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The survival of honey bee colonies in winter is important in beekeeping. It ensures the beekeeper has a colony to start the new production year with. Wintering honey bee colonies emerge stronger in spring when they have high number of bees. Insulating beehives helps prevent heat loss. Bees in an insulated beehive use less energy to warm the hive. Fewer bees die in such a honey bee colony. This article guides you through how to insulate a beehive for winter.
There are several ways to insulate a beehive in winter. The top and bottom of the beehive can be insulated, as well as the sides. Popular methods used by beekeepers include using insulation wraps and insulated covers on their beehives. The beehive insulation equipment used varies and some can be reused for many years. Some beekeepers go a step further and heat the beehive in addition to insulating it.
Using Insulated Beehive Covers
An insulated beehive cover is one of the equipment used by beekeepers to protect beehives from the extreme cold of winter. The covers come in various shapes and sizes. They are also made using different materials depending on the manufacturer. Beekeepers choose the best insulation cover for their needs and based on their budget. The covers that are insulated are the inner cover of Langstroth beehives and the top cover. When an insulated inner cover is used, it usually fits under the telescoping top cover of the beehive. An insulated top cover for beehives does away with the need to have an insulated inner cover.
Insulated Inner Cover
An insulated inner cover for the beehive is made using wood and foam. The foam prevents loss of heat from the beehive. You can make an insulated inner cover, or purchase one that is fully assembled. The insulated inner cover that you make should fit into the beehive and allow for proper placement of the top cover. In a Langstroth beehive, you should also consider having an upper entrance just below the insulated inner cover. The top entrance is useful when the bottom entrance is blocked by falling snow. Even in winter, honey bees need to make cleansing flights out of the beehive. The upper entrance is useful for this reason.
Insulated Top Cover
An insulated top cover is used to cover the top of the beehive and conserve heat in the beehive. It often replaces the usual telescoping top cover of the beehive. It can be made using various materials including plastic, foam and wood. When made using foam and wood, the telescoping top cover needs further water and weather proof. This is often achieved by using metal sheeting as the uppermost component of the cover. When made using plastic, the insulated top cover does not need further weather proofing since plastic by itself is waterproof.
A popular top cover found in use by many beekeepers is the Easy-On hive cover. It is made using vinyl and foam. The vinyl used to make the cover is tear-resistant so it lasts for long. It can be used for several winters before you need to replace it. A foam board is placed between two sheets of vinyl to provide insulation. This type of cover goes around the beehive. It is available in various sizes to fit several boxes of 8-frame and 10-frame Langstroth beehive boxes. The Easy-On hive cover is water-resistant and windproof. It features Velcro patches that help it latch onto itself once it is wrapped around the beehive. The telescoping cover of the beehive fits just above the Easy-On beehive wrap.
Beekeepers with skills to make covers for beehives have made some very interesting and effective covers. Some make covers that go round the entire beehive. Usually, the cover you make should be about 10 millimeters wider than the beehive you will be using it on. For best insulation capabilities, use PIR foam in the cover. The cover should be a single drop-on cover and should not be higher than the uppermost beehive box so that the telescoping cover can sit on the beehive properly.
Reviewing Insulated Beehive Covers
Below is a short review of two commercially available beehive insulation covers for use in winter. One is a telescoping top cover that is insulated. The other is a plastic top cover that replaces the regular telescoping top cover of a Langstroth beehive.
GreenBeehives R-5 Insulated Telescoping Top
The R-5 insulated telescoping top is a top cover for Langstroth beehives. It is made using plywood and Styrofoam. The foam is sandwiched between two sheets of plywood. Bees do not come into contact with the Styrofoam. Hive tools and other equipment that would damage the foam are also prevented from coming into contact with the foam. It is built to a 10-frame size, so you cannot use it with 8-frame Langstroth beehive setups. The telescoping cover prevents loss of heat through the top of the beehive in winter. It is useful in beekeeping operations that are in regions that experience very cold winters. This telescoping cover can be used with other beehive insulation equipment that go onto the sides of beehives such as winter beehive wraps (more on this later).
Deck screws are used to assemble the R-5 insulated telescoping top. They are supplemented by some glue for best results. The insulated telescoping cover is thus able to withstand occasional rough treatment without breaking apart.
Waterproofing is an important feature of the R-5 top cover. It is primed and painted using latex paint on the exterior. This paint is resistant to mold and does not let water through it. Therefore, it is more than just for insulation, but also a barrier that keeps water out of the beehive. Melting snow can cause water to enter a beehive, but that is a problem removed by using this telescoping top cover.
At the top of the R-5 telescoping cover assembly, a sheet of aluminum is used to give weather protection and also to protect the other components of the cover such as the Styrofoam and plywood.
