Should you house your bees indoors?
I’ve been getting a lot of folks asking about winter losses and having bees here in Labrador. Wouldn’t it be better to keep them indoors during the winter? Wouldn’t they stay warm better this way? I’ve been contemplating this for the last number of years. Going into my 4th season of keeping honeybees I’ve learned a thing or two but to be honest I’m not sure if housing them indoors during the winter months is the way to go. So I was more than happy to come across an article in the most recent Hivelights magazine from the Canadian Honey Council.
Comparing across Canadian provinces, winter losses in NL were actually pretty good- at close to 18% where as some other provinces including Quebec , NB and Alberta had much higher losses. While these results still only reflected about a third of Canadian beekeepers, it does give us an idea of what the norm is for the 2020 year.
It starts getting interesting when they start to compare outdoor and indoor wintering. The majority of overwintering is done outdoors - roughly 70% or so and beekeepers conserve heat by using wraps, etc. Those indoors would be kept in a temp and humidity controlled climate- amazing to see nonetheless as beehives are stacked and kept in a dark room for the entire winter. While some provinces seen reduced losses in indoor storage, many seen quite the opposite. Even NL saw an increase in losses when stored indoors and provinces like BC saw double the amount of losses for those kept inside.
Based on my limited amount of knowledge and experience so far- I think I will continue to keep my bees outside. I’ve been trying different things to keep them going. Last year I came out with all my hives but this year I’m down to one again...it’s been a challenge to say the least, and it’s even more difficult when there are limited folks and resources available locally.
I have found the foil bubble wrap quite useful. And based on what I’ve seen this past season- I think I’ll continue to use this going forward- two layers wrapped around the hive with the front open. The two layers help keep a layer of air space in between that helps buffer the cold and prevent that shock of the ice cold air hitting the warm surface of the hive. Having the front open slightly allows good air flow up through the hive and allows for release of moist air. Just as the vapor barrier on your house creates a seal, so does this bubble wrap. If you didn’t have an air exchanger you’d have condensation on your windows and you’d get ice buildup. Same for the beehive- bees are living creatures and create moisture as they work to keep the center of the hive warm ( the queen is nestled in there somewhere). Without a way for this excess warm, moist air to escape, your bees will get damp and get a chill. It is then that winter losses can happen.
At least I know I’m not the only one. Experienced beekeepers and newbees alike are sharing similar results. It takes time and persistence to find that sweet spot that keeps you moving forward. Wish me luck in another season.