If you purchase an independently reviewed item through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.
The work of a beekeeper is quite exciting and varied. Individual beekeepers use different methods to tackle some of the challenges they face. Beehive management in cold regions has its unique challenges. One of them is how to keep the beehive at a temperature conducive for honey bee colonies. Bees can warm the hive themselves, but is costs them more energy and food resources to do so. One of the more popular methods is the use of beehive windbreaks. They can be used all round or on selected sides of the beehive. Windbreaks reduce the speed of air flowing around the beehive, thereby reducing heat loss. In this article we’ll discuss how to go about using up a beehive windbreak in your beekeeping operation.
Types of Beehive Windbreaks
Barriers that serve as beehive windbreaks are of many types and made using different materials. Organic windbreaks made using live plants are great for outdoor apiaries. They serve many purposes and contribute to the well-being of the beehive and honey bee colony in various ways. The materials used to make beehives can also be metals or synthetic materials such as plastic of various strengths and thicknesses.
Nets and meshes are great windbreaks for beehives. They allow some of the wind currents through them and also block off some of the wind. The windbreaks made using meshes and nets can be of varying height depending on the location of the beehive. Intended results from use of the windbreak can also determine its height. These windbreaks are great for use in winter. They help prevent snow buildup around the beehive while contributing to keeping the beehive warm.
Uses of Beehive Windbreaks
Beehive windbreaks have more than one use in beekeeping. They are used by beekeepers in all regions of the world. The major uses of windbreaks in beekeeping operations are:
- Windbreaks help raise the flight path of bees above traffic near the beehive. In urban areas, this is especially important to prevent conflict with humans and animals.
- The windbreak in regular use acts as a shield for beehives. A windbreak through which vision is not clear serves this function best. It improves hive security from thieves. Some plants used as windbreaks by some beekeepers also help repel some animals from coming near the area where the beehive is located.
- A windbreak is used in cold regions, in winter and in many other beekeeping regions to reduce the airflow around the beehive. The best windbreaks reduce the velocity of wind but do not block all of the wind. If the windbreak completely blocks the wind, turbulence around it can negate some of the gains you hope to realize from the windbreak. A properly working windbreak, a properly oriented beehive in respect to the direction of the oncoming prevailing winds, and a reduced entrance give excellent reduction of airflow into beehives.
- Beekeepers may use live plants as their windbreak material. Such a windbreak can include plants from which bees can forage. It serves as one of the many food sources for bees in the apiary. Plants that produce a lot of nectar and pollen are incorporated into the windbreak when it is used for this purpose.
Using a Beehive Windbreak during Winter
In winter, a windbreak is used to prevent cold winds hitting the beehive. The sides of the beehive and entrance are the main heat loss avenues targeted by a winter windbreak. Outer surfaces of the beehive get warmed by the heat inside the hive. They lose the heat to winds hitting them. If the material conducts heat well and the cycle continues for long, the beehive gets excessively cold. This is prevented by a windbreak that reduces the velocity of winds hitting the beehive’s surfaces.
Wind is air currents moving at speed towards a direction. The speed and strength of wind entering the beehive through open entrances is also affected by the use of a windbreak. Slowed air currents have reduced cooling effect in beehives. In winter this is an important consideration in efforts to keep the beehive warm. For maximum efficiency, a windbreak should allow about 60% of the air hitting to flow through. It reduces turbulence created by the slowed air currents.
You should check installed windbreaks over the course of their use. The check can be done during scheduled apiary visits. Their attachment to supporting structures and the integrity of the material used to make the windbreak should be checked. If needed, replacement and repair work are done after such an inspection.
DIY Beehive Windbreaks for Winter
If you have an interested in making your own beehive windbreak, then you may do so using commonly available materials. You may opt to install the windbreaks for winter only and remove it during spring and the other warm seasons. Popular DIY windbreaks include:
A Modified Snow Fence
This involves using a modified snow fence to reduce the speed of wind blowing through the apiary. The first step is to purchase a snow fence and set it up as a windbreak for winter. If possible, you may reduce the openings in the snow fence to make it more suitable. The height of the snow fence may also be altered by to make it suitable for use as a windbreak in your beehives.
Haystacks can be used in an arrangement around some of, or the entire beehive to serve as a windbreak. The haystacks also insulate the beehive from cold air. Hay may however attract insect and animals that can harm bees or damage the beehive. When using haystacks as beehive windbreaks in winter, take measures to prevent the hay from becoming a habitat for such insects and animals. Screening and entrance reduction can also be used to prevent the insect and animals from gaining entry into the beehive.
Reflective Foam Insulation Boards
Reflective foam insulation boards make great windbreaks for winter. They are used to create a barrier around beehives. What’s more, most insulation boards come in an adequate height for use as winter beehive windbreaks.