This insulated top cover is great for use in winter. Its insulation properties keep the heat in the beehive where it is used. You can also use the cover in the hot months of summer. In the same way that this cover keeps the heat in the beehive in winter, so does it help maintain the cool temperatures of the beehive in summer. Its insulation properties therefore make it multi-purpose equipment for beekeepers.
- Easy to use since it is built in the form of a regular telescoping top covers for Langstroth beehives.
- Well made using strong and durable materials. The craftsmanship is excellent and ensures the top cover lasts for long, even when subjected to some harsh treatment and the elements.
- Useful in both winter and summer. In winter, this insulated top cover is useful in keeping the heat inside the beehive. When summer gets too hot, the telescoping top cover helps keep the beehive cooler than the outside temperatures.
- Does not allow for easy feeding of bees. You need additional equipment when you want to feed a wintering honey bee colony.
- Does not cover the sides of the beehive.
Apimaye Insulating Hive Top Cover and Feeder
Apimaye is a reputable seller of beekeeping supplies. It has many high quality products. The Apimaye insulating hive top cover with feeder is a telescoping top cover for Langstroth beehives. It is made using heavy duty plastic to ensure its long life and excellent insulation properties. Plastic is a poor conductor of heat and prevents loss of heat form the beehive through the top.
This top cover comes with a feeder at the top. The feeder is in two sections. You can use it to feed honey bees two items at the same time such as syrup and pollen patties. The feeder serves as the inner cover for the beehive and provides further insulation. It allows you to feed a honey bee colony in winter or summer without having to open up the beehive.
The Apimaye insulating top cover also features a ventilation system for the beehive. It helps with controlling the levels of moisture in the beehive where it is used. Vents in the top cover help aerate the beehive so that bees do not die of suffocation. It also lets the dry air from outside the beehive in winter enter the beehive. Ultimately, this prevents condensation from happening in the beehive. The ventilation system is built with air channeling in mind so that the top keeps the beehive warm in winter. When used in summer, this top is great at keeping the beehive cool.
Using plastic to make the Apimaye insulating hive top cover is great for its long life. Plastic does not rot or suffer from exposure to water. The plastic used to make this insulating top cover is food grade, so you do not need to worry about the safety of hive products.
This top cover is built to telescope over the beehive. It is suited for use with 10-frame Langstroth beehive configurations. You cannot use it with 8-frame Langstroth beehives.
The attachment of the Apimaye telescoping top cover is not a problem for beekeepers. The insulated top cover comes with slots for using with various straps to tie down the top cover. It also has slots for use with other equipment that has Apimaye latches and handles.
- The insulating cover allows for ventilation of the beehive. Beekeepers using it do not need to drill holes onto the sides of their beehive boxes to provide ventilation.
- Comes with a feeder that allows you to feed honey bees without opening up the beehive.
- Made of plastic and is thus very long-lasting. The plastic used is food-grade, so the safety of beehive products is not thrown into doubt.
- Has slots for tying it down and latching it onto other beehive equipment such as boxes and side insulation panels.
- The plastic used to make the insulated top cover might make it not very suitable for naturalist beekeepers.
- In the event of damage, repairing this Apimaye insulated telescoping top cover is difficult. The beekeeper has to buy another one.
Using Beehive Insulation Wraps
Beehive insulation wraps are a great method to keep beehives warm for winter. They have many advantages over other methods of beehive insulation, and using one is economical for most beekeeping operations. The wraps are cheaper to buy than other insulation equipment that is available to beekeepers. The wrap covers the sides of the beehive and can be used with an insulated telescoping top cover for all-round insulation of the beehive. Click here to read our article on the best beehive winter wraps.
A typical beehive insulation wrap is made using cloth or fabric that is not rigid. This allows for the wrap to be in very close contact with the sides of the beehive boxes in a winter stack. The material or fabric should be waterproof and not allow wind through it. Two layers of the fabric are needed to enclose some insulating material between them. Foam is great for insulation; it is waterproof and conserves the heat of the beehive very well.
The biggest advantages of beehive insulation wraps include the ease with which they are put on the beehive and taken off. Using various attachment methods such as Velcro, insulation wraps stay on the beehive with ease, and can be removed quickly when winter is past. Due to not being rigid, the wrap is easy to store and does not take up a lot of space. The size of the beehive insulation wraps varies from one wrap to the next. This allows for beekeepers to have various Langstroth beehive configurations for winter. Some beekeepers use deep boxes while others use a mix of deep and medium depth beehive boxes for wintering honey bee colonies.
