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Adventures in Beekeeping: Thermal Imaging & Winter Update

February 11, 2016 | 14 Comments | Uncategorized
DIY diva

I have to say that 2015 was filled with all kinds of awesome, but one of my very favorite things about last year was the bees…

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I’m still a very novice beekeeper, but I’m also totally hooked.

My last update on the hives was back in November and I honestly thought that would be the last thing I’d have to say about the bees until sometime in spring when the temps are above 50-degrees and I could open the hives up and see how they fared through the winter.

I mentioned this in my last post, but just as a refresher: In winter all of the worker bees will cluster around the queen and “vibrate” to generate heat and keep her warm. I’ve read some studies that say the ambient temp in hive may be around 30 degrees, but in the center of the cluster it’s above 60, which is pretty remarkable for a bunch of little insects huddled together in winter.

Anyway, you really can’t open the hives when the temps are below 50 so, for the most part, it’s wait-and-see until spring.

Well, except that I’m subscribed to the newsletter of my local beekeeping club (yep, that’s a thing) and they just happened to mention in one of the recent emails that some enterprising young beekeepers had started using thermal imaging cameras to check up on their hives in winter.

Now, let me tell you something that almost never happens…

I don’t run this website like a business. I’m really just interested in telling stories, and very occasionally if something sparks my interest I’ll review a product or do a sponsored post, but I probably get 30 emails every week “pitching” some kind of product or service, and I only actually review or talk about, what? 5 a year? Maybe.

So last March some guy named Kit (seriously, that’s not a joke) reached out to see if I wanted to check out a thermal camera for my iPhone from Seek. Then there was a whole series of emails that followed in which I felt like I was talking to myself–which was fucking weird–and in the end I told him to send me one of their cameras just because I thought it was cool and wanted to check it out, and maybe I’d find something to write about it.

So they sent me a camera and I checked it out… The problem is that from a DIY perspective these thermal cameras are billed as being good for things like checking a house for heat loss. (Hahaha… I live in a 150 year old farm house with original windows. Listen, I don’t need a fancy camera to tell me where the heat is going, and I don’t care because these windows are amazing.) The thing that intrigued me was that you could also potentially use them to find clogs in drains (just run hot water through them) etc. Or, you know, scout your property for intruders during the zombie apocalypse. Whatevs.

However, I don’t just create artificial problems to “solve” because someone sent me a product they want me to review… I don’t have any burning questions about heat loss in my house, I don’t currently have any clogged drains, and as far as I know Trump hasn’t been elected, so it’s not the End of Times… yet. So I think I posted a couple of funny thermal images of the chickens to Instagram, and that’s as useful as I found the thermal camera at the time. I told the company I didn’t have a real use for the camera right now, but I’d let them know if something came up, and then… I forgot about it. For, like, a year? Close to a year.

The thing that never happens is that I read a newsletter about how people are using thermal cameras to check on their bees and then HOLY SHIT I HAVE A THERMAL CAMERA SOMEONE SENT ME A THAT IS PROBABLY LOST SOMEWHERE IN MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW.

(Don’t worry, I found it.)

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That was a really long story to get to this…

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Thermal, obv:

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So. Here’s what you might be able to see in those pictures… there’s definitely some heat being generated from the hive on the left, but not so much from the hive on the right.

Here’s another shot…

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The camera hooks into your phone, and uses the Seek Thermal app. The app has several settings and one of them lets you set a temperature and it only “colors” anything over that temp. So I set the app to show me anything that was warmer than 35 degrees…

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If you’re reading these the way I did, it means that I do have one healthy hive this winter, and one…

Well. Not so much.

The hive on the right in these images is the one that swarmed in early summer, and I noticed at harvest time had a lot less activity and fewer bees. They were still alive in November when I drilled some ventilation holes in the hives, but I don’t think they made it through the winter. (Also, at one point in late November the outer cover blew off the hive on a really windy night… it was still above 40 out, but that may have been the death sentence for that hive.)

There’s still a very small possibility that the cluster is just very small and on the side of the hive I can’t image with my camera, but…that’s probably wishful thinking.

