Low Winter Clustering

This is the shortest video I’ve ever posted (about 23 seconds long). It shows what most of my hives look like now (on December 10th) when I pop the tops off and look inside. They’ve been like this for a few weeks now.

I don’t see a thing because the bees are clustered at the very bottom of the hive so low that the edge of the cluster is hanging off the bottom bars. (I’ll add a photo of that too if I can find it.)

In the past, my bees would start the winter (or late fall) at the top of the hive and eventually move down below their honey and then work their way back up to the top as they ate through their honey over the winter. But sometimes they wouldn’t move down at all, which can be kind of a pain.

So I changed how I prepare my bees for winter in the fall and I’ve subsequently got all of my colonies (in ten hives) to cluster well below all their honey long before winter sets in. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a big deal for me. And…

That’s all I can say for now. I don’t want to say anything more about this until I know I’m onto something. I’ve posted experiments I’ve done in the past as they were happening, but I don’t plan to post anything anymore unless I’m fairly confident that what I’m doing works. It’s okay for me to make mistakes, but I’d rather people learn from my mistakes and not follow them while they’re happening. But yeah, I think this one is going to work.

Postscript: I don’t normally post videos that I didn’t make, but I’ll make an exception this time because I’m glad to promote the guy who made the video. It’s from Ian Steppler, a commercial beekeeper in Manitoba, and it shows what the bees look like when they’re clustering below the bottom bars (for those who don’t know what that looks like).

Postscript #2 (December 16, 2019): Here’s the big reveal. I’ve been experimenting with blocking the top entrances of my hives beginning in September while providing ventilation up top. Since I’ve done that, all of my colonies have clustered at the bottom of the hive going into winter. They fill the top and stay clustered in the bottom. I’ve had the same thing happen in hives with top entrances, but not consistently. These are still early days, but I like what I’ve seen so far because the bees start the winter clustered under a solid block of honey. And with honey on the sides, they’ve got the best insulation I think I can give them — frames of honey. It also makes it easier for me to judge how much honey stores they have left. Until I see them crowding the top entrance, I know they’ve still got plenty of honey. (I forgot to mention I’ve been unblocking the top entrance once it’s cold and the bees are clustering below.) What doesn’t seem to make sense is that I use wide open bottom entrances. Yet the bees are clustering on the bottom, hanging off the bottom bars right next to that wide open space with the cold wind blowing in. Whatever the case may be, it’s working out well so far.