A Beekeeping Hack (That Might Not Work)

A 2-minute video that demonstrates and explains my idea for covering the inner cover hole with canvas. It’s followed by a 20-minute version for those interested in a deeper dive into all kinds of other things.

As always with these longer videos, I explain every little thing I do while I’m doing it so that new beekeepers unfamiliar with all this stuff might be able to pick up some helpful titbits of information. I know this format isn’t quick and slick and eye-catching, and my viewership has gone down the toilet since I started doing this, but when I look back on all the videos I’ve watched over the years, it’s usually been this kind of long-form walk-along video that I’ve learned the most from — the ones where I’m just hanging out with the beekeeper while they’re beekeeping. So I’m sticking to it.

00:00 — Covering inner cover hole with canvas.
02:10 — DEEPER DIVE begins here.
02:30 — 6mm mesh clogged with dead bees.
03:05 — Removing mesh. Clearing out dead bees.
04:50 — Re-attaching quarter-inch mesh.
06:05 — Cutting canvas. (Talking throughout the whole video.)
07:35 — Review of hive conditions.
08:40 — Tacking canvas over inner cover hole.
11:15 — Repeated explanations of my ventilation idea.
14:10 — Smelling the bees by sticking my nose in the hive.
14:35 — Repeating the process on a 2nd hive.
15:40 — The best inner cover (in my opinion).
17:45 — Reflecting on this process.
18:40 — Hive pillows meant to replace quilt boxes.
19:40 — The best top covers (in my opinion).
20:40 — Removing mesh and clearing more bees.
21:25 — Wet non-waxed bottom board.
21:55 — Lack of moisture is not a problem for my bees.
22:30 — Camera batteries dies.

BEESWAXING PHILOSOPHICAL

I’m not sure if anything I demonstrate in the video makes any sense. But I think it’s okay to roll that way sometimes and make mistakes if that’s how it turns out. I used to worry about my bees all the time for the first two or three years of my beekeeping, worried that half the stuff I did to them could easily make things worse. But that’s okay too. I have enough confidence — but not over-confidence — in my own experience these days to relax more with my beekeeping and try out even the most hare-brained ideas that come to me. It’s not a bad place to me.

“Every great idea is on the verge of being stupid.” — Michel Gondry

I’m always trying to find cheaper, easier and effective methods for everything I do with my bees, especially winter beekeeping. The measures people take — and the money they spend — to keep their bees alive over the winter can be somewhat extreme, when really, most of us could probably place a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover, put some kind of rodent-guard across the bottom entrance, wrap the hive with black roofing felt and call it done.

Instead we come up with new hive designs every other year, all of it meticulously thought through, and 95% of the time we’re just reinventing the wheel, appealing to novice beekeepers who are easily swayed by flashy inventions that look good on camera. Without that kind of idealised appeal, I don’t think the beekeeping supply industry would be nearly as lucrative.

I began beekeeping in 2010 not doing anything fancy or too expensive — and it worked. I had to take extra measures to keep my hives dry over the winter after I moved them to a particularly windy and wet location, but even then, it wasn’t expensive or too complicated. I eventually got out of wrapping my hives because it was a headache for me, even though I was told to always wrap them in the winter. Then I noticed there was little difference between the hives that were wrapped and unwrapped.

So I got off wrapping. I’d wrap them if I had the time (because it’s hard to completely go against convention sometimes), but if I didn’t have time, I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t notice any difference in my colony strength in the spring until I moved my bees to yet another location that happened to be close to a cold ocean. Those bees putter along. It seems to be a constant battle against the elements for them to stay alive. It’s not that they’re dying or they’re weak. They’re just not robust. They do create swarm cells from time to time when unusually warm weather comes their way, but generally they don’t make much honey and are rarely strong enough to create splits from.

I’ve since seen first hand what an almost profound influence the right location has on the success of one’s beekeeping. I have colonies in another location that barely get any kind of special treatment — and they’re off the hook. I don’t wrap them in the winter. I might put some insulation over the inner covers if the weather gets extreme. But most of the time the winter hive configuration, other than mesh covering the bottom entrance, is exactly the same as it is in the summer, a standard Langstroth hive with simply a ventilation rim over the inner cover. Nothing else.

The colonies in that location grow so fast and make so much honey that I can barely keep up with them once the weather warms up. I plan to keep a close eye on those colonies to make sure that what I’ve observed there isn’t some kind of weird anomaly. At the moment, though, those colonies are on a different planet compared to my hives close to the ocean. A planet where it’s always warm and nectar seems to flow endlessly. It’s an entirely different kind of beekeeping.

That experience has really opened my eyes to adamant opinions from other beekeepers who essentially proselytise every time they express themselves because they’re so sure of themselves. Many seem to become mentors, which I’m not sure is a good thing. I think they, and many beekeepers in general, would sing a different tune if they had a wider range of beekeeping experience. Many of us think we’re great beekeepers when really the bees are simply thriving because of the great weather. (Someone just got offended.) Even commercial beekeepers with large numbers of hives seem to take on an artificial confidence when their beekeeping experience is largely restricted to a certain climate or location.

I try to speak with some level of confidence, but it’s not necessarily a confidence that what I’m saying is true for everyone in every situation. There’s no way some beekeeper in L.A., Halifax, or even more inland areas of Newfoundland, will have to do the same things for their bees that I need to do in Flatrock to keep my bees alive. Beekeeping doesn’t work that way. I’m only confident that I’m reporting on my local experiences accurately. From that, perhaps other beekeepers can compare their experiences to my experiences (not just mine either) and then connect the dots themselves, learning maybe then to trust their own observations as much as anything they’ve been told from over-confident beekeepers.

Overall, I think it’s important to approach beekeeping with an open and playful mind without fear of making the wrong move from time to time. While scientific methods and evidence-based practices will always win the day over the idealised beliefs of beekeeping that seem to draw most people to it these days, I don’t think it’s necessary to take a dogmatic approach to beekeeping as long as we’re relaxed enough to learn from our mistakes. Honey bees tend to be forgiving of our blunders. They’ve been around a lot longer than us. They know how to work around most of the silly things we do.

Does putting canvas over the holes of my inner covers make any sense? Maybe not. So what? I’ll learn soon enough.

2 thoughts on “A Beekeeping Hack (That Might Not Work)

  1. It is nice of you to share some alternatives to insulation in your bee yard.
    I have quilts on mine ( box with side holes , wire mesh bottom with fabric on top which holds wood shavings) Funny thing though, the bees come up, cling to the wire mesh and chew the fabric , nearly making holes in the fabric. Do you suppose they are trying to chew moisture out of the fabric?
    Moisture is easily excessible throughout the hive … I just don’t get it, any ideas?

    • Bees seem to love to chewing things that aren’t food. *Maybe* they chew the fabric to get moisture, but they have big long tongues for that. I often hear my bees, winter and summer, chewing away at things inside the hive. I’m sure what they’re up to, if they’re crowded and trying to find a way out, if they’re following air currents. I don’t know.

      I haven’t had any problems with my bees chewing on things, except once I had to use some screen to keep the bees out of a syrup feeder, and the screen was made from plastic, not metal. The bees chewed right through the plastic and got into the syrup.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.