To better understand what is happening in the bee yard, I purchased a Wi-Fi Hive Scale from O’Keefe Electronics Inc. Quantifying a hives weight and measuring it over time can be most revealing. There is a direct correlation between hive productivity and hive weight; if there is a rapid weight gain during a nectar flow, the bees need more space to store the honey. Adding another honey super provides this space. If, during this honey flow, the hive weight flat lines, the bees have stopped working in preparation to swarm. If the hive weight suddenly drops three pounds during said honey flow, the bees have swarmed. No Bueno. You have just lost a season of productivity from the hive because the queen left with most of the foraging bees. Continued weight loss when the hive should be gaining weight may indicate a diseased hive. These and other reasons make it advantageous to have at least one hive scale in your apiary.
The actual scale is placed on the back half of the hive and transmits data wirelessly to the Cloud. It does not measure the total weight but offers a benchmark for time-based comparisons. I placed O'Keefe's scale underneath hive #1. This particular hive has Italian bees and ruled by the appropriately named Queen Regina Margherita of the House of Savoy. We call her Marge, but not to her face. Marge is a good queen. She had a great laying pattern throughout her reign this last summer and provided me with two medium size honey supers filled with sourwood.
WNC had an unusually warm and dry fall. This made the bees more active resulting in rapid consumption of resources. I was afraid they would deplete their reserves and starve during the winter. I decided to feed them 2:1 sugar water. You can see by the graph that the hive weighed 61.2 lbs before top feeding. After 10 days of 2:1 sugar water, the hive increased its weight to 67.2 lbs. 6 lbs. of condensed sugar water may not seem like a lot, but it could mean the difference of life or death for Queen Marge and her girls. I’ll address reserves consumption in the future, but the bees are going through approximately one-half pound of honey each week right now.
One last thing, right before the bees began wintering, there was a fluctuation of 1.5 lbs. during the warmer daylight hours. 1.5 lbs. of bees were flying out of the hive for cleansing, orientation and scouting flights. This means a perfect wintering number of 5000+ strong, vigorous bees are in the hive at night keeping Queen Regina Margherita and her brood nice and warm.