A Wet Hive is a Sick Hive

In this 5-minute video, I take a look at some wet winter hives. The use of cold-conducting silver furnace tape to seal the cracks between my supers seems to have been mistake.

I’ll add more details once I have time. A 19-minute deeper dive follows the opening 5 minutes.

April 12th, 2022: I had the bees in this wet, damp, mouldy hive tested and they have Nosema. It’s stinky and dirty, but it’s not the end of the world. I’m on it. Just for the record, I went 11 years and 9 months without a serious case of Nosema in my bees. That’s not a bad record. I hope. The dirty hive will be treated safely and effectively with Acetic Acid. As much as I would like to document that process so that others might learn from my experience, I’ve decided to hold back on it due to the overzealous policing element that continues to be nuisance to so many beekeepers in Newfoundland. And I’m not referring to anyone who mentioned that Nosema needs to be reported to the provincial apiarist. I’m totally cool with that.

2 thoughts on “A Wet Hive is a Sick Hive

  1. Phillip – Thank you for sharing these videos. I am a first year beekeeper in north central Massachusetts, USA. I had two hives this year and sadly lost both. I also think I fed too long and late in the season having found both uncapped liquid (what I believe to be syrup) and mold on the frames when I did the hive autopsies. We had a crazy winter with wild temp fluctuations and I know there was some beekeeper error on my part. I used Bee Cozies on both hives for insulation and did have an upper entrance. I also had varroa mites, despite treatment, which definitely weakened my bees, but no sign of nosema or dysentery. I’m now reading and learning about the information and research from Etienne Tardiff as well as Thomas Seeley and am considering trying no upper entrances for the 2 nucs I am getting this spring. I look forward to your videos every week – Thanks! Sincerely, Kate B

    • Etienne is putting in some good work with his hives, but I’m not sold on not using upper entrances. I can see how it would work in his severely cold climate with his particular hive set up, but in my climate here on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland where it’s cold and damp and windy with constantly fluctuating temperatures, whenever I’ve tried to eliminate upper entrances, the bees come out of the winter lethargic and slow to build up — and in the case of this wet hive, they got sick.

      It might be different with nucs and single-deep hives, though, and every local climate is different too. But I’ve decided to stick with upper entrances for now on. Without the upper entrance, my bees can’t seem to stay dry, even with ventilation rims and quilt boxes up top.

      Where I think I went wrong was experimenting with 3 things at the same time. I’m going to copy and paste this into a post eventually, so here we go… where I went wrong:

      1) Silver furnace tape to seal in the cracks between my defective supers. The metallic tape is a magnet for condensation (what in the world was I thinking?) and it holds the moisture in right where I don’t want moisture, in the cracks between the supers. I created a mould farm. 100% done with that.

      2) Lowering the top entrance by about 6 inches to retain ambient heat inside the hive. I read about this in the 1947 edition of the ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, a resource that I usually find more useful than most modern beekeeping publications. But in this case, it wasn’t a good idea. The lowered upper entrances didn’t seem to be a problem until the end of the winter when the bees were clustering higher. At some point, they just didn’t seem to want to make the effort to move down to the lowered upper entrance for cleansing flights.

      All the hives with lowered upper entrances this year have had problems with faeces. Poop inside the hives and the lowered entrance caked with poop. That only happened in the hives with the lowered entrances. I’m only taking a guess at what I think happened, but my weakest colonies right now, and the ones that didn’t build up quicker than the others, were the ones with the lowered upper entrances. I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence.

      3) Silver bubble hive wrap. I don’t like wrapping hives. When I started beekeeping in 2010, I wrapped my hives with black roofing felt and it seemed to do the job, mostly as a windbreak. But after neglecting some hives and not wrapping them, I didn’t notice any difference between the wrapped and unwrapped hives. So for about 4 or years, I didn’t wrap my hives and most of my colonies did well (except in one particularly cold location). But I always heard how big my clusters would be in the spring if I wrapped them, so I tried it again this year with the silver bubble wrap, and I can’t say it’s made any difference. It may have held moisture between the wrap and the hive, which probably isn’t good.

      However, the silver furnace tape may have cancelled out the benefits of the hive wrap. Maybe it was the perfect storm with the silver tape holding in the moisture and the wrap maintaining enough warmth to allow mould to grow. Maybe?

      Conclusions so far: 1) No more silver furnace tape. That seems to have been a bone-headed idea from the start and I really should have given that more thought. But I heard how it worked for one beekeeper and that’s all it took to convince me. I ignored my basic rule of beekeeping, that all beekeeping is local beekeeping, and just because something works for someone in another climate under different conditions doesn’t mean it’ll work for me in my local climate. Metallic tape is a bad idea where I live. It might work in a climate with a more constant temperature, but with the ups and downs in my local climate, maybe moisture was constantly condensing, melting, condensing, melting — and it just didn’t work. I’m just guessing here. But either way, no more silver tape for my hives.

      2) Upper entrances for now on. I know sealed in hives with lower sheltered entrances work in places as cold as the Yukon when the hives have absorbent material to soak up moisture, but whenever I have removed (or lowered) the upper entrances, bad things happen to my bees. It’s as if the cleansing flight trigger goes off and they can’t make the extra effort to crawl down to the lower entrance and poop. A little poop inside the hive over winter is normal, but there’s a point where it makes for a unhealthy house to live in, and for whatever reason (I’m still not exactly sure why), the lowered upper entrances seems to throw my bees off their game and, like I said, they end up pooping inside the hive or barely making it to the entrance which ends up looking like a crude-coated mess. So even though I don’t know exactly why it turns out this way, I’m using upper entrances for now on.

      I’m on the fence about the wraps. I’ll see how I feel going into next winter.

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