We’re in our second winter of beekeeping. Last winter was relatively mild, with alternating periods of warm and cold weather typical for this part of the country. The average high temperature for this time of year is 50F, with the average low at 30F. This is my 35th winter in Charlotte, and I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand, and certainly not more than two hands, the number times the temperatures have dropped below 10F. So, with a low of 7F predicted for Charlotte tonight, this is a big thing. Local meteorologists say that if the predicted low is reached, tonight, it will break a record for this date that was set in 1884. On top of the cold temperatures, winds are supposed to reach 20 mph, which will result in wind chills well below zero. (OK . . . I know those of you from further north are giggling hard over this, but try to not to laugh out loud that others can’t read it . . . )
Obviously, this has got us taking extra precautions with things like plants, hoses, and pipes. But what about the girls? Would they be all right? We know that there are plenty of beekeepers further north who regularly experience temperatures much lower than these. And their bees survive just fine. But from what we’ve read, our northern counterparts also benefit from special preparations to better insulate the hives during the middle of the winter or from a lot of snow that naturally provides the necessary insulation and protection from the wind.
We, of course, have made no such preparations. And maybe for one night, they’re not necessary. But being an engineer, I always appreciate margin in everything we do. So, to provide just a little extra protection for the girls, we dug out some old sheets that we use to protect plants from early frosts, and draped them over the hives. The concept is that they will hold a little air around the hives to provide a little insulation around them, while also cutting down on the amount of wind that can blow through crevices or ventilation openings, and still providing the necessary ventilation for the girls.
However, I don’t think our neighbors will be giving us any fashion awards for our hives winter attire. Not only are sheets old and raggedy, but they are distinctly . . . how shall I say this? . . . bedroomish.
Oh well, the good news is that we plan to take them off in a couple of days after it’s warmed back up to more normal temperatures. And as cold as it will be, I doubt many of our neighbors will be out for their daily walks.
While on the topic of fashionable winter wear for the bees, I’d like to encourage you to visit this post from another beekeeper about some nice little open boxes her husband built to protect their hives from the winter winds. (Bee sure to also visit her later post showing how attractive the hives looked in the snow with their windbreakers on.) They are designed with three sides and no top so the hives can be taller or shorter, if desired. Also note the nifty hinges that allow them to be folded up and easily stored during warmer weather. (The engineer in me just loves them!) Because we use a different type of hive stand, we can’t use these. However, maybe I can come up with a modified version that will work with our hive stands.
Our prayers go out to those who are not blessed with a warm abode during this harsh cold. May God meet their needs, and keep them safe!
P.S. In an unrelated conversation with my bee mentor this evening, I mentioned what we had done. He cautioned me that if the sheets were flapping in the wind, the sound might disturb the bees, and cause them to break cluster. So I went out to check, and found that there was some slight movement, but no “flapping”, and no discernible sound (although, admittedly, the girls are more sensitive to sound and vibration than we are). I’m hoping all is well, and that we have not done more harm that good with our unfashionable covers. We’ll know more in a few weeks when it warms up enough for us to open up the hives.