Eight beeks and some interested neighbours gathered at Gilliane’s house on the edge of Oxford to see her hive upgrades with cork insulation, how she remotely monitors the temperatures inside them, and to swap bee stories.
Gilliane has already blogged about her initial insulation and measurement experiments here, and has since been working on insulating a second TBH – which is unoccupied so she can do a more extensive job on it.Gilliane’s hive mods are characterised by a simple elegance, as the photos show:
Insulation and winter preparation
Gilliane has been using cork sheets from Mike Wye to upgrade her hives, which are from Thornes and made of English Cedar. Cork is about 2.5 times better an insulator than cedar. This picture of the removable window cover gives an idea of how well wrapped her bees are now. The dark layer is cork, and there is a thin layer of ordinary ply on the outside for weather resistance (though inretrospect marine ply may have been better).
Gilliane has covered the (flat) roof with a water repellent membrane as the original wood got wet through after a year. She sprinkled water on the material and drops rolled like marbles or mercury atop the roof: it sheds water brilliantly.
We discussed the usual winter preparations like fitting mouse guards (bees can’t defend their entrances when they are clustering in the cold), and ensuring hives cannot blow over in winter gales.
Paul mentioned that he has not fed his colonies this winter. In previous years, even over long winters, they have consumed far fewer stores (3 to 5kg) than the BBKA says they need (20kg); feeding in Autumn simply led to large amounts of tasteless “honey” which was obviously just bee-processed sugar syrup, with no floral component! He ascribes this low consumption to a number of factors:
- The BBKA has to suggest a worst case stores requirement, covering the whole of the UK. Oxfordshire is not Scotland.
- The BBKA advice may date back to the era of thin walled Nationals.
- Paul’s hives are either Warres, or TBHs with added insulation. These are intrinsically better insulated than Nationals and have a smaller cavity to heat.
- The BBKA’s advice to feed in Autumn if stores are low, stimulates late laying. This results in many more mouths to feed – in fact the BBKA reckons you “need” 5 frames of bees to get through winter. Paul’s winter clusters die back to much smaller than this, sometimes fist-sized, without problems in Spring. The BBKA strategy maximises the number of bees available for harvesting spring blossom from fruit trees, but as Paul’s hives are static, in an area with only modest Spring blossom, stimulative feeding is just a waste of sugar. The local bee stock has a laying rhythm attuned to actual forage availability.
Instrumentation: monitoring hives remotely
Gilliane uses this wireless temperature measurement system (£49.96) to monitor temperatures in and around her active TBH. The sensors are battery powered and two are placed above the bars, under extra insulation she’s filled the roof with. Although not touching actual bees or comb, this averages and reflects the activity in the hive cavity below. Another monitors external temperature.
The graph shows some results. Sensors numbers 1 (blue) and 2 (red), above different bars, track the slow changes in ambient (green) trace over several days, but smooth out the rapid fluctuations, showing how the bees contrl their environment. Sensor 1 must be above brood because it’s significantly warmer than ambient; sensor 2 is above an area where activity, and thus extra warmth, is more intermittent.
There has been increasing interest in instrumentation recently. Temperature is relatively easy, and useful – giving you a non invasive clue to the health and activity of a hive.
In addition to Gilliane’s WiFi temperature monitoring, Brian monitors temperature using a datalogger with a removable memory card as his hive is beyond WiFi range. Jack wired up his hive for sound, using physical wires to a speaker in his kitchen. Another useful metric is real time monitoring of weight, but placing an entire hive on a permanent scale can be tricky. We have heard of people monitoring humidity, but it’s not clear if that’s very useful.
There’s always a tradeoff between “this would be fun / useful” and how expensive and difficult something is to achieve. Perhaps the key point with hive monitoring is, does it give you something you can’t get another way? For example you can, for a price, equip remote apiaries to send you a text message if a hive is moved.
Huge thanks to Gilliane for opening her home and apiary to a bunch of beekeepers, the cake and biscuits, and giving us so much to think about!
Next meeting: TBD, probably in Oxford