Hives in the Snow

I officially declare April 9th, 2011, as The First Day of Spring in our backyard. March 20th was technically the first day of spring, but that’s a joke, especially in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where it’s been cold or snowing pretty much every day since then (we got more snow last night). Although our backyard is still wet and slippery with the white stuff, the honey bees in Hive #1 are back in business and flying all around like it’s the middle of summer again. So that’s good enough for me. I’m going with that as the first sign of spring instead of waiting around for the first dandelion blossoms (who knows how long that would be). (Update: It was May 17th.)

The following was originally posted on November 23rd, 2010, and updated regularly to document our wonderful winter so we’d have a guide for next year’s winter weather conditions. I may add one or two more photos once all the snow is completely melted. But this is the end of it. Winter is DONE.


On the left: November 21st, 2010. On the right: November 23rd, 2010. Welcome to Hoth, a beekeepers paradise. Admittedly winter hasn’t really begun yet, but the snow is on the way.

I’ll add photos to this post throughout the winter.

GUARD BEE IN SNOW A guard bee came out as soon as I cleared some snow from the bottom entrance of Hive #2.

Another guard bee from Hive #1 flew right at my face when I cleared some snow from that entrance.

The bees are docile in the summer. Not so much once it gets cold.

Let the good times roll…

Hive #1 on Nov. 30, 2010 and then Jan. 13, 2011 when about 40cm (16 inches) of snow got dumped on us in about 12 hours (between these dates, we had nothing but rain and soggy dampness almost every day):

Hive #1 on Nov 30, 2010Hive #1 on Jan 13, 2011

Hive #2 on January 17th and 26th, 2011:

The upper entrance of Hive #2 on Feb. 1, 2011, with a -22°C wind chill and condensation collecting on the edge of the top cover:

Hive #2 and #1 on Feb. 1, 2011, and #1 again:

Also on February 1st, I noticed two dead bees outside Hive #1 and a dead drone in snow outside Hive #2. Judging from what’s coming out his butt and the excrement on the outside of the hive, I wonder if the bees have managed to get in many cleansing flights (a.k.a. washroom breaks) any time this winter? If not, Nosema (video) could be a concern. What am I talking about? Everything is a concern for us at this point.

Hive #2 on Feb. 1. Hive #1 on Feb. 3, 2011:

Hives #2 and #1 on Feb. 11, 2011. (Here’s the close-ups on Hive #1 and Hive #2.)


Hive #1 on Feb. 17th, 2011:

Hive #1 on March 14th, no longer half buried in snow. Then Hives #2 and #1 the same and on their way to being half buried in snow again:

Hives #1 and #2 on March 24th:

On the same day, not as buried in snow as they were two weeks ago (then we got another 40cm the next day):

Temperatures rose slightly in April. Some snow melted and some snow fell. The first feeding with syrup was scheduled for April 10th, though we were informed we could have begun feeding with top hive feeders a few weeks earlier. Here are the hives on April 8th:

Heavy winds and a rain storm finally washed away the last of the snow. Here are Hives #1 and #2 on April 19th, 2011 (the top two medium supers are sheltering inverted jar feeders):

I should have known better. This is what we woke up to this morning (April 21st, 2011):


25 thoughts on “Hives in the Snow

  1. Just make sure you get newfoundland bees to keep newfounland mite free….

    But please jump into beekeeping. It is a blast.

  2. To be clear, it’s illegal to import honeybees onto the island of Newfoundland. Queen bees can be imported from places that are certified as mite-free, like Australia and one or two other places.

    We’re very fortunate not to have any mites on the island yet.

  3. The more people that read these comments and discover that we are blessed in Newfounland for having honey bees that are mite-free will be more inclined to keep the province mite free.

    Which benefits everyone.

  4. I’ve been working out on the road for the past while. I checked out the hives for the first time in a while today. I saw a fair number of dead bees outside the hive and crowded around the entrance reducer. I’m not worried though. Bees die off in the winter. Some bees even do what some call a suicide flight when there are too many bees in the wintering hive. They fly out and die in the cold so the rest of the hive will have more to eat. Weird, but I just read about it on a forum today. (If you can think of it, my bet is the bees probably do it.)

    I looked into the top entrance of Hive #2 and accidentally breathed a bit inside and some guard bees came to the entrance immediately. I could see several of them crowded around the entrance, though they didn’t fly out. So they’re still in there buzzing away. Gotta say, I’m impressed with these bees.

  5. Mine are bunkered down. I look in through the top netrance reducer you can see several bees there but there is not a lot of activity. If you hit the side you can hear them buzz but not much out of them overall. Lets hope they make it through the winter.

  6. What concerns me the most is the fluctuating temperatures we’ve been having. I’d rather have it consistently cold. It takes honey consumption to heat the hive, but I think they use up even more energy when it’s warm enough to fly. So they’ll go through the honey faster and sometimes starve before spring. Apparently they do better when it’s cold most of the time. It’s been more like early fall around here lately.

