Beekeeping on a Budget: Hive Wrap

    The following was last updated on Dec. 01, 2016.

I made this quick video as a response to several emails I got from new beekeepers asking me if there were more affordable ways to wrap their hives for winter other than to plonk down $20 to $60 per hive for commercially available hive wraps. There are always cheaper alternatives. A roll of roofing felt is one of them.

I’m not saying roofing felt is better (though I have heard some convincing arguments), but it’s cheap and it’s worked well for me for the past six winters. Keep in mind that the bees don’t need to be warm and toasty during the winter. They just need to be warm enough to break cluster once in a while so they can migrate across the honey frames and not starve to death. (I might expand on this in the comments.)

Slight correction: In the video I mention #15 roofing felt. It’s actually referred to as a “type 15 asphalt felt.”

NOVEMBER 14, 2016: Here are some photos of some of my wrapped and non-wrapped hives to illustrate what I’m talking about in the video (and in my long comment below):

This hive gets blasted by the morning sun every day for about an hour. The dark green paint heats up quickly in the (warm to the touch), and the hive is sheltered from high winds already. So I'm happy. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

This hive gets blasted by the morning sun every day for about an hour. The dark green paint heats up quickly in the sunlight (warm to the touch), and the hive is sheltered from high winds already. So I’m happy. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

The wrapped hive, wrapped because the top box is white and doesn't absorb much heat from the sun, and the unwrapped hive behind it get some morning sun and some early afternoon sun. Again, enough to warms up the bees so they can break cluster long enough to move to another frame of honey once they've emptied their current frame. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

The wrapped hive, wrapped because the top box is white and doesn’t absorb much heat from the sun, and the unwrapped hive behind it get some morning sun and some early afternoon sun. Again, enough to warm up the bees so they can break cluster long enough to move to another frame of honey once they’ve emptied their current frame. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

This is the hive I'm concerned about the most. It gets only a tiny touch of sunlight in the morning and maybe a little bit in the late afternoon. But for the most part, it's in the shade. Which is always why it has a moisture quilt installed on top.  The bees can probably handle the cold temperatures, but they'd be dead as Dillinger if any moisture built up inside the hive. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

This is the hive I’m concerned about the most. It gets only a tiny touch of sunlight in the morning and maybe a little bit in the late afternoon. For the most part, it’s in the shade. Which is why it has a moisture quilt installed on top. The bees can probably handle the cold temperatures, but they’d be dead as Dillinger if any moisture built up inside the hive. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

    Inserted update (Dec. 01, 2016): It looks to me like it gets enough sun…
I can see now that this hive gets enough sunlight in the morning (this photo was taken around 10:30am on December 1st, 2016).  It also gets more sunlight at the very end of the day.  I'm not too concerned now.

I can see now that this hive gets enough sunlight in the morning (this photo was taken around 10:30am on December 1st, 2016). It also gets more sunlight at the very end of the day. I’m not too concerned now.

    End of inserted updated.
This unwrapped hive get some morning sun but then get blasted by the setting sun near the end of the day and warms up quickly for about an hour. And all of my hives, it's well sheltered from cold heavy winds. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

This non-wrapped hive gets some morning sun but then gets blasted by the setting sun near the end of the day and warms up quickly for about an hour. And as with all of my hives, it’s well sheltered from cold heavy winds and doesn’t need the extra windbreak from a hive wrap. (Nov. 14, 2016.)

All of this is a work in progress, though I’m fairly confident that after six winters of wrapping my hives in this manner (and sometimes not wrapping them), most of my colonies will be in good shape in the spring and won’t need much or any kind of emergency feeding in the winter or spring. To be continued…

7 thoughts on “Beekeeping on a Budget: Hive Wrap

  1. Mike Paterson, me, and I think Jeff Harris are sticking with roofing felt. We like the thermal-absorbtive quality of the black material and the possibility that it “breaths” better than various forms of plastic wrapping. Ventilation is key, as you know. We don’t want materials that trap moisture. Thanks for the post, Phillip!

