Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. How are your bees holding out so far this fall? Winter doesn’t even start for another two weeks. Fortunately, the forecast in central Illinois for next week is perfect for bees. Highs around 40 degrees (f) and lows in the lower 30s (f). Because it is warm enough during the day, the bees are able to enlarge the cluster and move around a little and maybe gather resources a frame or two over.
Have you gone out and put your ear up against the hive yet? Doesn’t it bring a real sense of satisfaction when you knock on the side of a hive during winter and you can hear buzzing inside? Yeah, they are alive! In this lesson, I want to talk about the importance of wind breaks and give a few suggestions about making a wind break or possibly moving the hive out of the wind.
Before we begin, let me share that our Winter-Bee-Kinds are only $29 when you pick them up at our store this week only. It takes a lot of work to prepare the WBKs for shipping. So we’ll pass on the savings to you if you pick them up. We usually have a surplus available on hand but you might want to call if you are driving a long distance, to be sure we have them available. 217-427-2678. We are open Mon. – Thur. 10 a.m. –4 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m. until noon. If you live too far away click here to order your Winter-Bee-Kind today. It is more than a candy board as it also contains insulation to reduce condensation in the top of the hive, and an upper vent so that bees can more easily take that needed cleansing flight on warmer winter days and to reduce upper condensation from building up.
In this picture, we are testing our Winter-Bee-Kind mixture with one of our Special Taste Inspectors. We’ve spent years getting our mixture the way the bees want it. It’s challenging, because in order to make it for bees, we cannot make them too hard. If we cooked the mixture to 300 degrees (f) they would ship much easier as they would not be moist. However, it would be more difficult for the bees to eat candy that hard. So we have experimented and have landed on what the bees like and will consume every drop but can still be shipped. Don’t be concerned when it arrives moist or even wet. The bees will consume the moist or liquid parts.
Even though we add protein to these, it is not enough to stimulate brood rearing. When bees are going through winter, they are governed by other factors when it comes to raising brood, such as photoperiod. Before I started making the winter-bee-kind I overwintered colonies here in the north with the aid of pollen patties. Even though bees would consume the pollen patties, I saw no visible increase in brood production until the length of days (photoperiod) increased in the spring. For bees to ramp up brood production, there are several essential factors necessary such as successful foraging providing incoming nectar and pollen, warmer nights and room to grow. An over wintered cluster does not have the room to rapidly expand their brood area within the cluster. That is why most colonies only have a small amount of brood during cold months. Colonies usually have a good amount of pollen in the hive anyway, and yet they do not over-brood. However, the extra protein we add to the sugar is simply to keep the bees alive until spring if they are running low.
PACKAGE BEES will be sold out soon. We are holding back a certain number of packages for students who take our winter and spring classes, and packages for those buying kits with bees. So our individual packages are nearly sold out. I strongly urge you to purchase your individual packages from us this week.
SPECIAL KITS: Check out our hive kits. You can select if you need your kits with or without bees:
WINTER WIND BREAKS
For those of us in the north, we know all about wind chill factor. The wind chill is basically how cold winter air feels blowing against our skin. If it is 10 degrees (f) outside but the wind is blowing 22 miles an hour, the wind chill is a negative 9.66. The NOAA calculation table for wind chill changed in 2001. Prior to 2001, the wind chill above would have been –26.39 (f). Now it is –9.66 (f).
Of course we all agree that wind makes a cold day feel much colder. Wind also can blow (or pull) away warmer air. Within a colony, the winter cluster is producing heat within the cluster itself to keep all the bees warm. Bees do not heat the inside of their hive like we do our homes. Instead bees only keep each other warm. Bees have to consume food to stay warm, just like us. That’s why bees need 60+ pounds of honey to survive a northern winter. Wind can pull heat away from the hive. A strong, healthy colony can compensate for this, but it does require more effort.
Honey bees in their natural habitat, the tree, have 3”-6” of wood to shield the winter cluster from the cold, windy air outside. And where is this tree found? Among other trees which provide an additional wind break. But to put bees in a managed hive box usually made of 3/4” wood, out in the open wind, makes it more challenging for the colonies that are low in resources or small in numbers. Therefore, a wind block is a big help.
Now, what can a wind block be made of? It could be a doubled wall hive. These were experimented with back in Langstroth’s day (1800s) but they were too costly and heavy. Today, very few hobbyist would pay twice as much for a hive. Instead of $249, a doubled wall hive would cost $498. Other parts would not fit well either.
What about using buildings as wind blocks? Perfect. In fact, after a few weeks of bees being in their winter cluster, you can move your hive to a more sheltered location. Do not take the hive apart to move it. Keep it together and be gentle so as not to dislodge and break up the cluster. We place a large bar on the top cover then use a large tie down strap that wraps all the way around the hive and bar. One person on each side of the bar can easily relocate the hive.
If you don’t want to move your hive, build a wind break. Remember, if you need a wind break it means it must really be windy where you live so you’ll need to build something that can withstand strong winds. I love wind breaks. It really can make a huge difference, in my opinion, on how well a hive overwinters.
A wind break can be as easy as a few bales of hay. Stack them up around a hive, but not too close or they will retain moisture and keep the hive too moist during the winter. This is an inexpensive way to go especially if you have a barn full of hay bales.
I like to make my own wind breaks. I take a few wooden sticks or small posts and beat them into the ground, then wrap visqueen (plastic sheeting) around the posts. I leave the front side open for the bees to fly in and out. On a warm summer day, when the wind isn’t blowing, the sun shining through the visqueen has a warming effect on the hive sort of like a green house effect. I usually use 4 or 6 mil clear visqueen. Usually a roll of 4 mil, 10 x 100 feet is what I use, but I double it up for extra strength. This hive is facing east and we seldom get winter winds from the east.
But you can make it out of any materials, wood or metal, that would block the wind. Call Julie before you pound stakes in the ground. I am uncomfortable making 4 walls and completely surrounding a hive in fear that the bees may not find their entrance easily. I would hope they would, but I don’t want to take that risk.
I have built 4 walled wind blocks before as shown in the picture below, and I cut holes at the bottom so bees could go in and out but I noticed bees were confused and some clung to my black paper on warm winter days. But bees survived well in these boxed wind breaks. I just slide them down over the hive and the aren’t tight against the hive which allows moisture to evaporate away.
Before I finish, let me tell you how excited I am about our upcoming 2015 bee classes. These might make a great Christmas gift for that special someone in your life. You can stay in a hotel, go out to eat and then take our Saturday class or our Bee Institute. Check out all our classes at: http://www.honeybeesonline.com/classes.html
Visit our online store at: www.honeybeesonline.com for all your beekeeping needs.
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms