For many years I have succeeded in wintering my honeybee colonies with the use of external hive insulation wraps, screened bottom boards (SBB) and ventilated inner covers (VIC). This winter I thought I would try something a little different as an experiment. The idea is to join four hives together while incorporating my previous SBB, VIC and insulation designs. Joining the hives together in this fashion is not a new idea in the world of beekeeping. Beekeepers have been using this technique for many years, mostly in regions which receive cold weather during the winter months. By placing the hive walls together, any heat loss which might occur would be shared by the adjoining hives. With that in mind I have designed a four-hive platform which includes a SBB and one 20 ft. heat tape/coil which is shared by all four hives. I will be using the terms heat "tape" and heat "coil" interchangably and the following information will show the process of construction.
The picture above shows the upside-down main frame construction of the platform. It is composed of 2" X 4" pressure treated (PT) lumber and forms a base with roughly 41" sides to accommodate four hives. The spacing between the hives is approximately 3" wide to accommodate the hive's top telescopic covers. If your hives utilize a different size/design of covers you will have to adjust the spacing accordingly. All sections of lumber have been dadoed so as to allow the sliding-in of a plastic tray. This tray will prevent the bottom insulation from falling out and will retain the heat produced by the heat tape. The 2" X 4" wire mesh is composed of galvanized steel wire stapled to the main structure.
The next picture shows the frame turned right-side-up. The two wood frames in the center are to distribute/suppor the center weight created by the four hives.
Below is the same base with installed heat tape and plastic sliding trays. The 2" X 4" wire mesh only serves as a support for the heat coil. The coil is attached underneath the wire mesh with plastic ties.
The following picture show's the main platform with the added sheet of 1/2" PT plywood. I first laid out a full sheet of plywood over the base. I then cut to size (41" X 41") and staggered 4 empty hive boxes to mark their planned final location. The gauge of the wire mesh produced a space of about 1/8" between the plywood and frame members. After cutting out the holes, I screwed the plywood to the base using lots of expanding foam glue (Gorilla Glue). After the glue hardened I then siliconed the perimeter of the base for a tight seal.
After cutting out the plywood and securing it to the base I then installed #8 gauge galvanized wire mesh to create the SBB. Over the wire mesh I installed a 3/4" (H) by 1.5" (W) wood trim to form the base of the hive bodies. This trim was glued and screwed onto the base for stability.
I have also created removable full bottom entrance reducers out of the same 3/4" X 1.5" material. These reducers have 4 entrance holes spaced every 1/2" and cut to approximately 3/8" (H) by 1/2" (W) .
On the above picture you can see the coil-wire plug coming out between two hive bases in the plywood. I have also situated the first hive body at its permanent wintering location.
In order to prevent rodents from entering the space area between the hive bodies I have added a vertival block of wood to fill in that small gap between the hive bases. You can see that gap on the above photo near the protruding heat-tape chord. This vertical block fits tightly between the bases and is removable. You can make this block permanent if you wish. I made this block removable just in case I need to "probe" the interior area with a thermometer or some other such device. The vertical block eventualy gets covered up with the exterior insulation.
Above we have three hives in their permanent winter location.
After all 4 hives have been placed in their proper location an insulation cover is attached/taped around the outside as seen in the above three pictures. In this case I am using 1" sheets on two sides and 3/4" sheets on the other two sides because that is what I had available at the time from a previous construction job.
After securing the insulation to the sides I then used the remaining section of the 4' X 8' plywood as a roof cover. Since all four hives have a different number of either deep or medium boxes I had to compensate their heights to create a flat roof surface. I accomplished this by adding spacers (empty boxes) directly above their ventilated inner covers. The VICs' are insulated but the spacer boxes are not.
I am not concerned about moisture collecting on the walls within the insulation. I never did have a problem with that as long as there was a bottom air intake and a top air exhaust. The four entrance holes at the bottom of the SBB and the one hole at the top of the VIC take care of venting the moisture out of the hive. Going with the theory that warm air rises, any moisture that might accumulate within the spaces of the hive bodies should vent out the top near the telescopic outer covers and the sheet of plywood.
