Last week I headed out to check on the five hives we have in the back of the institute grounds: two typical Langstorth hives and two horizontal Langstroths, one of which holds two colonies. My plan was to lightly wrap the Langstroths and add the topping insulation to the horizontal hives. Wrapping hives is controversial. Many believe that putting an impermeable layer around the hive will hold in moisture and make the hive unlivable for the colony over the winter. On the other hand, they need some moisture to condense on the walls so that the bees can drink and stay hydrated when they can’t leave the hive.
Last year I wrapped the hives in old sheets to help cut down on any wind penetration of the hive. One hive died and one survived. The “dead out” was likely due to a warm spell in February that caused them to put on brood and then they refused to go up to eat honey when it cooled back down; they were attempting to keep the brood warm and starved to death.
During the fall, hives have about a hundred pounds of honey and this is their food for the winter. Unfortunately, many other bugs want the honey: ants, wasps, other bees, even honey bees from neighboring hives. Both of our Langstroth hives were robbed out by wasps. When I went to wrap the hives, I could tell that no live bees were present: when I knocked the side, I didn’t hear the characteristic “zoom” noise and no bees left the entrance when a stick was inserted. I popped the top and found the hives completely empty of honey, brood, and pollen. The bottom board looked like a scene out of a Tolkien movie.
In future years, I’ll put in “robber screens” and keep the entrances reduced to help keep the openings manageable for the guards. I’ll provide these updates here, of course.
Both of our horizontal hives seem to be doing well and the bees are present and feisty. One nice design feature of these hives is to hold insulation above the bees to help keep some of the heat in. I chose straw to let moisture out but still maintain warmth. A wool blanket would also work.