The Brother Adam and R.O.B. Manley Examples
There appear to be no scientific studies covering the UK on insulation. A recent email exchange with Defra highlighted the Brother Adam and J.O.R. Manley experiences below and stressed the need for maintaining adequate ventilation. Whilst increased ventilation reduces humidity levels it also loses energy. This is why maintaining the right balance in a hive is so important.
Brother Adam experimented with insulation using methods advocated in the USA in the early 20th century involving the grouping of hives into blocks of four and enveloping these in packing (4in beneath, 6in on the sides, 8in on top). Whilst the method produced bone-dry hives in the spring the colonies failed to build up; lacking energy and industry when compared with un-protected colonies.
This method was designed for harsh US climates, involved insulation well into spring and no data is available on how temperature or humidity in or around the hive was affected, the level of stores consumed or the thermal properties of the packing used.
R.O.B. Manley concluded in the 1940s that we may have one year in twenty in the UK that might justify the packing of hives. Interestingly, he does comment that in countries where winters are severe and temperatures fall below zero then steps should be taken to protect the bees so that they can move on the combs.
His major reason for not adopting insulation was the significant effort involved in undertaking the wrapping of hives as a commercial honey producer. He particularly recommends protection against North and Easterly winds and the avoidance of damp locations.
But many things have changed since the 1930s
- The level of forage available for bees is far less today than 80 years ago. Our colonies are therefore often subject to excessive levels of sugar feeding to get them through harsh winters.
- Our colonies are precious to us. Brother Adam and R.O.B. Manley managed many tens / hundreds of hives and had to prioritise how their time was spent. We may be prepared to forgo any spring disadvantages associated with advanced brood-rearing just to make sure our bees survive the winter!
- The performance materials available to us today are very different particularly in terms of breathability. This makes possible easier, lighter and more effective solutions.
- We can now place sensors in the hive to see how live hive conditions are affected. This allows us to compare temperature and relative humidity levels in hives with and without insulation.
When temperatures are below 10C (50F), research points to insulation reducing the level of stores consumed by the colony and helping colony survival.