There are (I think) five species of social native bee in Australia and they are all tropical bees. The keepers spend a lot of energy keeping the hives cool in the Summer and so the standard hive is painted white to reflect the heat, especially if the hive is kept in the full sun. Now this works really well if you are living in the tropics and if your hives are in the sun. We recently moved to the Gold Coast Hinterland and its decidedly cooler here! The hives are only in the sun for a few hours a day at the moment as its Winter and we have a lot of tall trees around. The bees only get up and forage at a certain temperature and we were seeing that these girls were only up and active for short periods of time each sunny day.
Of the four hives we bought with us, the Hockingsii was struggling before we got here (they should have stayed in Brissy but we had put lots of friends and family under enough pressure to "Winter" our other twelve hives of babies as it was, so we took the risk and bought them with us). Not only were they struggling, but I came home one afternoon to find the hive smashed on the ground as it had fallen off its shelf - so these girls were going to need all the help they could get, they were really on the back foot.
Here's what we did...
The girls will only forage when the temperature is at a certain point, so we started by putting them in the sunniest place in the yard with the black fence in the background hoping that would bring up the ambient temperature.
The wooden hive is the Hockinsii hive. Its housed in a "FROTH" hive (Froggys 'Riginal Other Type Hive) rather than the traditional long Felhaber hive. It has a half height honey box and a tropical lid. It was finished with a beeswax oil mixture known as breadboard butter.
The white hive is a standard OATH hive (Original Australian Trigona Hive) with a full size honey box and tropical lid on it. It is painted in the standard white.
This is the Australis Hive. - Its a standard hive made by Nick Powell and is brand new with just a fist sized brood in there. This one has a piece of ridge capping meant for a house roof on the top to protect it from the worst weather as this one was originally on a shed roof. Australis are a lot more cold tolerant than the others so we popped them in the sun and gave them a black polythene cover. They don't regulate their hive temperature. They just get on with it! Their entrance hole gets blocked up every night and they break a piece off when its warm enough in the mornings and stick their little black faces out and check the weather. If its a lovely day, they are usually the first ones up and about. If they don't like look of the weather, they block that entrance up tight and disappear inside to watch movies and snuggle under the doona!
Our first attempt to raise the temperature of the hives was to cover them with black polythene and bluetac it on. It certainly raised the air temperature between the plastic and the hive as we could feel it with our hands. This might have worked - but it was always falling off, wasn't tight enough and didn't convince us that it was working well enough. We discussed painting them black but have been indoctrinated our whole bee keeping lives about keeping the hives cool not warm and it seemed counter intuitive...
And so one sunny afternoon just before the Winter Solstice, I decided to give it a go. The black paint was just sitting there, the husband and cat were having a snooze, and I figured they could always be painted back to white if we over heated them. My theory was that its easier to cool things down than to heat them up!
As soon as the husband woke up and discovered my activities he was drafted into painting the tops as I was too short to see them and because the bees didn't seem bothered in the slightest, we got closer and closer to their entrance. You can see the influence of Play School with the square, arched and round window shaped entrances on our door designs!
The idea is that a black hive will hold the heat longer and allow the bees to be at foraging temperature longer each day. My theory is that if you only get up for three or four hours a day to shop, build and tidy the house then you wont get as much done. In an established hive, this wont be a problem in the winter. But for our struggling Hockingsii girls we want them to have the maximum time each day to rebuild their home and get all the things they need for their babies hatching inside.
We (I, really) did no preparation whatsoever to the hives and used a basic acrylic black paint from another project. Its not the worst paint job in the world, but I think its a good contender for the title!
We could kid ourselves that the bees are up earlier and stay out longer when the sun is shining. We never see them when its overcast, raining or windy anyway. We did order some temperature thingos on the internet to measure the temperature inside the hive but they never arrived and we ended up getting the money back for them. We would rather have had the gauges as we were hoping to see what the internal temperature was before we painted them and then again afterwards. So for now, we are running on anecdotal observation.
Our current theory is that come Summer, we can move them to a shady spot, cover them with a white reflector box, paint them white or make a shade cover if we think its too hot for them. Hopefully by then we will have those temperature probes and we will know for sure.
What have you done with your hives over Winter? Are they just going about their business because you live in the right place for them or have you got some out of their natural range and do things to help them out? If you do, Id love to hear about it. Leave a note in the comments section!
Green-ness: 5/5 for having Native Bees!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using something I already had!
Time cost: about 10 minutes per hive.
Skill level: Basic slopping paint around skill but advanced bee in the paint alert skills!
Fun-ness: Great fun to be able to do something practical to look after these hard working girls that we are so fond of!