Claude’s Corner – September 2022

I hope you and your bees are well.

As I go about my beekeeping chores of the moment, something will happen that will give me an idea for a topic to discuss in the corner.  I will jot the idea down before I forget the topic and put this scrap of paper in a file folder to refer to when I sit down to write.  Then, as we all can attest, beekeeping is a changing undertaking, like, one moment we see robbing, the next we find a dwindling hive, the next we see hive beetle numbers out of control, wax moth, varroa, and on and on.  Such is the case this month.  The topic I jotted down for this month was getting your bees ready for winter and I will still make some recommendations, but not as detailed as I had planned, because I want to comment on several articles published in the August ‘22 issue of American Bee Journal (ABJ), and the September ‘22 issue of Bee Culture (BC).

First, the ABJ articles.  This issue has several attention-grabbing articles: Harvesting Honey by James Tew (page 851), My Journey to Regenerative Beekeeping by David Papke (page 885), and the one that I want to focus on is Thinking Outside the Box, by Robin Radcliffe and Thomas Seeley (page 893).  In my opinion, anything bearing Tom Seeley’s name deserves close attention.  Tom has spent most of his career studying feral (unmanaged) bee hives in tree cavities in the Arnot forest in upstate New York.  He has written several books, one, a must read, is The Lives of Bees.  In brief, the article is a study of tree cavity verses wooden box (a Langstroth), and a Langstroth with and without insulation.  They conclude in part with “a Langstroth is a poor substitute for the… tree cavity;” and “a basic Langstroth hive can be made much closer to a natural home for a honey bee colony if its walls are built with, or wrapped in, good insulation.”   

Second, Bee Culture.  This issue also has several interesting articles:  a monthly staple Next Month (page 10); Minding Your Bees and Cues, which contains a quote that applies to life in general, “Do what you should do when you should do it.” (page 16); Harvesting Honey by Richard Wahl (page 30); Impact of UV-Induced Blue Fluorescence Entrances on Honey Bee Swarm Traps by Brian Fleischmann (page 44) “Results from this study suggest that honey bees show an increased attraction to the UV-reactive blue entrance.”; Combining Colonies by James Tew (page 90); An Easier Way to Collect Swarms by our own Kentucky boy John Benham (page 78); and finally the article I want to talk about, To Insulate or Not to Insulate by Ross Conrad (page 40).  Just like that tired old saying “ask two beekeepers… etc.,” Ross comes up with a different conclusion than that of Tom about insulating your hive.  Ross concludes “the effort spent super insulating hives is probably a waste of time, money and resources.”

So, what is one to do?  Insulate or not?  Well, here is what I do: 

  1. Provide each hive with a wind break (I use wooden pallets), and 
  1. Insulate above the inner cover as illustrated in Ross’ article.  Also, I do not try to overwinter dinks (weak hives). I make sure each hive has plenty of stores and healthy queen and bees.  I start preparing my bees for winter in August (mite control).

Finally, some brief remarks about feeding.  A rule of thumb, there should be 40 pounds of stores on each hive you overwinter.  I use 50 pounds as a guide.  A deep frame of honey weighs about 7-8 pounds, so go figure.  I feed one-to-one now, two-to-one beginning in October and solid feed mid November when I put on a shim.  I monitor (heft) each hive on warm days (above 50 degrees) and feed sugar cakes as needed.  My winter loss over the past 10 years has been an average of five percent.

Back to the question, insulate or not?  I don’t insulate the sides of my hives.  Who can argue with my average loss of five percent.  But I like to try new things, but I hear a voice inside my head saying, “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.”  So, I am going to insulate two of my hives like Tom, more to see if they will come out of winter stronger and ramp up faster and then think on it.

Teaser: My jotted note for October issue is robbing, entrance reducer, and mouse guards, but lots of other things will be happening and I haven’t received my September issue of the ABJ.

Please stay safe and enjoy your bees.