First Useful Gadget

By | January 19, 2012

I think I’ve finally developed my first useful item that could officially be called a “gadget”.  The beekeeping world is fond of using this word.

The item is used to determine if a colony is still alive in the cold of winter, something not always easily checked without disturbing the bees.  Some people use the “knock” test in which you put your ear against the hive and give it a good thump and listen for a “hum” in response to the disturbance you just induced, but I don’t like the disturbance in the first place.

My method and gadget use the downturned notch in the inner cover, or wherever the beekeeper has decided to vent the moisture-ladened air produced by a cluster.  I bought a cheap digital thermometer, and when I say cheap I mean straight from China via airmail cheap.  The thermometer has an LCD display with a probe attached at the end of a long length of wire.  I simply taped the last two feet or so of this wire to a very stiff yet still bendable piece of metal wire while leaving the probe hang off the end.  Here are some pictures.  Click them for a larger version.

To use this little novelty, leave it outdoors on a cold day, or early morning would be even better, so the thermometer reads the outdoor temperature.  Then take this to your hive and put the probe into the notch in the inner cover (or whatever is venting your warm air) an inch or two deep.  Watch the temperature for a climb.  My thermometer will climb about 1/2 degree every second as it updates, and once it’s climbed a few degrees you can be assured there’s something in that box making the warmth…your bees!

There are a few limitations of this device.  It’s only really reliable in a cold environment on a cold day, but if it isn’t cold your bees are probably flying if they are alive.  Also, even if used on a cold day, if your hives are wrapped in black and the day is very sunny, enough solar gain in the box may exist to give you a rise in temperature even if the bees aren’t alive.  That’s why I recommend evening or better yet, check them on a cold morning when all that gain from the previous day would be gone.  If the temperature jumps degree after degree at that time of day, your bees are still kicking.

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