Some beekeepers use pallets stood on end as their winter beehive windbreaks. The pallets are joined to each other using hinges to make them easy to use and form a continuous barrier. A series of the hinged pallets required few supports to keep it standing upright. Hinges between the pallets also help with management of the windbreak. They make it easy to remove, transport and store the windbreak when it is no longer needed.
Why Beehive Windbreaks are Needed – Effects of the Cold on Honey Bee Colonies
Honey bee colonies are a unit that functions in very specific ways. Bees are active at a temperature range that also influences their behavior. They are also able to regulate temperatures of their bodies and the beehive in various ways. Cooling the beehive involves some bees standing at available entrances and fanning air into the beehive. They use their wings to fan the beehive and use up a lot of energy in the process.
When it is too cold, bees cluster together in a bid to keep warm. At the core of the cluster is usually the queen bee and brood. Some food resources can also be in the core of the cluster. Bees in outer regions of the core vibrate their wing muscles. They heat up and also warm the cluster. Those outside the core are exposed to cooler temperatures than those at the middle of the cluster.
Cold temperatures have an effect on individual bees and the honey bee colony too. Worker bees use up energy to keep the cluster warm. The queen bee can lay fewer eggs per day or stop laying altogether. Due to the formation of the winter cluster, there are usually no bees flying out to forage for resources. It is usually necessary to make sure that bees in cluster have food within the beehive. Honey stored in the beehive is usually used as the primary feed during cold times. They can also be fed various supplements.
Due to keeping the beehive warm, worker bees use up more energy and get worn out. They may die due to the stress even if they have enough food resources. Very cold temperatures can kill entire honey bee colonies very quickly. It is advisable to not break up the winter cluster before winter is over. If carrying out a beehive inspection, be very fast about it.
When the queen is laying fewer eggs and bees are dying from exposure to cold, the colony population falls. Any brood in the beehive needs to survive and mature into adult bees for continuity of the colony. It requires warming the cluster of cold bees and feeding the brood. Brood getting chilled is disastrous for the colony. It does not develop well or dies. Under normal circumstances, this does not happen often if the beekeeper is careful enough.
You should also make sure that feed for the bees is not exhausted or they will die of starvation. In very cold conditions, the winter cluster does not loosen up to access food resources. The honey in the cells within the cluster gets exhausted and the bees cannot move to other comb that has honey. Bees dying from starvation in this way are a very painful loss in your beekeeping operation.
Condensation in Beehives
Another effect of the cold on beehives is condensation. Cold air cannot hold a lot of moisture in it. When humid air in the beehive cools, condensation might form in the upper regions of the beehive. Droplets of water from condensation chill bees and kill them in large numbers. You should be vigilant about condensation from late fall to early spring. In some cases, condensation freezes onto surfaces over winter and forms droplets in late winter and early spring.
Various features of beehives and beehive management help prevent condensation when temperatures drop. The more extreme of such measures are used in regions where frozen winters are experienced. In cold seasons, you can also employ some of these features to keep the beehive warmer for bees even if there is no snow-drop.
Other risks faced by honey bees in cold weather include parasite and pest infestations. In prolonged cold weather, they may not be able to defend the hive from pests and parasites. Varroa mites and wax moths are notorious for infesting beehives during winter. They thrive in the warmth of the beehive and can cause a lot of problems. Treatment before the onset of winter and other measures are used to keep these pests and parasites in check. They are carried out as part of hive management and an integrated pest management plan. Small animals can also invade beehives for shelter over winter. Sealing entrances and reducing others usually solves this problem.
How to Keep a Beehive Warm in Winter
Beekeepers use various methods, equipment and hive management practices to keep beehives warm during winter. They aim to relieve their honey bee colonies of some of the stress of keeping the winter cluster and beehive warm enough for their survival.
Monitoring the temperature and behavior of the winter cluster informs you to some degree of the health of the honey bee colony. It also helps you decide what type of intervention to apply if one is needed. You might need to open up the beehive at some time during winter, but you should try to keep it to a minimum. You may also try some of the following methods to keep a beehive warm during winter:
1. Having a Beehive Windbreak
A structure (or array of structures) to block the beehive from winds can help with temperature control. The windbreak slows down the winds hitting the beehive. Less heat is lost from the beehive due to the reduced airflow around the beehive. Windbreaks can be used in normal apiary management to prevent beehive boxes from being toppled too. If your apiary is in a windy area, a windbreak is great investment in your beekeeping operation. The windbreak can also be sloped like a ramp to direct winds up and over beehives.
Urban beekeepers practicing rooftop beekeeping often use windbreaks of various kinds. Such windbreaks can be deployed around beehives in winter if not all year round. An additional advantage of having a windbreak all year round is that it makes bees fly up and away from traffic near the beehive. The height of the windbreak matters in such application.
2. Beehive Insulation
A beehive can be insulated for the duration of winter. Materials that prevent loss of heat from the beehive are used to make covers of various types. Beehive parts too are modified to increase heat conservation. Styrofoam features a lot in covers for the sides of beehives. Other materials can also be used and give insulation to varying individual degrees. They are used to make beehive insulation covers by commercial manufacturers and DIY beekeepers.
