August 2019 Introduction: I fooled around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about three years. It’s not a device for beekeepers on a budget. I doubt I would have picked it up myself if I didn’t get it as a birthday gift. I wouldn’t call it essential for the kind of backyard beekeeping that I do, but I have to confess that I got in the habit of using it often in the winter, even though the battery doesn’t last much longer than five minutes on a typical freezing Newfoundland winter day. It doesn’t give me the most accurate thermal images of bees, but it provides an indication of whether or not the cluster is big or small, dead or alive, or dying. I don’t have to tap on the side of the hive and listen to the roar of the bees to see how they are doing. I don’t have to listen carefully with my stethoscope. Typically, I plug the device into my Android phone, turn everything on and then run out to my hives and take as many photos as I can as quickly as possible before the battery dies. I don’t think it ever lasts more than 10 minutes. I have my doubts that the built-in battery was designed for cold places like Newfoundland. Here are some sample images and video to give an idea of how it played it out for me.
The following was originally posted on December 7th, 2015, but was edited and updated on October 27th, 2016, to reflect my current practices, such as they are, and could be updated without noticed at any time in the future.
Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.
One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.
I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.
The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)
I often use a cheap stethoscope to monitor my honey bees in the winter when they’re still clustering below the top bars and out of sight. It’s the least disruptive method I have for checking on the bees.
Listening to the bees with a stethoscope.
It took some practice, but I can tell how deep and how large the cluster is by listening through the hive with the stethoscope. Most of the time, though, I’m just checking that the bees are still alive. That’s usually good enough for me.
A $7 stethoscope.
Sticking my ear against the hive works too, but it’s not as dignified as walking around with a stethoscope.
FEBRUARY 20, 2016: I have to say I continue to be impressed with the $7 stethoscope I bought on Amazon. I listened again to my bees today and could hear a lively buzz of bees in every hive. It takes a bit of imagination to interpret how the bees are doing from the often distant-sounding hum heard through the stethoscope, but at least I can tell they’re still hanging in there.
April 2019 Postscript: I still have my stethoscope, but I don’t use it often anymore. I just bend a knee into the dirt and stick one ear to the side of the hive. I can hear the bees better through my ear.