This post was originally written in December 2016, but has been completely revised and simplified for December 2018.
I’ve been fooling around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about two years, going into my third winter now. It’s kind of neat, but it’s not an essential tool for backyard beekeepers, certainly not for beekeepers on a budget. Whenever I use it on a cold winter’s days, it usually dies in about 5 minutes, even when it’s fully charged. So whatever photos or videos I take with it, I have to move quick.
It was zero degree Celsius today (also known as the temperature at which water freezes). It was also extremely damp and miserable. Not a bad day to see if visual inspections of the clusters match the thermal images from my Flir One for Android camera device. Not a bad day to make some pre-winter adjustments to some of my hives too.
Hive #1. Other than dropping in some sugar over the top bars in a week or two, and maybe wrapping the hive, Hive #1 is just the way I like it.
Bottom to top: Solid bottom board; 6mm / quarter-inch shrew-proofing mesh; 2 deeps; rim with entrance hole meshed in; moisture quilt full of wood chips; a piece of scrap plywood / top cover. (Oct. 28, 2016.)
A word about that top cover. Yup, it’s a piece of plywood I found in the corner of my shed. I put something heavy on top to keep it in place, but that’s it. I’ve had it on the hive for several months now, always meaning to replace it with a real top cover but never getting around to it. I may leave it on the hive all winter. Why not? The inside of the hive is warm and dry. Whether it’s a commercially made telescoping top cover dipped in wax with a metal cover, or a dirty piece of scrap plywood taken from a junk heap, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the bees.
Top cover removed, moisture quilt open. (Oct. 28, 2016.)
From this angle, it looks like the cluster is straddling the deeps.
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.