Hive placement is one of the basic principles of beekeeping. That is, locating and positioning the hive for it to thrive and grow. Ideally, hives in the apiary should be placed in sunny areas with the hive entrance facing southeast. It should be elevated off the ground, and if in wet, mountainous environments, on a hillside and not in a valley. This prevents cold, moist, evening air from enveloping the bees.
Honeybees in the winter will make every attempt to keep the inside hive temperature above 88°, even warmer (95°), if there is brood. At 41° the worker bee can’t operate her wing muscles to shiver. Shivering, or endothermic heat, is how bees thermoregulate the hive. If the bees cannot shiver, the colony will quickly perish.
Let’s get wonky.
R-value is a measure of thermal resistance. Meaning, the ability of heat to transfer hot to cold through materials. The higher the R-value, the more a material prevents heat transfer. Homes built in the United States have geographic zones with commensurate R-values. We live in Western North Carolina or, zone 4. Recommended R-(insulation) value for zone 4 walls is around R19. The typical Langstroth hive is built of 3/4" pine whose R-value is 0.84. This is insufficient considering your typical tree hollow, or “bee gum” tree where wild bees may reside has an R-value of approximately 5.6. But a strong hive with sufficient resources can and have survived many an Appalachian winter. That is until you factor in wind-chill. Windchill is the single most harmful factor that results in bee deaths in cold climates. But if a hive has a suitable wind block, its chances of survival are greatly enhanced.
Two of our three Killer Bees Honey apiaries are located on steep hillsides above 3500’. They are highly exposed to the elements. When we moved to Lake Toxaway, NC I believed, like most beekeepers in the area that “wrapping,” or insulating hives was unnecessary. Then I noticed that, even though a majority of our colonies survived the winter, they were struggling and low in population going into the spring. Last winter, as an experiment, I wrapped all the hives located on our 4100’ apiary located in Panthertown. The hives not only survived, but had a large number of healthy bees. This year, we purchased bee cozies from Miller Bee Supply and insulated the hives in all three apiaries. Each cozy has an R-value of 8. It seems to be benefiting since we have only lost two hives out of 70 and the rest appear to be very strong.
One may think we pamper our honeybees, but when they're not cozied up for the winter, they produce some of the most delicious, award winning and sustainably-produced honey you will find!