Throughout the Winter Months
In Spencer, Massachusetts, USA
The following temperature readings were obtained via a wireless thermometer. The thermometer was placed in the center, in the space where all four hive bodies meet. The thermometer sensor was suspended approximately 3" above the floor area.
10/15/10---7 AM--------Outside Temp. = 43 F-------External Hive Temp. = 52 F
10/17/10---10 AM------Outside Temp. = 50 F-------External Hive Temp. = 59 F
10/18/10---7 AM--------Outside Temp. = 35 F-------External Hive Temp. = 46 F
10/18/10---1 PM--------Outside Temp. = 40 F-------External Hive Temp. = 49 F
10/19/10---8 AM--------Outside Temp. = 33 F-------External Hive Temp. = 44 F
11/02/10---7 AM--------Outside Temp. = 29 F-------External Hive Temp. = 47 F
11/03/10---6 AM--------Outside Temp. = 21 F-------External Hive Temp. = 47 F
11/13/10---6 AM--------Outside Temp. = 29 F-------External Hive Temp. = 37 F
01/01/11---12 PM------Outside Temp. = 52ºF-------External Hive Temp. = 59ºF
01/11/11---7 AM--------Outside Temp. = 10 F-------External Hive Temp. = 32 F
01/14/11---7 PM--------Outside Temp. = 6.5 F------External Hive Temp. = 27 F
01/15/11---2:15 AM----Outside Temp. = -3.4 F-----External Hive temp. = 16.2 F
01/23/11---3:30 AM----Outside Temp. = -8.5 F-----External Hive Temp. = 11.7 F
02/04/11---5:50 AM----Outside Temp. = -4 F-------External Hive Temp. = 18 F
02/11/11---5:40 AM----Outside temp. = -6.5ºF----External Hive temp. = 18ºF
02/17/11---9 AM--------Outside temp. = 37°F------External Hive temp. = 48°F
02/18/11---4:20 PM----Outside temp. = 56°F------External Hive temp. = 62°F
02/22/11---7:20 AM----Outside temp. = 9°F-------External Hive temp. = 23°F
02/24/11---5:20 AM----Outside temp. = 5ºF-------External Hive temp. = 22ºF
02/24/11---4:00 PM----Outside temp. = 40ºF------External Hive temp. = 46ºF
02/25/11---7 AM--------Outside temp. = 33ºF------External Hive temp. 49ºF
02/28/11---1:30 PM----Outside temp. = 37ºF------External Hive temp. = 50ºF---cloudy/foggy/drizzle
03/05/11---2 PM--------Outside temp. = 51ºF------External Hive temp. = 58ºF
***At this time (03/05/11) all hives are surrounded with approximately 4 ft. of snow.
Winter 2010-2011--- Successful Wintering
On 03/17/11 the outside temperatures climbed to nearly 70ºF and most of the snow has melted. I took this opportunity to inspect my hives. All four hives were found to be in good conditions. All hives still had remaining honey stores and some pollen. Queens were found in two of the hives. Non of the hives had any visible eggs or brood. On this day I observed the first signs of pollen being brought in to the hives.
***I have reason to believe that all four of my hives have made it through the winter in such good condition due to four factors. These factors include the use of a screened bottom board (SBB), the use of a ventilated inner cover (VIC), the use of "assisted heating" by means of a heat tape and by merging all four hive bodies during the cold winter months.
The merging of all four hives allowed them to remain in close proximity to each other thus aiding in the prevention of heat loss to the outside environment. The addition of the extra heat tape beneath the screened bottom board helped heat all four hives simultaneously by using electrical energy equivalent to a 60 watt light bulb. The heat within all four hives was preserved through the use of the exterior insulation. The use of the SBB in conjunction with the VIC allowed the excess moisture within the hive to ventilate at the top thus maintaining a dry hive environment.
Perhaps not all areas of the country (world) will benefit through the use of the above setup. I know that it works here in this area given the local temperatures, humidity and weather patterns.
The following icon will take you to the Beemaster.com webring site to access other beekeeping web sites and information.
This web page was last updated on March 19, 2011.