It is the 30th of January, 2014. Temperatures are moderating. No freezing weather can be found anywhere in the long range forecasts.
We are, beekeeper-ly speaking, in the home stretch:
Tom Stockton photo, Into the Home Stretch, Slowly
It is still too cold to do anything but peek into hives and get a quick feel for what is happening in there. We know the queens are beginning to lay again, and the first round of post-winter-solstice bees should be hatching out now. That means more bees to cover and nurse new brood, so this hatch will spur the queen to:
You go, girl!
I had tea with Jenn yesterday, who is going through her first winter as a beekeeper. One of her two hives is damp inside…really damp. So we listed all the possible causes, things she can check out today.
1. Jenn is using solid bottom boards (we hates them, nassty thingses!), so perhaps one hive has settled in the back, and water may be pooling in the bottom board.
2. Her entrance reducers are reduced to a single bee width, which doesn’t allow for much ventilation. She’s going to turn them to the larger opening, and make sure the entry is not clogged by dead bees. In the case of a solid bottom board, perhaps she should take the entrance reducer off entirely…
3. Although she has a newspaper filled quilt box above the cluster, it is above the inner cover. My gut tells me that the inner cover must be OVER the quilt box. If placed directly above the cluster, the inner cover still presents a relatively cold surface where the warm, moisture laden air rising off the bees will condense…and drip. With the inner cover placed over the quilt box, that steamy cloud is free to percolate up through the quilt box material, condensing in the upper layers of the insulation (I like fine wood chips) where it cannot drip down onto the bees. If you are using an Ultimate Hive Cover, or prop your wood cover up on popsicle sticks, you don’t even need an inner cover over your quilt box.
4. Which brings us to ventilation. It may be that there is no way for the warm air rising off the cluster to exit the hive. Jenn will check that she has an upper entrance, and that it is clear. She also does not have a screened vent hole in her quilt box.
5. This cluster may just be large and so gives off more moisture. Ventilation is the key to keeping them dry.
6. For some reason, rain may be getting into this hive. Perhaps a rain hat is in order.
As usual, lots to consider.
***UPDATE February 01, 2014:Turns out Jenn painted one hive but not the other. She wondered if painting the hives just seals in the moisture and makes things worse for the overwintering bees. She decided to leave one unpainted to let the wood breathe: an idea I have seen raised on bee boards from time to time. Guess which hive was soaking wet?! It was the UNpainted hive. Seems in our climate at least, there is a lot more water on the outside than the inside, and rain has thoroughly soaked the wood. Whatever ability the wood had to absorb moisture from the cluster (and it should have some) was given up to absorbing rainwater. Painting the hive seals it against rain, and if you provide reasonable ventilation up through the hive, moist air from the bees will vent, and the hive interior should keep reasonably dry.
Although it was barely 8 degrees C, and largely overcast, some bees at the horse farm were venturing out on cleansing flights. Peeking into one of the smaller hives, which went light into winter, I noted they had devoured their supplementary sugar brick. Another batch is cooling in the kitchen!
We are almost there, but not out of the winter woods yet.
Hang on girls!