New Winter Thoughts – Honey Bee Management Changes?

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The queen’s in the middle of this colony that died overwinter…not at all like the new data suggests.

Here’s an outside-the-box idea someone thought of, that we’ll have a lot more on once it gets reported on at Apimondia, I’m told.

A scientist from Australia wondered about the winter cluster. So he put an airport body scanner in a walk-in freezer and scanned a clustering bunch of bees. He did this in England, and a friend there told me about it…but not enough to get all the details. But he shared this…

Conventional wisdom…that’s what you have when you don’t have all the facts…just most of them…says a winter cluster forms in the bottomish part of a hive, shaped loosely like a football. The queen is in the middle, there’s an insulation layer of bees on the outside, and as winter progresses and weather permits, the bees move from where they were in the fall upwards to where a good beekeeper put the food. By spring, the bees are toward the top of the hive, getting low on food, and the queen is laying like mad in the middle.

This picture comes, at least in part, from research done more than 30 years ago in Wisconsin, using thermocouples placed in a hive. When activated, the heat sensors gave a static picture of where the bees were, and weren’t. That image hasn’t changed much…until now.

What the scanner showed, I’m told, is that the cluster is shaped much different, with the greatest number of bees right at the top of the cluster…imagine a “T” I’m told, and, more interestingly, the queen is all over the place, running here and there and keeping things organized. No mention of an insulation layer, moisture ventilation, moving to food…I have a million questions about this.

Now that’s a different picture, isn’t it? I can’t wait to get the rest of the story. You’ll see it here, or in the magazine, or on CATCH THE BUZZ for sure, as soon as I can get it.

But one thing troubles me. When you find a colony that has died overwinter, at least usually, you’ll find the queen right in the middle of the cluster, surrounded by a block of bees, and there will be lots of bees with their heads in now-empty cells. We’ve all seen this, right? So what gives? How can these two pictures be the same?

Well, I’ll let you know just as soon as I can.

In the mean time, keep you veil tight, your hive tool handy and your smoker lit…it’s still summer out there.

By the way, if you’re interested in winter preparations, or want to know a bit more about top bar hives take a look at the Mother Earth News Beekeeping blog. We’re cooking up some interesting stuff over there.