Building a Mouse-Proof Winter Entrance Reducer

PREFACE (Nov. 01/14): I should delete this post because I don’t use these mouse-proof entrance reducers anymore. I switched to mesh during my second winter and have never looked backed.

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE IT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED.

Here’s the short version: Take a piece of wood the size of a regular entrance reducer (15 inches / 38.1 cm long). Cut a notch in it that’s at least 1 cm high and 6 cm long (1 cm = approx. 3/8 inch). Drive thin nails in a row inside the notch so there’s 1 cm of space between them. The nails should look like prison bars. The holes in a regular mouse-proof entrance are slightly less than a centimetre wide, so as long as the space between the nails is no wider than a centimetre, this should do the trick. Just make sure to brace it in place with something heavy or nail it down. It doesn’t get any cheaper or simpler. I haven’t tested the design yet, but I’ll update this post in the spring of 2011 and let you know if any mice got in the hives. I think it’ll work just fine. (See also Winter Mouse-Proof Mesh.)

It went up to 14° Celsius in the backyard today (that’s 57° F in Non-Metricland). I have a wireless thermometer set up under one of the hives. 15° during the summer was the magic number that got all the foragers and young bees out of the hive. But the magic number has been 10° since mid-September. The bees in both hives were out in full force. The backyard sounded like one big buzz. Check out how crowded the bees were before I opened their entrances all the way (I’ll post a quick video of it later on in the comments).

While I was out there enjoying the brief blast of warm of air, I decided to build my mouse-proof winter entrance reducers for both hives. That’s one piece of beekeeping equipment that falls well within my limited carpentry abilities.
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Making Insulated Inner Hive Covers

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON FEB. 02, 2014.

Winters in St. John’s, Newfoundland, provide a messy mixture of rain, snow and high winds with irregular periods of freezing and thawing. Wrapping Langstroth honey bee hives with a Type 15 asphalt felt isn’t a bad idea. Neither is installing mouse-proof entrance reducers. Preventing condensation, though, is the top priority. A 1-inch thick piece of R5-rated hard insulation over the inner cover in the winter position will prevent condensation from building up inside the hive during the winter. We used a 1.5-inch thick piece of insulation during our first winter (because we couldn’t find anything else) up until the end of January. Then we had to switch to insulated inner hive covers because the regular inner covers don’t provide enough room for candy cakes and pollen patties. A shim lifting a regular inner cover up an inch or two would provide enough space. However, an all-in-one insulated inner hive cover might be more convenient. It requires moderate carpentry skills (which means we’ll probably go with the shims instead), and it’ll cost a little more, but here’s how we made them if anyone is interested. We’ve tested them, and they work.*
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Honey Bee Flight Patterns

THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE IT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED.

This is another video that won’t interest many people except perhaps the truly dedicated honeybee enthusiast. I stuck my camera close to the entrance to Hive #1 today and pointed it up at the sky. I did this a few days ago too and was somewhat mesmerized by the flights patterns of the bees. At first it looked chaotic, but it didn’t take long to notice the bees coming in and leaving at certain angles and positions relative to the hive. The following video doesn’t capture that phenomena as well (the background has to consist entirely of blue sky to highlight the full scope of the flight patterns), but it’s still kind of interesting. I’ll try to get a full blue sky shot sometime before the winter sets in if I can.


THIS VIDEO IS BEST VIEWED IN THE 480p SETTING.

You might hear me working a jigsaw in parts of the video. I was out back building some insulated inner covers. (Slow motion kicks in at the 2:23 mark.)

UPDATE (Oct. 18/10): These aren’t the most exciting videos, but I’ll probably post more of them in the comments for my own records. It may be interesting to see how active the bees are on various dates and temperatures. Or it might be incredibly dull. We’ll see.

