I’s Winter in Montana, 17oF outside, and snowing. Obviously, it’s not a good time to open hives for inspection. Our hives are wrapped for Winter, sitting outside in snow drifts. Thirty miles north of Missoula, several thousand colonies are securely packed inside a new wintering building built by Bill Fluke of Arlee Apiaries.
Indoor wintering buildings have been used for some time in Canada (see Beekeeping in Western Canada, 1998) and are becoming more common in northern states. In Canada, hives are moved into Winter storage in October or early November and kept inside until Spring. In the U.S., migratory beekeepers are using sheds as safe, accessible places to keep hives from Fall through early Winter. Just before almond pollination, these hives will be loaded onto trucks and shipped to California.
It may seem extravagant to store hives indoors for only two to three months, it provides a place to keep the hives before almond bloom, protection from Winter cold and theft, and the convenience of hives close to home.
In Montana, we often have a thaw in January, before it gets cold again. This presents an opportunity to check colonies. If the bees have been rapidly consuming their honey stores, it’s time to feed them. In the sheds, beekeepers will be selecting hives to ship – it doesn’t make sense to pay freight on dead-outs and weak hives.
Time to get out the infrared camera to check bee colonies. For outdoor hives, we image at night or on overcast days. It’s best to examine hives in early morning hours, since hive boxes retain heat from afternoon sun; and reflected sunshine masks emitted heat from clustered bees. Inside a wintering shed, time of day isn’t an issue. Hives are kept in dark; red lights allow the beekeeper to work within the storage unit with little disturbance of the bees.
Paint color can greatly affect IR accuracy. Reflective paint, especially silver, makes it hard, if not impossible, to image bee populations. Matt color paints and unpainted hives will vary somewhat, but you should be able to discern cluster shape, position, and size. Hives wrapped in quilts can’t be imaged; there’s too much insulation space between the surface of the hive and the outside of the wrap. Hives tightly wrapped in black plastic can be imaged, but any gap between the plastic and the surface of the hive will degrade the image – I pull the wrapping tight and staple to box surfaces.
The most accurate thermal image is taken from a vantage point centered-on and perpendicular to the face of each hive. In wintering sheds, hives are usually stacked on pallets. When hives are stacked as high as the ceiling in rows only two to three feet (~ 1 meter) apart, the problems are: (1) ability of the infrared camera lens to focus on and image the full width of the hive due to insufficient stand-off distance, (2) seeing the image on the view-screen of the infrared camera, and (3) getting the infrared camera high enough to image upper tiers of hives.
This article comes from bee-culture edit released