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.”
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100 Pounds of Honey? Really?

I expected to be part of a panel discussion at the recent NL Beekeepers AGM but instead found myself in the spot light listening to words come out of my mouth like I was having an out of body experience. I apparently spoke about moisture quilts and what was referred to afterwards as my “winter ventilation strategy.” Okay. I would describe myself as somnambulistic after a week of work that left my brain running on fumes by the time I showed up at eight-thirty in the bloody morning for the AGM. Then, to cap it off, what I thought was a panel discussion scheduled for the lunch hour got pushed to the end of the day, by which time I was fighting to keep my eyes open, going to the washroom every 20 minutes to splash cold water on my face. By the time I arrived at my moment shine, it was great. Just great. I wish I had it on tape. I had a good laugh talking about it afterwards when I got home. You gotta laugh.

IMG_0384-thick-comb

At any rate, someone who was lucky enough to be graced by my presence at the AGM sent me an email this morning asking me if I really got 100 pounds of honey from one of my hives after I put an empty moisture quilt on it for ventilation. My answer was: “You better believe it!” I don’t even remember saying that during my presentation, but apparently I said it — and it’s true. I responded to his email to explain how it happened, how I lucked into it really, and then I copied and pasted my response to Facebook, and now I’m copying that Facebook post to ye ole Mud Songs blog because I’m reaching the end of another long day at work and I really don’t have the brain power to do anything other than copy and paste.

So here it is, the story of how I got 100 pounds of honey from a single honey bee colony, and in Logy Bay, Newfoundland, of all places:

By the way, I plan to write a post that covers all the topics that I expected to talk about during the panel discussion, in the form of a conversation between three beekeepers, just as I imagined the panel discussion would play out. It, too, will be great. Stay tuned.

Roofing Felt Hive Wrap Attached with Thumb Tacks

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

I may not wrap all of my hives this year, but I’ve decided to wrap at least the ones that don’t get much sunshine.

Hive wrapped with roofing felt. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

Hive wrapped with roofing felt, nice and tight. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

The black wrap will perhaps warm them up a degree or two on really cold (but sunny) days so they can move more easily onto honey frames.

Roofing felt attached with quiet-as-can-be thumb tacks. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

Roofing felt attached with quiet-as-can-be thumb tacks. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

My feelings about wrapping my hives continues to evolve. I began in 2010 by wrapping my hives in roofing felt just like this, except now I use thumb tacks instead of staples because they’re easy to push into the hive and don’t disturb the bees like the bang of a staple gun. (Both this and using push pins to attach shrew-proofing mesh was recommended to me by one of the 6 regular readers of Mud Songs. You know who you are. Thanks.) Over the years, though, mostly due to laziness and the fact that my beehives were an inconvenient distance from where I lived, I got out of the habit of wrapping them and it didn’t seem to make any difference to my over-winter survival rates. Generally, colonies that went into winter in good shape, came out in good shape whether they were wrapped or not.

But last winter, not having wrapped any of my hives, I wasn’t too impressed with how they came out of the winter. None of them died, but neither where they strong. Having hives mostly full of old and stressed queens may explain some of it, but I also noticed in hindsight most of my hives get very little direct sunlight in the winter, much less sunlight than any of my hives in the past. So just to be safe, I’m wrapping the hives that get the least of amount of sunlight. We’ll see what happens.
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Winter Preparations – Part 2: Hive Wrap

We finally got around to wrapping our hives for the winter. Here’s another how-to video narrated by me with a sore throat.

I thought about using corrugated plastic as a type of winter wrap, but I didn’t have time to mess with that, so I stuck with following the traditional roofing felt wrap method. We don’t plan to touch the hives again until late January or early February when we might have to feed them candy cakes and pollen patties. See Wrapping Hives for Winter and Winter Preparations – Part 1 for more info.
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Hives in the Snow

I officially declare April 9th, 2011, as The First Day of Spring in our backyard. March 20th was technically the first day of spring, but that’s a joke, especially in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where it’s been cold or snowing pretty much every day since then (we got more snow last night). Although our backyard is still wet and slippery with the white stuff, the honey bees in Hive #1 are back in business and flying all around like it’s the middle of summer again. So that’s good enough for me. I’m going with that as the first sign of spring instead of waiting around for the first dandelion blossoms (who knows how long that would be). (Update: It was May 17th.)

The following was originally posted on November 23rd, 2010, and updated regularly to document our wonderful winter so we’d have a guide for next year’s winter weather conditions. I may add one or two more photos once all the snow is completely melted. But this is the end of it. Winter is DONE.

BEE

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Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:

Hive #1 was crowded with bees on top (both of them were). It seemed to have plenty of sugar left, though not much pollen. Hive #2 wasn’t a pretty sight when I opened it up. I’ll talk about that after the video.
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Mid-Winter Observations

WINTER HIVES
It’s February 1st, 2011, and winter has finally settled in for St. John’s, Newfoundland. The snow is likely to hang around until April (bluh), so it’s more the beginning of winter than mid-winter, but we’ll call it mid-winter. It’s less depressing that way.

Our two winter-wrapped first-year honey bee colonies have been living off their honey stores for a little over 70 days. We added some sugar cakes to the hives a few days ago because the bees are clustered heavily on the top frames, which can indicate they’re running out of honey. I’m not so sure about that. I suspect it could be natural behaviour for cold-climate honey bees with Russian and Carniolan genes, but it’s safer to feed them hard candy than risk starving them out. Each hive now has around 2 kg of hard candy sugar cakes (about 4.5 pounds) and the same amount waiting for them in our fridge if they need it later on.
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Mid-January Hives Are Still Alive (Video)

Our two hives have been wrapped since November 21st, 2010. That’s about 50 days. We had a little snow near the end of November, but it’s been mild and damp ever since with temperatures averaging between -5° and 5°C (23 to 41°F). Then we got hit with about 40cm (or 16 inches) of wet snow last night. I doubt the bees have consumed much of their honey stores with those mild average temperatures, but I’ve been concerned about the moisture inside the hives. It’s been an exceptionally soggy winter so far.

It’s still too cold to inspect the hives, but blowing into the top entrances provides a simple way to see if the bees are still alive, and it doesn’t bother the whole colony. If all is well, only a few guard bees will buzz up to the top entrance to scare away my bad breath. Here’s the video:

A few guard bees don’t guarantee the whole colony is alive and well, but I’m going to take it as a good sign. All the snow is likely to melt within a week. After that, I’ll lift the hives to check their weight. If they’re light, I might have to give them some candy boards or paddies. If they’re still heavy with honey stores, I’ll leave them alone until mid-February. I’ll probably feed them some pollen paddies by March no matter what. We’ll see.

UPDATE (Jan. 18/11): It’s probably better to simply shine a flash light in the top entrance instead of blowing in it. Unless of course the cluster is in the bottom brood chamber. Then I guess blowing is more affective.

Hive Wrap Video

Here’s a video of what we did yesterday. We didn’t record the entire hive wrapping process (stapling the felt to the hives) because it would have made for an even longer and boring video. However, this Long Lane Honey Bee Farms video demonstrates what’s involved in the actual wrapping. (He uses a spacer to cut down on condensation. We use upper insulation instead.) In our video you’ll see me pointing out everything we’ve done to prepare the hives for winter. It’s not the most exciting video, but actually seeing how something works or doesn’t work is usually more instructive than photos or descriptions. So here it is:

VIDEO-REMOVED

NOV. 11/14: I removed the video because I didn’t realize it showed me talking to the camera. I don’t post photos or videos that show my face anymore. It’s a privacy thing.