And it’s such a bummer. This has been a very mild winter, and I was hoping both hives would make it.

So. I guess that’s good news and bad news for the winter. One of the hives seems to be doing really well, I’ve learned a lot about swarming and strong hives and prepping the bees for winter…I hate that my mistakes might have caused the loss of a hive, but I’m determined to learn from it and do better next year.

Here’s to spring, and bringing at least a few new bees to the farm in 2016!

***

So technically this isn’t a sponsored post. Seek didn’t pay me to write this (in fact, I’m not sure they even know their thermal camera is good for beekeepers… they definitely wasn’t advertised when they sent it to me.) However, they did send me this camera for free a year ago…but then I’m pretty sure they asked me to send it back to them when I said I didn’t have anything to write about it, and apparently they didn’t realize they were talking to a girl who has had a Netflix envelope with a DVD in it sitting on her counter waiting to be taken out to the mailbox for three months. Yeah that’s where I’m at in life. So basically I stole this thing? And now I’m admitting it and writing a post about it? Yeah. I don’t know wtf just happened here, but, uh, Seek, if you guys want your camera back, maybe email me? In any event, the bees and I are really grateful we had this thing a year later. Everyone else, if you want to know more about this camera check it out here.

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    Comments

  • Anne


    That is *cool*(hot?)!!

    Wonders what the ‘hot spots’ on the bricks and the lower left hand corners of both hives are?
    What was the ambient temp?

    As long as you’ve got it up and running might as well shoot the house and other things just for fun and curiosity. Then write it up. I could spend days playing with something like that…but no smart phone here.

    • trudy


      I’m guessing the bricks soak up heat when the sun is out. Thermal mass.

      • Kit


        Yep, the bricks were still warm from the sun, and since it was setting behind the hives the sun was hitting the wood on the bottom corners and heating it up. I’m guessing it was in the low 20’s the day I took this.

  • Shannon


    This was, unequivocally, the best sponsored post I’ve ever read.

  • Robin


    Now that is a good reason to have an IR camera. Don’t be too discouraged if you lose your hives over the winter. Fingers crossed the live one will make it, but beekeeping is not what it used to be 30 years ago. It’s hard to keep a colony alive these days. Lots of conflicting information [and finger pointing] and it takes time to find what works for you in your area. Good luck!

  • Cindy


    I know the feeling of loss. We had two hives last winter and lost one. Increased it to four in 2015 with a swarm, package, and split. So far we have lost one again this winter but it’s not over. You can only do your best. It’s disheartening but we’ll rebuild and expand in the spring.

  • Justynn


    best *sponsored* post ever.

  • Laura


    Now I want a thermal camera to check my hives! Very cool and a great idea that I hadn’t thought of. Although in Texas we don’t get so much cold. I am pretty sure I have lost a hive as well this year – it was 70 degrees yesterday but I didn’t want to break all the propolis seals to check for sure since I am sure we are in for another round of cold.

    Agree with the others – best sponsored post ever. Well done!

  • Karen Cutler


    I only have one question…Does this new KIT have a beard?

  • Lucy


    I have an IR from a different company and I love it. I use it the traditional way though – looking for heat loss in my house.

    You’re right about the original windows – they’ve lasted 150 years. A modern vinyl window likely 10-20 years. After your to-do list winds down (how likely is that?) you can make some really nice storm windows to go outside or perhaps indoor storms. Or for another fun challenge – reglaze the originals. So many fun things to do with windows.

    And using the camera to check on your hive – great idea.

  • Paul


    Incredible post.. I actually never really heard of something like IR camera before and its kinda cool.. Nice work..

  • Tina


    This is a wonderful blog … Thanks for sharing..

  • Nine Dark Moons


    woah! that’s wild. i would be staring at everything with the thermal camera. maybe you can use it to find this year’s guinea nest.

  • Sanchez Mark


    Tin Hat Ranch- How To Hide From Drones- We wouldn’t be called the Tin Hat Ranch if we didn’t share articles on how to stop people from watching and tracking you, would we? Learn how to hide from drones primary source of detection, the thermal imager. By chance, this is also the primary form of detection for military and law enforcement, re: this is how they will find you in SHTF

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