Top Bar Hives in January

Although the buzz word (sorry about that) these days seems to be Warre, I thought Top Bar Hive operators who lack a window might like a peek inside a happy hive at this time of year.

Top Bar in January 2012. External temperature about 6 to 10C.

Top Bar in January 2012. External temperature about 6 to 10C. Bees visibly moving.

Points of note:

  • The cluster has moved to access new stores in the last few days. No problem getting to them as the temperature rose from near-freezing a few days ago.
  • The bees are darker than during the summer. This seems to happen every year. Anyone know why?
  • Plenty of bees. I’d be interested to know if there are more than a conventional beekeeper would expect. One book on conventional beekeeping I read suggested you could expect the cluster to shrink down to just a fist-sized lump by Spring; we always seem to have a much higher survival rate.
  • Walls are about 1.25 inch thick pine.
  • Leftmost combs have been empty all year, due to poor forage (rain). But hive is very heavy, there are several kilos of stores somewhere towards the right, thanks partly to feeding them in Autumn, and perhaps to them robbing their sister hive.

I’ve recently become aware that one significant factor in overwintering success is genetics. Italian bees and others acclimatised to warmer climes don’t hunker down for winter efficiently enough for the British Midlands’ cool damp climate – they continue raising brood into winter, and lack the ruthless trait of excluding old worn-out workers who won’t make it through the winter. Factors such as this, and foraging success, and feeding by the beekeeper, are probably much more significant than exactly what kind of hive the adaptable wee beasties are in. Last year both our colonies survived winter despite lacking the extra insulation.

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