Some might say I am slightly obsessive about beehive insulation for the winter, but I am only guided by other beekeeper's experiences in my neighbourhood. Two years ago people were losing 2/3 of their bees due to the cold and they're still not insulating their hives. Now, I have come up with a third design that leaves them no excuses as it is incredibly cheap and quick to accomplish, easy to mass produce and re-usable year on year. This design will be especially relevant to bee keepers who experience harsh winters in Canada, Northern USA, Scandinavia, Russia, central Europe, Scotland etc. and have quite a few hives to manage.
The design is based on the principle of wrapping with fibrous insulation but rather than wrapping directly on the hive, there is an intermediary frame which allows the whole structure to be removed with great ease and speed. Hopefully this will inspire my neighbours to insulate their hives and save their bees from hypothermia.
|Difficulty:||..........||Basic MIG welding skills|
Step 1: Materials and Equipment
- 10mm round mild steel bar x 6 m
- One roll 500mm clear pallet wrap
- Parcel tape
- One roll glass fibre insulation or equivalent (This could be recycled duvets, blankets, clothing etc.)
- Exterior non drip paint
- 3m x 1m hessian sheet for 'alternative' rustic finish
- Plywood sheet 500 mm x 500 mm x 12 mm
- Rock weights 5kg
600 x 600 mm concrete paving slabs
- MIG welder
- Steel cutting saw
- 5" angle grinder
- Set square
- Paint roller
Step 2: Fabricate the Steel Frame
Cut the 10mm bar into 12 lengths of 500mm each and lay 4 lengths on a flat concrete surface as in the photo above. The tape measure shows where short legs are formed. Weld the upper most points of contact at the corners and repeat two produce a matching pair.
Now offer the remaining pieces of steel onto one of the frames and weld the corners to form a box. Find all the places on the corners that need welding and grind off any sharp edges and bits of knobbly weld. You should end up with a simple metal frame that will fit over a beehive with plenty of gaps around it for ventilation, as in the 4th photo.
These frames do not have to be steel, but they are incredibly quick to make in steel and very strong. Not expensive either!
Step 3: Wrap It Up!
Pallet wrap has got to be one of the most useful engineering materials on the planet and is vastly under utilised! It is incredibly strong and lightweight and is cheap and water proof. It also sticks to itself as long as it is dry and clean.
Wrap the frame up as in the 1st photo leaving the underside clear. Make clean cuts with sharp scissors rather than trying to rip it off. Keep working in an alternate fashion wrapping the sides and then making a couple of wraps over the top then going back to the sides again. Be generous with the pallet wrap.
Now wrap the insulation around the frame. The pallet wrap stops the insulation falling into the internal space. Place a generous quantity of insulation on the top and then wrap wrap ...... wrap away with pallet wrap again! Eventually you will have something that resembles a cocoon - a perfect place for insects to live!
Step 4: Tidy Up the Edges
Turn the cocoon upside down and tidy up the bottom edges with pallet wrap as shown in the photos. Finally, use parcel tape or waterproof duct tape to secure any lose edges that can be seen.
Now paint the outside surface with a bee friendly colour such as green or go directly for a 'rustic' finish shown later on.
Step 5: Installation
The beehives themselves need to be positioned on 600 x 600 mm concrete paving slabs. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and place the cocoons over the beehives when it starts to get cold, making sure that the entrances are not blocked and that bees are happily flying freely in and out of the hive. The cocoon is on what are effectively 50mm legs and needs no holes drilled in it as the bees will find their way out of their normal entrances and will then find their way downwards and out of the bottom of the cocoon in the 50mm gap. The gap will also provide ventilation up and around the wooden hive within so it is important that there are no obstructions.
A piece of plywood 500mm square needs to go on top of the cocoon with heavy rocks on it to stop the whole hive from blowing over in the wind. The plywood dissipates the weight over the whole roof surface, stopping the stones from causing sagging points in the insulation.
Watch out for Robot bees trying to squat the new cocoons!
Step 6: Temperature and Humidity Monitoring
What's the point of doing this if it does not work? I am using a Sinus TFA 35.1095 weather station with 'add on' remote sensors to demonstrate how much benefit is gained by using these cocoons. There's no point in me trying to put the sensors in the middle of the nest and the optimum position is actually on the roof of the wooden hive directly underneath the cocoon roof. This will let us know how much heat is being lost through the roof and also give us an indication of how effective our ventilation is. The remote sensors give out a wirelessly transmitted signal of temperature and humidity which can be picked up by the base station outside the hive. The humidity readings will give us an indication of possible ventilation problems as bees breathe out water vapour just as we do and if this is not dispersed then the humidity will reach very high levels. I am using a 'control' hive which has no insulation to give a comparison.
The graphs above show temperature and humidity. The cocoon hive has a green line and it's immediately obvious that it is warmer than the control hive. Before the cocoon was installed, both hives had the same temperatures. Humidity levels seem to be generally lower in the cocoon which is fantastic! If you look at the smoothness of the graph lines, temperature is seen to wildly fluctuate in the control hive whereas in the cocoon we have nice steady changes that wont upset the bees so much. All in all the cocoon is a big success!
The bees in our apiary are Apis Mellifera Mellifera and require a brood temperature of between 32 and 35 degrees C to remain healthy. They do not hibernate during the winter, but use their honey reserves to generate heat within the hive. When the core temperature gets too low a group of bees volunteer to become 'thermo-regulators' and they uncouple their wings and create heat by being served honey and vigorously flexing their wing arms. Humidity levels within the hive vary between different locations. Areas of young brood need high humidity for the healthy growth of the grubs and bees will volunteer for being 'humidity controllers' and perform their tasks by 'fanning, droplet extrusion and tongue lashing'.
Step 7: Ultra Rustic Alternative Finish
I'm really not sure if I like the look of the big green dome thing so I wrapped mine up in some old hessian sheet that I had lying around. I cut a couple of long thin sections off as shown in the photo to make ties, wrapped the cocoon around with the large sheet and tied it off with the thin strips as shown. I then wedged in some old dry grass that was growing a couple of feet away to give it an ultra rustic look. I think it works? Nobody would believe that there was a an amazingly complex and well organised colony of insects living inside, with their own dedicated tongue lashing and wing uncoupling thermo-humidity regulators. Please could we have a vote to see who prefers the green dome?
Step 8: Final Thoughts
I must say that I am very happy with this design as it is incredibly simple and easy to make and looks great, in my opinion at least, with the rustic finish. Although it is still fairly warm here at the moment, the bees too seem to be completely happy with their executive hive package add on accessory, adapting very quickly to the new entrance configuration and off collecting the last of the nectar and pollen available before the dark and cold winter sets in.