  2. I’m still not convinced that wrapping is even necessary all the time. It depends on the health of the colonies, the local climate (e.g., high winds, amount of direct sunlight), the colour of the hives (dark or light), etc. At least two of my hives this winter won’t have any wrap. They’re painted dark green, will get plenty of direct sunlight and are sheltered from heavy winds by surrounding spruce trees. I think they’ll be fine. I’ll know next spring.

    The hives that I have wrapped, however, don’t get much direct sunlight, and one of them is only a single deep (less bees = less generated heat) — that puts them at a disadvantage. So I’m hoping the black wrap will at least prevent them from freezing for any extended periods of time.

    I’ve talked to at least a dozen beekeepers about wrapping in the past year. I know four beekeepers in the UK, and none of them wrap. I know six beekeepers in the US, some well respected beekeepers too, and two of them don’t wrap, two of them do, and the other two wrap sometimes but not all the time. None of these beekeepers live in Newfoundland, but they all have some aspects of their winters that are similar to ours. At any rate, what I’ve gleaned from most of the conversations I’ve had is that wrapping with roofing felt isn’t always necessary, but overall, it doesn’t hurt.

    Commercial wraps are less of a known quantity. Roofing felt can get a bit damp at times, depending on local conditions. That’s pretty much the only downside. For me, most commercial wraps seem like overkill. I keep repeating myself because I believe it’s true: The bees don’t need to be warm during the winter months. They just need to be warm enough to break cluster from time to time so they can access their honey stores. The more costly commercially available hive wraps may keep the bees so warm that they’re more active and subsequently eat through their honey stores before winter, increasing the likelihood of starvation and other messy situations that can arise from having to keep the bees alive on sugar.

    I might consider one of the commercial wraps if I had my hives out in a field that gets battered by cold heavy winter winds, some place where I know it could get extremely cold for long periods of time. But I’ve never had that.

    I know a few people who are wrapping their hives in the commercial hive wraps. I’m curious to see how well their colonies come through in the spring. I’d imagine they come through okay, but do they have any honey stores left, or do they need 30 litres of syrup to keep them alive until the first nectar flow?

    In the end, you do what works best for you. I’m still not saying any way is better or worse than the other. But I think roofing felt offers the most affordable, simplest method for winter wrapping.

  3. Do you leave your bottom boards on for the winter? I am a new beekeeper and have been told both ways. Feel like the board should be left off due to moisture.

  4. I’m in Newfoundland where I’m pretty sure solid bottom boards are more common than screened bottom boards. In our climate, I think most people go with solid bottom boards all year round.

    However, I used a screened and open bottom board on one of my hives for two winters and had no problems with it. I made sure the hive wasn’t protected from strong winds. But otherwise, kept the bottom open all winter.

    It all depends on your local climate and the kind of set up you have with your hives, how much ventilation they already have, etc. And don’t listen to anyone with less than three years experience.

    The safest bet when you’re starting out to do what works best for beekeepers in your area.

  5. Is a moisture quilt necessary for a hive in partial shade and screened bottom?

  6. If you find condensation building up inside your hives sometime in the winter, add a moisture quilt. That’s the easiest approach. Not every hive in every in every climate needs a moisture quilt.

    A screened bottom board definitely helps with ventilation, but excess condensation can come from having a large colony (more bees = more respiration), a local humid climate, and other factors. I know beekeepers in humid climates with screened bottom boards who use moisture quilts. Much of it depends on your local climate.

    I switched to moisture quilts because I moved my hives at the time to a new location where they were bathed in fog all winter. Some of the hives, even with screened bottom boards, were dripping with moisture, but all them were cold and damp. The moisture quilts removed all the moisture and the dampness from the hives within a week. Bone dry. Quite amazing.

    Where I keep my bees now doesn’t seem to be as bad. I’m experimenting this year. I have moisture quilts on about 4 or 5 of my hives. Hard insulation over the inner covers (with upper entrances) on others. And one hive has a regular inner cover, a ventilation rim over the inner cover, and then a piece of hard insulation on the top, which is similar to what some people call a D.E. Hive but it also known simply as a ventilation box in most parts of the world.

    At any rate, there are a few options for keeping the hives well ventilated in the winter.

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