Getting our bees winter-ready

Last week Emma and I met up to check on our two hives. It was a warm day for November and we wanted to make sure our larger colony was set up well for winter, with not too much empty space which the bees might struggle to heat.

Here’s Emma glowing as she lights up the smoker. Particularly toasty feet – she had two pairs of socks on!

Emma with FLIR camera

We had been considering removing the super and overwintering the bees on a single brood box, but we found they were covering several frames in the super and appeared to be using the honey. So instead we made up some insulated frames to place either end of the super, which should help keep them cosy. They also have plenty of silver foil thermal insulation sheets in the top of the hive (the kind you buy in rolls to help insulate lofts and walls).

Insulated frames

Below is a FLIR thermal camera image of our polystyrene nuc. Inside the bees are doing great, they are covering all the frames and were bringing back two colours of pollen, dark and light yellow. I expect one is ivy but am unsure what the other might be.

Nuc hive with FLIR camera

I am skeptical about how exact that 11.4C reading is, as I would expect the colony to have brood, with frames containing brood kept nearer 34-35C by the bees.  I also took a photo of a empty hive and found the camera read a similar temperature of around 9C! Philip over at the Mud Songs beekeeping blog has a useful post on Beekeeping With a “Flir One for Android”, with links to tutorials in the comments. I wish I had more time to investigate the software, but everyday life with Tommy is pretty full-on.

Look how much extra comb the nucleus bees have been busy building along the top of the glass.  We have left them some fondant in the feeder hole.

Poly nucleus hive

Mouseguards are on now. The next thing to do will be oxalic acid treatment in December. Now that the law has changed, this should be done with Api-Bioxal. Annoying as it is a bit more expensive and doesn’t come ready-mixed.

Best of luck to everyone over-wintering your bees.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Getting our bees winter-ready

  1. disperser says:

    High tech . . . impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Erik says:

    I saw a talk on IR pictures recently, and one comment they made is that heat waves reflect. You can see the reflection of Emma’s heat against the hive in your first picture. An interesting feature of heat to keep in mind. Your bees look all snug for winter, good luck to you as well.



  3. Love the thermal images. I might have to give that a go.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Apiarist says:

    Hi Emily … That nuc looks nicely packed with bees. A bit late for this season but … if you cut the ‘crownboard’ directly above the wall to the feeder, then tape it back together on one side only, you create a hinge and so can top up the feeder without disturbing the bees or all that brace comb. In my experience they’ll stick the crownboard down tightly over the colony but largely ignore the bit above the feeder. Alternatively, you can replace the entire thing with a sheet of thickish polythene and then just peel back the side you need for access. It’s then possible to top up nucs midwinter with no bees escaping, no real need for gloves or a suit and minimal heat loss.
    Look out for an oval thawed patch on frosty mornings on the Paynes box … the lids are too thin to be really useful. Before abandoning mine for use as swarm collection boxes I built a poly-filled eke for them.
    Let’s hope for a short, hard winter and an early, warm Spring 😉
    Best Wishes


    • Emily Scott says:

      Good ideas, thanks David. Will see what Emma wants to do and how easy it is to prise the crown board up a little to get the fondant in. If we find we’re disturbing the bees then cutting it sounds like a good plan.


  5. The colour pictures are great but I am sceptical of the readings too. If you think Emma is glowing bright yellow despite layers of clothing and a bee suit over her 37 degree body, then the yellow patches showing through a well insulated hive (wax and honey frames are good insulators too) should be at similar temperature. Amelia


    • Emily Scott says:

      Michael has pointed out in his comment below that the nucleus is doing its job of insulating, so presumably the colony is losing a lot less heat than Emma is and so appears less hot – but actually the camera is measuring the outside surface temperature of the nuc and so its true heat is hidden. Which I guess means the insulating hive walls and honey frames may make it tricky for the camera to detect where the bees are clustering.


  6. That thermal camera is really nice. It makes fun images along with being very useful for your hive.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark says:

    Hmmmm…I don’t have bees anymore but now I have to come up with an excuse to get an IR camera!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michael says:

    It makes sense that the exterior of the poly hives are at approx 11 degrees. That’s the effectiveness of the insulation. An interior photo of the hive should show much higher temperatures


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Michael, that makes sense. I was being a bit dopey. So it is measuring the outside surface of the nucleus box, not the inside. I’ll have to try taking an interior photo. Perhaps the camera will become more useful in midwinter when the cluster is more tightly packed and it might be possible to detect where in the hive the bees are. At the moment the pictures of the larger hives show the heat as evenly spread.


  9. Never can make up my mind about insulation, but the thermal imaging is persuasive…


  10. P&B says:

    This is really cool. It’s a great way to learn if there are any live bees in the hive without opening it. It’s time to lay back and enjoy the cold weather now.


  11. Phillip says:

    So you put frames wrapped with insulation on the edges of the box? That’s interesting. If the frames are empty anyway, why not fill the space with some insulation? Is that what you’re doing? Is that a common practice in your area?


    • Emily Scott says:

      Wooden dummy boards are commonly used – these are just a home-made version of insulated dummy boards. It’s an easy way of insulating the space so that you can add/remove the insulation easily.


  12. Emma Maund says:

    I think the bees were stealing all my heat, no wonder they kept landing on my suit when we were working! Great pictures Emily, I like to think our hives are so well insulated now that the camera can’t pick up any heat escaping from them. It’s so frosty now next time I may have to wear three pairs of socks to the apiary 😉


  13. Pingback: How we kept the bees warm | Mrs Apis Mellifera

  14. Pingback: Getting our bees winter-ready | How To Raise Bees

  15. Pingback: Getting our bees winter-ready | Raising Honey Bees

  16. Honey World says:

    Thanks for the information. I liked it!
    Honey World


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.