Fall Hives

I’m posting this short video for my own records so I have something to compare next year’s new hives to. I started two hives from 3-frame nuc boxes (4 frames actually, but one frame was empty) on July 18th, which was 89 days ago. It’s now mid-October and the bees are still active — when the sun is shining on the hives. The sun is shining on them as I write this. The temperature is 12°C, each hive has a top hive feeder installed over the inner cover, and the bees are flying around the entrances of both hives. Looking good. Here’s what they looked like a few days ago on October 12th:


THIS VIDEO SHOULD BE VIEWED IN THE 480p SETTING. THE LOWER SETTING IS PRETTY BAD.

Adding a Hive Top Feeder

I added a hive top feeder to Hive #2 today. I also checked the hive top feeder on Hive #1 which has had a feeder installed for about a week now with about 6 litres of syrup in one side. That feeder may have had a slight leak. I noticed a clump of bees and wasps hanging around one spot between the inner cover and the feeder for a couple days. I’d brush them away and they’d fly back to the exact spot immediately. Here’s what it looked like:

Then today as I was about to check the hive — this is a completely different topic — I noticed these dead bees and wasps outside the bottom entrance:
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Honey Bees in Flight (Video)

Here’s some video I shot yesterday while taking photos of the bees flying around Hive #2. Not the most exciting video, perhaps, but it does demonstrate the difference between Hive #2 and Hive #1, which we thought was queenless (and who knows, still could be).


THE 480p HIGHER DEFINITION SETTING MAY PROVIDE SMOOTHER PLAYBACK.

I just noticed two bees fighting it out (at the 1:16 mark) on the bottom board and then falling off the edge. September is fighting month for the honeybees.
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“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” said The Queen Bee

ADDENDUM: READ THE FIRST COMMENT FOR A QUICK SUMMARY OF THIS LONG POST.

New beekeepers are so silly, aren’t they? One day they say the queen is dead and all is lost. The next day they say maybe not. And that’s the underlying theme of our first summer of keeping bees in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We don’t really know what’s going on. Reading about honeybees can fire up one’s enthusiasm for beekeeping. But keeping those bees in your small backyard by yourself, sometimes you get a little too close to them, so when they step out of line and do something you haven’t seen before, the sky starts falling. Silly little beekeepers. Not that all the little beekeepers’ concerns are invalid, but there’s a tendency among new beekeepers to freak out and mess around with their hives when the bees are most likely doing just fine on their own.

What follows is a possible illustration of that point. It’s long and there are no pictures. Just a bunch of words talking about how confusing it is at times to keep bees on an island, where perhaps no man is an island, but every novice beekeeper is.
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The Queen is Dead

UPDATE: (Oct. 3/10): So it turns out the queen may not be dead after all. The absence of larvae usually means the absence of a queen. But not always. (Deep sigh.) I’ll tell you about it in the next post. Man oh man.

Well, Hive #1 is done for. The queen is dead. We did a full inspection of the hive today and didn’t find any signs of a queen. This is what we found:

— Lots of honey (we originally thought the queen may have been honey bound).
— Plenty of empty cells, the equivalent of at least 5 empty frames.
— Some capped brood but not much, maybe a frame or two in total.
— No drone cells, though plenty of empty drone cells (on the foundationless frames).
— No three or four-day old larvae. No little white grubs in any of the cells.

And that, more than anything, tells us the hive is queenless. A queen lays up to 2000 eggs a day, so if a queen is around, there should be plenty of larvae. There were none. For the past two and a half months, we saw curled up larvae like this every time we inspected the hive:

The absence of larvae is the absence of a queen. So now what do we do?
[Note: What follows is a bit of a rant.]
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Unusual Hive Behaviour

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON DEC. 23, 2010.

This is a follow-up to the previous post.

I just checked the hives to see how well they’re taking up the syrup from the frame feeders. I was able to add another 2 litres of syrup to the feeder in Hive #2 (that’s 2 litres since yesterday afternoon). It’s massive with bees. They still have about 3 empty frames left and they’re going nuts with building and taking up syrup. Nothing wrong with that.

Hive #1 bees in their glory days (August 2010).

The bees in Hive #1, on the other hand, haven’t touched the syrup in their frame feeder, and they’re showing no interest in the frames I installed in the first honey super yesterday. So whatever is going on in Hive #1, it’s got them disinterested in taking feed or building comb.
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