way the negatives, and I will insulate again this winter. Will likely try a 3/4 insulation on the south side to reduce heating of the sun.
    Last edited by mgolden; 10-09-2012 at 05:18 PM.
    If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got!

  16. #16
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I would think that a layer, like foil backed rigid foam insulation might have a beneficial effect, reflecting heat (in the form of infrared radiation), back towards the cluster. A very different effect from creating a hermetically sealed layer of insulation, which would trap heat in the air, bees, and solid matter inside the insulation - reducing heat loss/transfer via convection and/or conduction.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
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    Rockford, Il
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    Yes there are any number of potential things you could try. Various insulators etc etc, I'm just having a hard time believing that anything could overcome both long periods of time without heat and the air flow in the hive.

    Again, purely speculation on my part as I've not done any experimentation or even run any numbers. A person could do a rough calculation on all this by guestimating the amount of energy there is in honey stores, how much is converted to heat energy and then doing various heat loss calcs...not sure I want to put that much time into it though :-)

    ~Matt

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