Sunday, April 2, 2017

Hiving Honeybees in Cold Weather

This is information from Steve Victors of Alaska Wildflower Honey.

The arrival date seems not the best timing this year.  Last year we were receiving the bees just one day later than we are this year.  At that time there was concern that the bees would overheat while en-route to the distribution points.  Donna and I traveled with the door to the trailer open to get the cooler air to circulate around the packages.  This year we are discussing plans to add a heater to keep them warm.  
The bee delivery dates are picked out in October and early November of the year before.  Days are reserved for shaking and filling the packages in California to catch that window of time between too cold for queen mating and too hot for transporting bees to the airfreight from the field.  We try to predict when the willows will be blooming and the weather warm enough to hive the packages on arrival to Alaska.  The two windows of time have to line up or overlap just right.  Space is reserved on the airplanes so that it is dedicated to our pallets and they won’t be left stranded at the airport.    Once the dates are set there is not much we can do to change the schedule.  Each year there seems to be some factor we cannot control that challenges the smooth delivery and easy installation of our packages.  In the last four shipments of bees we have had two years of volcanoes and one year of tsunami challenges.  This year we have cold and snow that seems to not want to give up.  Bees are resilient and beekeepers are resourceful; so at least we have that going for us.
Here are some things that you can do to improve your success in early and cold spring.

Darkening the snow in front of the hive helps the bees tell which way is up and will melt the snow faster when it is warm enough to melt.  Ashes from the woodstove work well for this.  Use a vegetable strainer to sift the ashes over the snow to stretch the supply.  Adding something to darken the snow directly in front of the hive and to add contrast to the light color will also help the bees to orient in a vertical sense and there won't as many lost in the snow.  even a few spruce branches will help with this.

Warming the equipment:
Some beekeepers bring their hive into the house prior to installing the package to make sure that the components are warm.  Bees on a cold bottom board have a harder time moving up to the frames to form a good cluster.  Climbing on warm combs is also a help although the combs cool relatively quickly.  Don’t waste a lot of time getting the hive carried out and the installation done.  Keep in mind that moving a hive is not a difficult thing to do, and it is possible to hive right in front of the garage with the bottom entrance already screened and then move the hive inside for them to get settled. 

Size of the hive:
Keep in mind that the bees will cover about five frames.  Reducing the number and size of the boxes will help out.  The use of follower boards (Styrofoam cut to take the place of a frame fitting snugly in the hive) can be employed in a 10 frame hive to reduce the space to a more efficient size for the bees.  A package will cover about five frames.  Followers should go from the bottom board to the inner cover or the lid and from wall to wall.

Single box:
Use only one hive body to install the bees.

Frame of syrup:
If you have drawn comb consider filling the upper portions with sugar syrup by use of a spray bottle.  Make the standard honey arch that you see normally in the hive inspections.  This will allow the cluster to form with food right into the cluster.  Leave the centers of the frames empty for the queen to use as well as the bees to transfer heat through the comb.

Don’t hive wet:
If you regularly spray the bees during the hiving process, they will loose heat faster when they are wet.  Hive the bees dry with full bellies.  To do this, spray sugar feed through the package screen and allow the bees to consume the feed before taking them outside.  A few good sprays with intervals between for uptake can fill a package in about an hour.
Heat of the day:
Use the warmest portion of the day to hive the bees.

Screening the entrances and indoors:
I have hived bees indoors before…. I would not care to repeat the experiment.  If you feel that the bees are better off indoors, hive outside. Screen the entrances and move them inside.  A screen cover under or in place of the inner cover can help you regulate temperatures in the hive.

Over the cluster:
Bees needing feed in the cold won’t travel far; get the feeder as close to the cluster as possible.
Avoid outside or Boardman entrance feeders.  Bees will not break cluster to go down to food; feeding the bees directly above the cluster works well-- just be sure that the feeder does not drip on the bees.
Two feeders:
A frame feeder as well as a feeder over the cluster may be used to keep the bees from being trapped away from the feeder to the side.
Hive top feeders:
 Insulation above the feeder will allow the bees to travel up to the feed without moving from the warmth area of the hive.

Conservation of heat will certainly help the bees establish a cluster loose enough for the queen to lay in.  Just like a house, the best place for insulation is above the cluster.  Insulation pillows using plastic bags with standard insulating materials in them are used in Canada.  Reflectix insulation (foil bubble wrap) cut to the size of the inner cover and laid on top of the inner cover works well.  Styrofoam is another alternative.
Heat sources inside or under the hive can help.  A small silicon oil pan heater stuck to a piece of metal to dissipate the heat can be used.  Heat sources between 25 and 40 watts should be sufficient depending on the size of the space to warm up.
Follower boards rather than outside insulation may be the best method of adding insulation to the walls of the hive.
Entrance reducers:
Use the smallest entrance to reduce drafts
Top entrances:
Small top entrances for the dissipation of moisture may help the hive to avoid the damp conditions.

Holding your package for a warmer time:
Temperatures for holding packages should be around 60 degrees.  To tell if the temperature is right, observe the cluster.  If there are bees running on the screen, it is too hot.  A properly cared for package should have a fairly loose cluster hanging quietly.  There may be a few bees not involved in the cluster found crawling on the screen or exploring the bottom of the package.  Keep the package in the dark or in dim light.
Feeding through the package:
The feeder can is for transport only.  You MUST feed your bees!
You can spray the package twice a day for feed through the screen.  Bees that are hungry will have their tongues out through the screen.
Syrup feeders:
A nut jar or any large jar with a plastic lid can have a number of holes through the lid and placed over the package to feed the bees.  To do this the feeder can is removed and a screen is stapled in place over the hole left by the feeder can.  An overturned nut jar can be placed on top of the screen and the bees can feed through the screen.  Feeder jars can be changed as necessary

This is a lot of information I hope that you find at least some of it useful.
Steve Victors

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