One important thing to take into consideration when using insulated beehive wraps is their attachment. Strong winds can mess with the wrap or remove it. This would leave your beehive exposed to the cold. Wraps that do not have Velcro patches, and even those that have them, should be tightly wrapped around the beehive and attached well.
One very popular and effective method to make sure the wrap stays on the beehive, is using a small length of wood and screws. Wood that has a cross-section of at least 1 x 1 centimeters should be used. The thin wood is screwed onto the sides of beehive boxes, through the end of the insulated beehive wrap. This makes sure the beehive wrap is tight around the beehive boxes and that the wrap does not come off even with light tugging by small animals. The holes made by screws are small, so the wrap is not damaged. It can be used for very many years before you need to buy or make another one.
Using Beehive Heaters
Heating the beehive is another way to keep it warm in winter. Over the years, beekeepers have tried several methods of doing this have been tried; there have even been scientific experiments. Electric heaters of various types have emerged as the best equipment to use in heating beehives. They are easy to operate, pose less risk to bees and are clean. Both direct current and alternating current heaters can be used. It is often necessary to have a mesh or barrier separating the heaters or heated surfaces and the honey bees. The barrier prevents honey bees from coming into direct contact with the heater and getting burnt.
Powering the Heater
A source of electricity is needed to run the electric heater you use. It can be a battery to supply direct current, or mains power for alternating current. You can also rig batteries with an inverter to convert direct current into alternating current. In recent years, developments in solar power technology have given beekeepers better supply of electricity at apiaries and on beehives. It is possible to have solar panels at the apiary. The electric current form the solar panels supplements other sources of electricity. There are also beehives that come with solar panels and are rigged to maintain a specified temperature using solar energy.
Using a Thermostat
You can make an electric heating system for your beehive or buy one. A thermostat should feature in the system so as to prevent overheating the beehive. The thermostat is set to a specific temperature and controls the heating of the beehive. It can also shut down the heating system when the set temperature is reached. It is important to note that while the winter cluster moves through the beehive gradually eating up the stored honey, the temperature in the inner sections of this cluster is not the same as the temperature at the outer ends of the cluster. This should be taken into account when setting the location of the thermostat, and the target temperature of the beehive heaters. Therefore, more than one heater can be used in a beehive, controlled by more than one thermostat.
Correct Way to Heat the Beehive
From various scientific experiments, it has been found that heating beehives by conduction is best. Next to best, is heating the beehive using radiation heat. Convection heaters perform worst in heating beehives. They have the lowest efficiency and effectiveness. Convection heaters should therefore be avoided by beekeepers using heaters in beehives for winter. Depending on your budget and the size of your beekeeping operation, go for conduction heating. If the budget does not allow, you can install radiation heaters in the beehives. Thermo-tape is the best and recommended heating equipment to use in beehives if you can afford it. It has the best electricity efficiency in use and warms the beehive evenly.
With electric heating of beehives, it is advisable to also have in place the other methods of heat conservation such as insulation and entrance reduction. It helps keep the generated heat inside the beehive. This reduces the loss of heat from the beehive, and reduces the amount of electric power needed over time to heat it.
Challenges with Heating Beehives
One challenge with heating beehives is the response of bees to their environment. With internal heating of the beehive, the honey bees fail to respond to temperatures outside of the hive. They may be late starting trips out of the beehive in early spring. They may also not engage in some hive maintenance activities due to the warmth of the beehive. If poor heat settings are made, it gets too warm, and the honey bees become groggy. It is advisable to remove heating when the temperatures outside the beehive drop. It is also good to allow ventilation and small amounts of air from the outside into the beehive once winter has passed.
The importance of ventilation in winter should not be ignored. Even with the focus on keeping the beehive warm, it would be very devastating if the honey bee colony dies of suffocation. The bees need airflow in and out of the beehive for supply with oxygen. Additionally, ventilating helps remove some of the moisture from the beehive. Cold air has less moisture than warm air; it enters the beehive and drives out the warm air out. This lowers the possibility of condensation forming inside.
A Final Word
Beekeeping benefits a lot from beehive insulation and heating. The various methods used help honey bee colonies survive winter with low mortality rates. Strong colonies in spring have more foraging power and give high beehive yields at the end of the year. As with all things beekeeping, keeping the beehive warm is good, but should be done with caution. It is great if the beekeeper aims to relieve a wintering colony of the stress of keeping the beehive warm. However, you should still allow the bees to do some warming of the beehive. Do not aim to take care of all the heating needs of the honey bee colony. Use these tips and information on how to insulate a beehive for winter to boost your apiary production as a modern beekeeper.
Which method do you use to insulate you beehives in winter? Leave a comment below and let us know.