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  1. #1
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    Jan 2009
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    Grosse Ile, Michigan, USA
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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
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
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    Tucson, Arizona, USA
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    5,325

    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
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Arlee MT USA
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    548

    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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    Feb 2005
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    Tucson, Arizona, USA
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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
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Algoma dr. Ontario, Canada
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    744

    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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    Mar 2011
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    Utica, NY
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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
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Alachua County, FL, USA
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    6,878

    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
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Grosse Ile, Michigan, USA
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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
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    AUBURN IN.
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    89

    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
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Evansville, IN
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    2,489

    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
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Madison, WI, USA
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    175

    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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    Jan 2009
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    Grosse Ile, Michigan, USA
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    Well, maybe I'm being too ambitious with all the insulating, after all this is only Michigan not the arctic. I do agree though that having a windbreak and eliminating drafts through the hive is highly important. What I might do instead is use tar paper like I always do, and try to build a windbreak by stacking straw bales around and up next to the hives. I may also put 2" foam board on top of the inner covers too this year. John

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    AUBURN IN.
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    89

    Default Re: insulating scenario

    JOHN --The bales of straw the MICE sure will think you too --I did that a few feet away a couple years ago make sure you butt the bales up to each other and add a lot of mice bait in between them

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Tsawwassen, BC, Canada
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    243

    Default Re: insulating scenario

    With all respect to Brother Adam, Devon winters are not very cold, at least not by northern North American standards! We here in the Pacific Northwest coast likely have similar winters...cold, wet, with some days down to below freezing, maybe one or two light skiffs of traffic stopping snow per season, but plenty of above freezing days and a smattering of near tee shirt days throughout. Ventilation and rain protection is probably a bigger concern for us and for Devon than insulation...

  15. #15
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    Jan 2011
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    Brainerd, MN
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    533

    Default Re: insulating scenario

    People always say that cold doesn't kill bees, wet does. What about cold temps that last weeks? Temps where bees cluster tight and stay tight. Will they not die of starvation in this scenario? I plan on insulating the hive along with an upper entrance. Solid insulation above the hive along with on the outside with tar paper on the outside of the insulation. Thats my second year beek plan.
    Not Michael Bush. My name is Dan. Sorry for the confusion.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I was just reading in one of my old bee books that if you have less than ten pounds of bees in your hive going into winter that you should unite them with a stronger colony, can you believe that? That would be the "ideal" winter cluster for sure, but I doubt many hives have that many, I know none of mine do, how about you? John

  17. #17
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    Utica, NY
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    You have to allow air circulation or the bees will asphyxiate. There comes a point where adding more insulation does not do any good because you have to allow some air to move in and out of the hive.
    Brian Cardinal
    Zone 5a, Practicing non-intervention beekeeping

  18. #18
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    Jan 2011
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    Brainerd, MN
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    533

    Default Re: insulating scenario

    I will have a lower entrance to go along with the upper.
    Not Michael Bush. My name is Dan. Sorry for the confusion.

  19. #19
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    Jan 2009
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    Default Re: insulating scenario

    We treat our bees like we treat our other pets, trying to see to their every need and comfort, but lets not forget that the bees are here today because they survived on their own for millions of years without our assistance. With that being said, there is no reason why we can't do some things to help them get through the winter more easily, as long as we are indeed helping and not causing more problems for them to overcome. I believe that if a colony has a large enough population of young, healthy bees going into winter and plenty of food located in the proper places, and ventilation, it should be able to winter just fine without any help from us anywhere in the U.S. and quite possibly most of Canada. The trouble is, how many hives meet those criteria? John

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Belpre,Ohio, USA
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    1,280

    Default Re: insulating scenario

    You make a good point Ace, that is why this topic can be frustrating. A beekeeper must look at their own winter weather conditions and make their own determination as to what is needed, but what you just stated applies to all, we must find that correct balance between heat loss through ventilation and heat retention, whether that is just the 3/4" walls of the hive or adding something to the outside of the hive to better protect the bees.

    I did a winter study last year with thermometers placed inside and outside of a hive and a piece of plexiglass for the inner cover to observe temperatures and condensation in order to better determine what was happening inside the hive, during this study I discovered what was the best way to set up my hives for winter in the area in which I live. I would encourage everyone to do a little experimenting for themselves this winter because what is the best wintering method for me would no doubt not suit someone who lives in Canada.
    Bill...in Southeast Ohio

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