Tips on Using 6mm / Quarter-Inch Mesh

It was 18°C / 64°F today and the bees in all of my hives — even with shrew-proofing 6mm / quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances — were out in full force.

Quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances. The mesh slows them down, but doesn't prevent them from getting out or inside the hive. (Nov. 17, 2016.)

Quarter-inch mesh covering all the entrances. The mesh slows them down but doesn’t prevent them from getting out or inside the hive. (Nov. 17, 2016.)


I’ve heard arguments that the bees can’t get through quarter-inch mesh. But that’s not true. If it was, my bees would have been locked inside their hives behind the mesh all last winter. The bees in the above photograph wouldn’t be flying around today.
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How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

    The following was originally posted on December 7th, 2015, but was edited and updated on October 27th, 2016, to reflect my current practices, such as they are.

Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.

One of my bee hives after a  snow storm in 2013.

One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (Nov. 04, 2015.)

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)

So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
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Ants Around Beehives, a temporary pest?

I noticed ants all over my beehives starting around mid-May. I used a cinnamon barrier to keep them out of my hives, though I’m not sure how well it worked. I still see a few ants here and there, but overall they don’t seem to be as thick. In fact, I hardly ever see them anymore.

Close up of a formica ant, a red ant that bits and shoots formic acid from its. It's not the kind of ant that I have around my hives, but it's the only photo of an ant that I have on record, so there you go, an ant.

Close up of two formica ants, red ants that bite and shoot formic acid from their butts. They’re not the kind of ants I have around my hives, but this is the only photo of ants that I have on record, so there you go, some ants.

Perhaps the cold weather has them hiding underground (we’ve had frost warnings for the past few nights), but I think I noticed this last year too. The ants were bad for a while (black ants, not red ants) and then they more or less disappeared.

I’ll keep a note of this for next year and see if it holds true, that the ants show up sometime in May and are gone by July, and are never really a major pest.

AUGUST 04, 2016: My beeyard is surrounded by huge ant colonies (blank ants, not red ants), and they’re not an issue with my bees. Like I said, the ants seemed to cover most of my hives in May but were gone, for the most part, by July. I still see them walking around, picking up pieces of comb or pollen and other debris, but only a small handful here and there. Nothing epidemic. Other than putting out some cinnamon, which didn’t create an unbroken barrier, I didn’t do anything to get rid of the ants. No poison or traps or any of that. It’s probably fair to say I’ve never had a major ant problem. If I did, I’d probably build hive stands with oil motes or sticky tape around the legs. It would take a hell of an ant problem to motivate me to go that far, though.

What Makes Friendly Springtime Honey Bees Turn Mean?

My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.

Q1402, back to being mean. (June 10, 2016.)

Defensive bees just beginning to pour out of a hive. (June 10, 2016.)

Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up):
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A Blockade of Cinnamon

I noticed ants crawling all over and inside two of my hives today, so I surrounded the hives with cinnamon.

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

A sprinkle of cinnamon around a hive to keep the ants away. (May 22, 2016.)

I’ve read many times that cinnamon repels ants, though I’ve never seen it myself. I sprinkled some cinnamon around one of my hives a year or two ago, but then it rained, so I don’t know if it works. Whether it works or not, I’m not too concerned about the ants. I think it would take a biblical amount of ants to do significant damage to a hive full of bees. We’ll see.

Wondering When to Remove Shrew-Proofing Mesh

I used 6mm mesh (quarter-inch mesh) on my hives this winter for the first time because I lost most of my colonies last winter when shrews managed to squeeze through the half-inch mesh I kept on the bottom entrances. I’m not sure if the shrews got into the hives through the top entrances, but to be safe this winter, I covered both the top and bottom entrances with 6mm mesh. Now I’m wondering when I should remove the mesh, at least from the top entrances.

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)


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Headless Honey Bees in the Snow

I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

“Ah man, what the hell is this?” was my first reaction. It was a natural reaction considering the last time I saw bee body parts was inside one of my hives last February — when shrews preyed on most of my bees until they were dead.

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. (Feb. 22/15.)

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)


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First Sign of Shrews in a Hive

I had eight honey bee colonies going into winter last year (2014) and all but two of them were destroyed by shrews. The shrews squeezed through the half-inch mesh I’d been using since 2010 to keep mice out. But no one ever told me about shrews. The little buggers easily squeeze through half-inch mesh. They slip inside and pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster. They eat the bee’s innards, toss away the bits of legs and other desiccated body parts, then climb towards the cluster for more… until they eat approximately 125% of their body weight in bees every day, gradually reducing the size of the cluster until the colony is dead.

That’s how I lost six colonies last year. With only one mated queen and no extra brood, I performed a miracle and managed to expand my remaining two colonies into five colonies last summer. They may not be the strongest colonies I’ve ever seen, but they’re hanging in there (so far). All of my hives have quarter-inch mesh covering every entrance now. Shrews will never get anywhere near my bees again.

Looking back on my notes from last year, along with photos and videos I shot and the memory of the experience burnt in my brain, the first sign of a shrew inside one of my hives seems obvious. It’s in this photo from January 5th, 2015:

shrew-scare
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Attaching Mesh With Pushpins (Instead of Staples)

I removed the shrew-proofing mesh from my hives yesterday so I could clear out the dead bees that have accumulated so far this winter. I reattached the mesh afterwards with the use of a staple gun that produces a loud bang that vibrates through the hive and riles up the bees. But this comment changed everything:

“Would it be possible to secure it [the mesh] with drawing pins rather than staples?”

It’s absolutely possible. I did it today, just five minutes ago.

One of three thumb pushpins used to attach shrew-proofing mesh to hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

One of three thumb pushpins used to attach shrew-proofing mesh to a hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

The drawing pins / pushpins work just as well as staples as far as I can tell. That mesh isn’t going anywhere.

Three green thumb pushpins (instead of staples) used to attach mesh over bottom entrance. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

Three green thumb pushpins (instead of staples) used to attach mesh over bottom entrance. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

Now I can easily remove the mesh, clean out the dead bees and reattach the mesh without bothering the bees. I thought I might need to find a different method for keeping the shrews out of my hive for next year. Not anymore. The mesh attached with thumb pushpins instead of staples works perfectly. At least that’s my story for now.

Thanks for the tip, Emily.

NOVEMBER 19, 2016: The original version of this post referred to the pushpins as thumb tacks. The more common name (at least in North America) is pushpin, so I changed all the “thumb tacks” to “pushpins.”