Observation Hive & Winter
I started keeping bees in my observation hive in the fall of 2013 and since then have learned a great deal about them. I have also learned the differences between keeping bee outside in a standard bee hive versus the observation hive. The elements outside play a huge part on outdoor colonies as where a observation hive is inside a structure such as a home or office where something like the temperature is controlled. Understanding these differences will help you maintain a observation hive.
Bees will begin to cluster around 55 degrees(F) this is where they form a ball around each other and food to keep each other warm. The bees on the outside of the cluster will work their flight muscles to generate heat. After a period of time the outside layer of bees will move towards the center of the cluster and a new group of bees will heat the cluster. This is how everyone stays warm.
During long cold periods bees may eat all of the food in the clustered area and be unable to move due to the cold so they die. I have seen this time and time again. These colonies maybe as close as 1 inch from a food source and they starve.
Bees need energy to work these flight muscles that keep them warm. During warmer winters I have witnessed the bees over eating and running themselves out of food. In this case it's up to the beekeeper to do a emergency winter feeding before they run out. This is done by feeding fondant or even dry sugar. If feeding is not done the colony will die from starvation.
A Different Side
So as you can see there are great factors at play with a outdoor colonies. A lot of which can be controlled in a indoor environment. With observation hive feeding during winter is greatly different. I feed my bees sugar syrup as needed during fall/winter and the colony is able to store the food in the comb and eat it as needed. Where outdoor colonies can not move to syrup feeders because they are in full cluster.
On the down side of feeding in a observation hive the more they eat the more they need to defecate. Bees will usually wait for a slightly warmer day to do this. During the winter of 2013 we where hammered by extreme cold from the Polor Vortex as of much of the U.S.. This kept the bees trapped inside and not able to defecate. By the end of March I was starting to see signs of Nosema. I did not treat I let the bees manage the issue which lead to a real slow spring build up. This fall (2014) I did some research on Nosema and found Nozevit. Nozevit is a organically approved treatment for Nosema. It is fed to the bees in their syrup and it's supposed to prevent Nosema and boost colony build up come spring. So I am anxious to see if I can tell a major difference once spring arrives.
Feeding Protein Patties
I like to feed my Langstroth colonies pollen patties for a source of protein. Protein is used in a hive to raise more brood. This is a problem in a observation hive unless you are prepared to take the colony outdoors each time to install a patty. Which here in Ohio is not a option during winter. Bees seem to ignore these patties if they are not close to the brood frames. This is where the problem come into play. How do you feed a patty to bees in a observation hive? Can it be done without releasing bees into the home or office?
I have experimented feeding chucks of patties in a small enclosure on the side of my hive but like I mentioned before. They seem to ignore it. There will be a few bees working it but not like expected. This something that I need to address. Or you should keep in mind if your decide to build your own observation hive.
Build Your Own Observation Hive
Winter is a great time to build a observation hive. Below is direction to build a hive similar to mine.
To see my Observation Hive video go here