I reclined on an easy chair in my polytunnel this morning, while the rain beat down overhead, with a book of graph paper on my lap and several forms to hand upon which I have been making daily records of  what the digital thermometer tells me is the temperature inside and outside of my nearby hive.

I drew the two zig-zag lines showing the temperatures against the vertical axis and the date on the horizontal one.  I left a gap for the week that I was on holiday.  The lines do zig and zag a lot and I wonder whether this is partly because I am recording in Fahrenheit: there being 1.8 degrees F to a degree C.  If I had prepared the chart for degrees C the undulations, although there, would have been far less striking, and this really hadn’t occurred to me when I typed the heading to this post!

The internal temperatures have generally been lower than expected, but, when I opened the hive to give the bees their annual sup of oxalic syrup, I saw the cluster had moved away from the sensor. The external thermometer has always recorded higher temperatures than I would have expected  from the way I was feeling at the time. It is placed in a large tin can (home brew) inclined slightly downwards inside a rusty and holey oil drum that has some decaying vegetation beneath it. I am guessing that the anomaly is caused by the lack of wind chill rather than any warmth generated by the compost beneath, but I’m willing to be corrected.

I had a couple of hiccups along the way as, on several days, I had recorded the temperatures twice and so there are a few odd dots scattered about.  I chose simply to be-graph the highest temperatures recorded on each day when there was a double entry.

I have been adding a letter P along the bottom line to indicate days when I saw pollen going in.  I saw a strange thing today: a couple of bees were on an open sack of commercial compost about 30 yards from the hive, presumably sucking tasty/mineral rich water from the exposed material. They have puddles and splashes available much closer to home.

I know that Sarah, 20 miles west of me, has been doing a daily record, as I have. Dave, 2 miles north has been more intermittent: besides taking a couple of weeks off on a tropical holiday, he says the ground has been too soggy to traipse the 80 yards from his home to the hive. As he lives at SANDhills and is at the top of the hill, I doubt whether it has been as soggy as the allotments where I paddle 35 paces through the spring water flowing across the path to get to mine in the drier top corner adjacent a railway cutting.

Who else has been recording?

The reason for playing with graph paper so soon is because there is a DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) meeting towards the end of this month and I’d like to demonstrate the results so far to the members there. Sarah hopes to be there too.  I live in Dorset and she in Somerset but DARG isn’t boundary conscious so, if you’re within reasonable driving distance of the Tiverton area, where we normally meet, do come and join us! Uplowman Village Hall at lunchtime (bring your own but beverages provided) on Sunday 26th January.

I think I shall post my rough graph to Sarah so she can add her own figures in a different colour. I’m hoping that she has a child young enough (about 14 is ideal I’m told) to put the graphs onto the computer so I can share them with you.

Just a few of us aren’t enough to produce worthwhile scientific data, but this winter’s exercise might give us some experience and ideas. Why don’t YOU join in now in preparation for next winter?

I’m heading for bed now, several hours earlier than usual as I am ‘Mr Dorset’ tomorrow at the BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting near Kenilworth, about 180 miles away.  I have set several alarms for 6am!  I shall have to leave a gap on the graph, but the BBKA has priority!


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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  1. Margaret Johnson says:

    Hi Chris, reading your blog this morning I was struck by the incident of bees sucking moisture from the compost. I noticed something similar with my own bees sucking moisture from the bog garden in early spring rather than from water I had placed, in case it was needed to utilise the fondant I had given them,or from rainwater that had gathered. I wondered if there might be a slight temperature difference due to the decomposing material.

  2. That’s possible. My sack of commercial compost is where the sun, if it shone, would hit it, but it was dull when I saw the bees then and again more recentlybut it may have retained some heat from an earlier burst of sun. I don’t think it is likely to self generate much heat. The bees were ignoring a nearby compost bin where rot and consequent warmth are to be expected.

  3. Margaret Johnson says:

    Maybe just random then.

  4. Hi Chris, I am very keen on tracking the internal temperature of my hives, but have not given it any thought yet. Any advice you can give on how to do this while leaving the hives closed up? We gave up top bars because we couldn’t feed the bees fast enough when they needed it, so now we have poly nationals run Warre style without queen excluders….. Any ideas welcome, thanks

  5. I never feed my TBHs, but I don’t take a harvest from them until dandelion/willow time. In that way they overwinter very well on their own stores and I know that the honey I take is the real thing and not partly composed of recycled Tate & Tyle’s! Vanessa Drew, then the Irish Honey Queen, was over here last winter and we opened up quietly so I could show off my TBH. I cut out a smidgeon of honey from the back and she said it was the best she had ever tasted! I then had to cut out a larger chunk for her to take back to Ireland to put under the microscope to see what was in it! I don’t think she came to a conclusion.
    In the National on my allotment, I put the sensor in where I thought was the centre of the cluster, but either I was wrong or else they moved away from it as the temperatures were lower than expected but still much higher than outside. That thermometer shows both inside and outside temperatures. Eventually it packed up and I put another in with the sensor a little further along but the temperatures are still not what I would expect if I had got it in just the right place.
    We did much better with my TBH at Sarah’s. To insert the sensor of what was sold as an aquarium thermometer, we gently took out a bar at the back to make some working space then eased a bar at a time, going forward, until detected activity showed we were in about the right place and there we inserted the sensor. As I recall, I was also using a stethoscope to find the buzziest place. We got it right and Sarah’s XL graph of the temperatures was much more what one would expect than mine. Both hers and mine showed a peak and subsequent higher temperature on the same day, 2nd January.
    To answer your question, you need to get a sensor into the centre of the cluster in what,you assume,will be the brood area. Be warned, however, that bees do nothing invariably and so may move away from your chosen spot. The more you can do the better: to compare results and act as insurance in case one doesn’t go according to plan.

  6. I’m continuing to take daily measurements. In recent weeks the inside temperature is generally within a degree or two of 19C but yesterday it had suddenly soared to 34! Today it was 30. I guess that the brood nest has expanded to include where I had placed the sensor.

    Discussing the subject with Sarah today, I am inclined to go along with her suggestion that we should invest in a few more aquarium thermometers and, in plenty of time for next winter, place them in pre-planned positions in our hives so that we can get a record of the heat generating activities within the hive such as the expansion and contraction of the brood nest.

    Sarah has a computer-savvy son and maybe he will be able to use the data to generate three dimensional pictures!

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