Bees in the Winter

By | March 7, 2011

Although I’ve written about this in the main bee diary post on my two lost hives, I felt like rewriting it here because it’s solidifying itself in my head as a general theory, not just something specific to this past winter.

A cluster of bees in the winter is made up of the central core and the mantel. There may be a scientifically classified layer in between the two but for a worried beekeeper this is where I focus. The mantel bees are the insulation for the core, and the core generates the heat for the cluster. If those mantel bees become too cold, they will fall off the cluster, resulting in a loss of insulation and requiring the core to produce more heat in order to maintain its target temperature, which means using more stores. If this cycle continues and the cold weather persists, two things eventually happen: the core will run out of stores, and the core will lose all insulation and itself freeze. The order of these two things is unimportant, as the result is the same, a dead hive.

I ask what can be done to counteract this scenario. First, I believe that keeping the air inside the hive as still as possible is a good thing. Thermodynamics tells us that a moving fluid transfers heat more efficiently than a fluid at rest, and transfer is the enemy. The second thing is starting with a big cluster. The better we keep the air still though, the smaller the cluster can be and still survive.

More will be written about trying to accomplish these two tasks, especially regarding keeping the hive air still and somewhat insulated over the winter. I now believe this to be an important part of keeping hives in my specific location.

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