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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
One of my hives is actively flying at -15C. It is cold but sunny. Needless to say many are not making it back into the hive. The hive is wrapped and insulated 3 sides plus top. Russian/Ontario mix.

Can any experienced northern beekeepers tell me if this is indicative of problems like low feed? I am about 60 miles north and 120 miles west of Michael Palmer in Vermont. I'm in Ontario. We just missed the cleaning flight weather last week. My plan was to check the hives next warm spell. A warm spell here in Ottawa is when it gets close to freezing.

Regards Peter
 

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Think the interior is getting too warm and fooling the bees into cleansing flights.

Had a similar situation where I placed 2" styrofoam on three sides and top and bottom, no insulation on south side and then wrapped with black paper. Think the solar gain and good insulation caused the interior to get too warm and fool the bees.

Have added a 1/2 inch styrofoam to the front side the past two years and wrapping with black paper and am not having any problems.
 

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Mine are well-insulated (all four sides and extra coverings on top of that, as well.) And I have had some distressing losses due to ill-chosen flying on days when it's flatly too-cold for survival.

At first I thought the flying bee-deaths might be the resut of snow-blindness or situational confusion due to light bouncing off the snow. I set up large fields of dark tarps around my hives, larger than the farthest location of the dead bees on the snow during the previous days' flights, so around 100 feet in front, 75 feet to the leeward and and 50feet upwnd. What happened was I had dead bees on the dark tarps in pretty much the same pattern and rate. So I don't think it's just snow or some trick of the light.

Now, I'm back to thinking it's simple cold. They go out and reach an end point due to thermal loss and can't get back. When on the tarps (or the snow if you're quick about it) you can rescue and rewarm the bees. But that creates an issue for me as I'm not sure if repatriating the re-warmed bees into the hive is a good or bad thing, as it's possible I am re-introducing bees that would have been better (for the colony) to have lost because of diseases. Still, every live member of the colony can contribute to maintaining the cluster-temps in cold weather, so I hate the idea of losing any unnecessarily.

My working, though not permanently settled, solution is this: keep the entrance holes darkened by light baffles to keep the interiors always dark, and as an emergency measure I am willing to close up the entrance holes to keep the bees inside when I know a too-cold day will be followed in a day or so by more-appropriate temps for flying. Today it is very sunny, but in the single digits F, and while I did have a warmer temps for a couple of hours for cleansing flights about 9 days ago, I am not seeing a push for bees to go out and perish. I think it may be because I've made sure no light can be reflected off the snow into the hives through the entrance holes. Of course, I make sure that air flow through the entrances is never blocked, just light or in the rare case when I want to to pen them in, through bee-proof screening.

Keeping any reflected light out of the hives from the entrances (I have upper and lower entrances for ventilation, though they are quite reduced at this season) seems to help in keeping the bees from thinking about going out.

Four-sided insulation, while attenuating the energy costs to the bees of maintaining their necessary cluster-core temps, doesn't heat the hives; and it should in some ways buffer daily heat increases from solar gain. But if you have one side managed for solar gain (black covering), then things might be different. My model for deciding on what insulation strategy to use was my knowledge from plants that keeping them evenly cold was better than keeping them protected from some cold while providing chances for trapped solar gain during sunny days. Hence all my winter-protecting plant cold frames are on the north side of my barns. The worst of temps are buffered there, but I have not added a chance for day-time heat spikes from the sun. My bees are in full sun, but hopefully the insulation helps maintain their cool. (And who doesn't think bees are just totally, cool?) I know that for nearly two decades I had feral honey bees living in cavities in my barn walls on the north and east sides there was no solar gain in the winter on their cavity walls, at all. And I rarely, if ever, noticed dead bees scattered on the snow in a pattern similar to what I saw in front of my hives this winter. I wasn't paying close attention back when I had feral bees, but I am confident that I would have noticed dead bees in fresh snow pretty regularly if the bees had been often going out in frigid temps.

You might try setting up some light baffles in front of your entrances, to see if that makes a difference in dampening the urge to go out. And bees who overcome that modfication might have more need than we can appreciate to leave and essentially abandon the hive, for the good of the hive.

I am in northern NY, about 100 miles south of Montreal, so not as cold as where you are, but still, not in an easy climate, either. I'm expecting minus 21 C/ minus 7 F tonight. Enough!

Enj.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks all for responses. I found it curious and a surprise that they would come out as much as they did at that temperature. The sun clearly heated things up. Hopefully if they are flying they should also be able to redistribute stores and not be stranded when the temps drop again tonight.
Regards Peter
 
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