Windbreaks and wind breaks

Photo by Larry Mutti

Wind is common in winter in the northeast. This winter, there was a particularly distressing wind event that blasted the northeast Sunday into Monday 24-25 February 2019.  Strong eastward winds whipped through the area causing downed trees, destroyed fences, partial building collapses, and lost power to many residents and businesses. With wind gusts often breaking 50 mph, windbreaks built by beekeepers to protect hives over the winter were ineffective.  A visit to the various sites of the COMB project revealed many thrown lids, despite the placement of heavy rocks on each. In one apiary in central PA, almost half the hives were blown over. Two of the 5 colonies in toppled hives succumbed to the cold, while the other three were alive (and very angry!) as they were set upright. As the wind subsided, the only thing to do was pick up the pieces, put things back together again, and hope for the best.

This event removed two otherwise thriving colonies from the COMB project. We are sad for the loss, but we are determined to learn from it.  What lesson can we share from this experience? Placement of hives is of utmost importance in all seasons. Considerations for the best locations in cold weather are distance from the beekeeper’s residence, road conditions, and wind breaks.

  1. Consider the distance between you and your hives.  In our case, the distance of some of the COMB sites is a two-hour drive, and in this situation, it was difficult to get to them all in a timely manner. Perhaps all of the toppled colonies could have been saved if they were discovered and set upright more quickly. If your hives are far from home, enlist the help of someone who lives close, so you can be alerted when there is a problem.
  2. Consider road conditions carefully. A few of the COMB apiaries are best reached using a 4 wheel drive vehicle. This is not ideal and makes access difficult at times.
  3. While each apiary was assessed for the possible effects of wind, it is clear that a few of them were too exposed.  Hay bales were put in place to block the majority of the wind but it was not enough the protect the hives from strong gusts.  If this might be a problem in your apiary, consider tightly strapping the hive bodies together. If you do so, a hive can topple, but remain intact. This will protect the bees until the equipment can be put upright. In our case, it likely would have made a big difference.

Beekeepers are constantly being taught lessons by the bees and nature.  If we pay attention and learn from our mistakes, we will become better beekeepers and have happier healthier bees.

Photo by Larry Mutti

Written by Robyn Underwood

Assistant Research Professor

Penn State University