And the “bee” goes on!
So what’s new with the overwintering bees experiment at Science North you ask? To start off, all of the colonies we’re monitoring are alive! This is great news, and even though we’re still pretty early in the season, we’ve actually already found out a few things, but before I get into that, I wanted to update everyone on the changes that Otto has made to the equipment.
You might remember from my previous post (here) about the amazing experiment that Otto Rost, a local hobby beekeeper, has been running here at Science North. The main purpose of this winter is to field test the equipment and so far it’s mostly held up to our crazy winter. But he’s made a few changes to the equipment.
In the photo above we can see that there are a few differences from the previous monitor. Firstly we were curious about the temperature differentiation between outside and inside, so Otto added a probe inside Science North. Now we can compare the inside temperature (D) to the outside temperature (B). Secondly, if you’re here in the Science Center looking at the display monitor, the time at the top right of the screen is the time that the system reset itself and took a new reading. Otto has programed it to take a reading every 10 minutes and this data is now being logged onto an SD card. Otto has already been able to graph the temperature fluctuations with the data the system has collected (those are coming in a following update :). Lastly, we know that snow has an insulating factor, so just to see what’s going on under the snow, Otto buried one of the probes (G) under the snow in the bee yard to see if there was a difference in temperature from outside. The rest of the probes are the same as before each logging the temperature of the 5 hives outside.
Some surprising…and worrisome results
So about three weeks ago Otto and I noticed that the temperature in my personal hive (3) was increasing and at first you might think, “Yay! My bees are nice and warm!”, but the trick here is that the temperature probe is at the top of my hive. The temperature jump was because all of my bees were clustered at the top of the hive. The reason this is concerning is because the bees should start at the bottom of the hive and eat their way up to the top and this process should take all winter, not until January. There are still at least 2 months left of winter and my bees might have starved if I hadn’t noticed them at the top. The really weird part is that once the bees are at the top, they don’t go back down, even if there is tons of honey stored in the hive below them. So now that I know my bees are at the top of their hive I can begin feeding them now. Typically in mid-to-late March is when a beekeeper will check inside the hive to see where their bees are and start feeding them a watery sugar syrup to sustain them until Spring happens and they can begin to forage for their own food again.
This was a huge revelation because it helped me save my bees and demonstrates another use for the system that Otto has developed.
What we’re looking forward to
We’ve so far seen some interesting fluctuations in the hive temperatures, predominately in hive A and 3 (which is a weaker hive and mine who we found at the top recently). Otto is looking forward to graphing out the whole of his data. We’re wondering if this mild/cold winter we’ve had this year has had anything to do with the weird behaviour we’ve seen with the bees. We’re hopeful that this data will shed some light on Otto’s ideas on improving the way we overwinter hives in Northern Ontario and then making it possible for other beekeepers in the area to use this system to help them, help their hives survive our unpredictable winters.
Otto and I have appeared and spoken to a couple of local news groups in the past month…if you’re curious to hear more details about the experiment check them out at the links below 🙂
CBC Radio Interview, aired Dec 29th, 2016.
CTV News Interview, aired Jan 23rd, 2017.