Some of the materials such as hay, might give excellent insulation but also attract and hide pests and parasites of honey bees, e.g. mice. You should therefore choose the material you use in your DIY beehive insulation cover carefully. The tops and bottom of beehives are also insulated to prevent heat loss through these beehive surfaces.
Insulated top covers and inner covers are among the majority of devices used to provide insulation at the top. To keep the bottom of a beehive insulated too, various items are used. The bottom board can also be modified to include insulation. Surfaces on which the beehive rests should provide some insulation from heat loss through the bottom.
3. Insulated Beehive Observation Window
Insulated observation windows on the sides of beehives are a great feature that allows you to see into the beehive without opening it up. This contributes to heat conservation. The observation window can also be used as an indicator of humidity levels in the beehive.
Even if it is not in the upper regions of the beehive, condensation on the observation window means the air in the beehive has more moisture than it can hold. Ventilation and humidity regulation can then be checked. The observation window must be insulated so that heat is not lost through it. A covering of wood as usually found on beehive observation windows is usually adequate insulation.
4. Heating the Beehive
You can use various methods to raise the temperature in a beehive. The effectiveness of heating devices varies by type and power source. Electric energy is commonly used in beehive heaters. Variety in the heaters and modifications to the heater systems allows both AC and DC electricity to be used.
To ensure best temperature control, thermostats that turn the heater systems on and off are used. Heating the beehive can be done periodically, such as immediately after a hive inspection where the beehive was opened up. It quickly raises the temperature of the beehive back to comfortable levels.
Proper use of beehive heating prevents brood from getting chilled. It also contributes to the general well-being of the honey bee colony and its survival through winter. Too much heating should be avoided so that the colony does not raise too much brood and consume stored honey too fast.
5. Using a Solid Bottom Board
A solid bottom board prevents loss of heat through the bottom of the beehive. In a beehive with a screened bottom board, there is heat lost from the beehive when cold air currents enter the beehive through the screened. Some screened bottom boards have a sliding plane that transforms them into closed bottom boards. In the closed position, such a bottom board prevents loss of heat.
6. Entrance Reduction
Cold air from the outside enters beehives through various openings and cools the beehive. In winter, closing some entrances and reducing others reduces airflow into the beehive. Reduction of entrance sizes also helps with improving beehive security. The smaller entrance is easier to guard against intruders. In winter, the entrance might be left unguarded when bees cluster together.
Ventilation in winter is needed even with the push to conserve hive heat. The reduced entrance allows ventilation and keeps out large pests such as mice that might want to enter the beehive. Entrance reduction in a wintering beehive also allows cleansing flights by bees.
Bottom entrances into the beehive are often closed where snow falls. Upper entrances that are not easily blocked by fallen snow are used instead. In addition to reducing the entrance, turning the entrance away from the wind also helps in winter. The entrance turned from the direction from which prevailing winds come allows less wind into the beehive.
7. Using Indoor Beehive Shelters
Some beekeepers in cold regions move their bees indoors for the duration of winter. They may slightly raise the temperature in the indoor shelter. In the shelter, humidity and lighting are also controlled.
Beekeepers with indoor beehives must allow bees to take cleansing flights. The space used for such flights is best indoors too so that the bee does not have to leave the sheltering structure. Honey bees leaving the structure and seeing light from the sun or other sources may not find their way back into the beehive with ease. This is because they use the position of the sun for navigation.
Using greenhouses is also a challenge for beekeepers that want to shelter their beehives in winter. Greenhouses with translucent cover make bees fly up and die in large numbers trying to get through the translucent cover.
Ventilating Beehives in Winter
Bees fly out of the beehive in cold weather and in winter too. They need to carry out short cleansing flights out of the beehive. They do not fly far from the hive, and do not stay out for any longer than necessary. Beehive hygiene during cold weather and in winter is important for colony survival.
As the beekeeper, you have various methods and tools at your disposal to help with hive hygiene. Dead bees may not be removed from the hive during such a time. They may clog entrances and ventilation openings. Periodically cleaning out the dead bees or making sure they do not accumulate is crucial to the survival of the colony is needed. Modifications to screened bottom boards are available. They introduce a means of keeping the beehive clean without having to open it up, although during winter they would let in more cold air than solid boards.
A Final Word
Beehive windbreaks are useful in helping keep beehives warm. They also protect beehives from strong winds that would blow them over. Their use increases hive security. In winter, a windbreak helps keep cold winds from hitting the beehive and cooling the beehive too much.
There are many types of windbreaks to choose from. You should use one that fits into your beekeeping operation’s budget and works well. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can go about setting up a beehive windbreak successfully. Use a windbreak this winter to help your bees keep the hive warmer and all beehive components intact.
What are your thoughts on beehive windbreaks? Leave a comment below and let us know.