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More Thoughts on Winter

We are now running about 6 weeks of wet. I have not been keeping an accurate count, but I am fairly certain that we have not had longer then a 4 or 5 day stretch without rain. The problem is two-fold, as the weather has turned cold (so less evaporation) and the ‘spots’ of rain have sometimes been down pours! I have actually filled up my 8 inch rain gauge twice (in 6 weeks – it’s pretty much a record in central virginia and certainly in Varina, Virginia.) Weather like this is not good for the bees or the beekeepers!

At any rate, the temperatures today have hovered in the low 40’s and are heading to the low 20’s tonight. This means that the only thing I do with the bees is kwalk by the hive and think about them. I actually placed my hand on them today, just to see if I could feel any warmth. But, this drove me to do some more reading about the bees and winter in my Zone 7 area, so I have documented these notes below, for future reference.


This whole ventilation concept has been one of those things that I typically do not learn unless I experience it. I apply most bee concepts to myself, so the thought of creating a natural vent (opening a window in the basement and one on the second floor of my house) was repugnant to me. How in the world could that be helpful!? I would be really mad about it, if I were a bee.

The thought, or so I have been told, is that the bees maintain a temperature that is a bit above 90 degrees in the cluster (the area where the bees all huddle in a ball and rub their hands together because it is so cold!) This heat, when present in a cold environment, causes a steam of a sort to waft up the hive and condense on the cover. Soon, as it cools on the bottom of the cover, it forms droplets that eventually fall back down (at a much colder temperature then when they wet up) into the center of the cluster (assuming the cluster is in the center of the hive.) This is fatal for the bees.

So, this is one reason why they strongly recommend against painting the inside of your deep/brood chamber. It is better to leave it unpainted, so that it can absorb some of that moisture (as open wood is likely to do.) But, many folks recommend creating a ‘draft’ (a small hole at the top of the hive to pull air up through the hive and push the wet air out) to help the bees out with this.

Today, my misgivings have been mostly laid to rest, as I have read where a very successful beekeeper from New York (an area much colder then my Varina bee yard) creates a ventilation by pushing his top Deep back about an 1/8 of an inch so that a small gap is created between it and the bottom Deep. This has actually worked for him, although I have to maintain that his bees get mad about it! Still, it must be a good plan.

To close out my discussion of this subject, I found where a good number of beekeepers in my area will take a Popsicle stick, cut it into 4 pieces and place one at each corner of the top of the bottom deep. This creates a narrow (about 1/16 inch) ventilation area. This will be my plan going forward.

Wind Break

My stronger hive has no real wind break, which has been bothering me. One fellow recommended putting up two fence poles (T poles) and spreading burlap between the two of them. I might try this before January.

2 comments to More Thoughts on Winter

  • Doug Ladd

    I enjoy your post. As last year was my first year I see I am not the only one with many many questions. Upon reading your post I noticed a few things and wanted to give you my two cents, which by the way differs from most. As a background to myself I NEVER take anything for face value and question everything.

    So here goes, I agree with your thoughts that creating a vertical draft is NOT good. Part of overwintering bees is having enough stores and keeping the bees in an efficient cluster formation so they can use as little honey as possible. So if we open the top of the hive, yes it removes moisture, but it also removes CO which helps the bees slow their metabolism (do some research since it’s not widely studied), it removes the warm air that the bees worked so hard to make, and then forces them to move their wings more to create more heat again using up more honey. I find this counterproductive. So after some research and using a little thing called physics. I have done the following.

    I noticed you are using the Beemax hive top feeders like myself. Now what are two great known insulators? Styrofoam (the feeder) and still air (the inner portion of the feeder when the top is on. Now considering why condensation occurs, when warm moist air reaches an object that differs in temperature the warm moist air condenses. So if we can limit the heat loss of the top by adding insulation the temperature gradient will be less causing less condensation. So I have kept my EMTPY beemax feeders on with the typical outer cover. This creates about 1.5 inch this Styrofoam layer with about a 4 inch still air space. Which together should be an excellent insulator for the top. Theoretically I shouldn’t have a problem, keeping in mind water is used during the winter by the bees to dilute honey and liquefy crystallized honey.

    Now keep in mind I am taking a risk and I am only a first year beek, but I believe in it. I am sure I will have others curse me, but so far so good. Only time will tell, but do some research going forward, add some science, do some testing, and always question any approach. Check this website out for some thoughts http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/ventilation.html

    Happy New Year
    Doug Ladd a Buckingham NewBee

  • Very interesting (and confounding, as I was only recently ‘converted’ to the ‘create ventilation method’.)

    Are you basically saying that the insulating properties of the Styrofoam top feeder are such that the surface temperature of the feeder (at the top of the inner hive) rises to be the same as that of the air within the hive, thus no (or very little) condensation occurs?

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