    But who knows. The first year of beekeeping is live and learn.

  7. Someone on Facebook asked me how the bees manage not to freeze to death over the winter. My answer:

    They cluster together in a big ball kind of like Antarctic penguins, taking turns moving from the colder outside of the ball (9°C) to the warmer inside (27°C). The queen is always on the inside. They shiver to create heat and slowly eat away at honey stores (about 50kg) until the spring. On warmer days (above 10°C) they may fly outside the hive to use the facilities because they don’t like to poop where they live. And that’s how they live in Newfoundland for nearly half the year. It’s nuts.

  8. minimum honey consumption is at 42°F. If ti either warmer or cooler they comsume more juice. So the temps lately aren’t to bad.

  9. I have no idea what 42°F is. Fahrenheit has never made any sense to me. Let me look it up…

    7°C. Huh. It has to get colder later in the winter, but the past month hasn’t been too cold. Hovering around 5°C is about right. Excellent.

    I might know these little facts if I read more beekeeping books. But I haven’t dug into any of my books yet. I probably won’t have a chance to read anything until after the new year. Between work and general Xmas mayhem, I barely have time to breathe.

    I wonder where the bees are clustering in the hive. I haven’t pulled out the entrance reducers since I wrapped the hives. Before that, I could see in both hives the cluster was in the bottom left.

  10. It’s 5°C today. Man, it’s been warm and wet for a while now. I wonder if any of that moisture is collecting inside the hives. I’ll be happy to have one hive survive the winter. I’ll be overjoyed if both survive.

  11. I checked mine. I have the hard foam , that is not perfectly sealed and fiber glass batting on top. The bottom side of the outside cover is damp and you could feel see a couple of drops of water on the fiberglass batting.

  12. The bottom side of the outside cover is damp and you could feel [and] see a couple of drops of water on the fibreglass batting.

    Is that good? (I’m not sure if I’m visualizing it correctly.)

    My bottom boards look soaking wet in the damp weather we’ve been having. I see plenty of dead bees piling up around the bottom reduced entrance.

    However, I can still see guard bees at the top entrances of both hives, so I guess they’re going at it.

    We also haven’t had much sunlight, and neither of my hives get as much direct sunlight at this time of year. So whatever heat benefit there is from having black paper wrapped around them is minimal.

    I’ll be so impressed if they survive this weird winter we’re having. I’d rather see the hives buried — and insulated — in snow than this cool damp weather we’ve been having.

  13. We had snow in late November that looked like this:

    It’s been wet and rainy ever since, though the last time I checked my bees were still alive. Temperatures have averaged between -5° and 5°C.

    Today is the first day I’ve seen snow on the ground since November. It looks about the same as it did last time. I’ll post a photo if I have a chance.

    Except for constant damp in the air for the past month and a half, the cool but relatively mild temperatures have probably been okay for the bees. My guess is they’re clustering but not eating up too much honey stores.

    At least I hope that’s the case.

  14. The wind chill factor tonight is supposed to be -22°C. I’m tempted to place a board over the upper entrances of my hives to block the wind. The top entrances on my hives aren’t sheltered at all. Hmm… (I’m thinking.) Then we’re getting hit with a massive storm that’s blowing across most of North America, though most of the storms are usually a wet, windy mess by the time they make it to Newfoundland.

  15. This is as bad as it’s been this year:

    That -10°C is a -25°C wind chill (that’s -13°F). I should have sheltered the hives last night. The wind was wicked. I’ll check the hives later this morning and add a new photo to this post. They’re buried in a bit of snow, and apparently we’re getting hit big time in a day or two.

  16. The big storm dumped a nice pile of snow on us. The city is shut down. The hives are half buried. I’ll post photos later.

    I wonder if melting snow creates an ice sheet inside the bottom of the hive. The outside portions of the bottom boards have been ice for a while, enough to block the bottom entrances.

    I’m impressed how well the bees live under these conditions.

  17. Well Phil, the bees were out flying around the hive today. It was 0.5°C, the sun a blazing and no wind but they were out stretching their wings. But by the looks of the ground a bunch didn’t make it back. Good to see the activity though.

  18. I’m so pleased for you that the bees made it through the winter. What stars they are.

    The advice the local beekeepers give here in London is to clear the snow away from the hive entrances…they say the bees are attracted to the sun bouncing off the snow and come out to have a look. Then their three simple ocelli eyes on the top of their heads get confused – because light is usually coming from above so that they fly upwards towards the sun, but in the case of snow their ocelli eyes guide them to fly into the snow’s light and freeze.

    In your case I don’t see how you could possibly hide the snow from the bees! They seem to have coped brilliantly with it anyway.

  19. Really interesting website. And I love that you have one of those crows atop the hive. I’ve been looking at them in the window of that shop on Water Street for ages, but I never quite knew where I might put them. I guess they don’t rust or corrode, though I was wondering if they would.

    I’m going to have to think about this a lot more before I would do anything rash like decide I want my own bees, though…

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