I know better than to remove the 6mm / quarter-inch mouse and shrew proofing mesh from the bottom entrances of my hives while temperatures are still cold (like they are now), but hope springs eternal whenever the sun comes out like it did a couple weeks ago, and silly me, I removed the mesh from about half of my hives. Then it got cold again — like it always does in April — and now it looks like I’ve got critters trying to find a warm place to cuddle into. Nice move, Phillip. Way to go. I have to keep reminding myself not to remove the mesh until the first full hive inspection of the year — when it’s warm and stays warm… At least I think it’s a mouse making a mess of my bees.
The video taps into other topics, but the mesh is the main one.
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.
I have reason to believe that the hive I found full of poop recently might not have Nosema, but I’ve been dealing with it, just to careful, as if it does have Nosema. Here’s a long video of me digging into the mess and dealing with it by knocking the colony down to a single medium super. I may update this post with more information later. I’m kinda busy at the moment trying to become an expert on Nosema. (Update: In the video, I leave an open feeder full of thin sugar syrup so the bees could clear out their guts of possible Nosema spores, but I changed my mind and removed it the next day. The risk of spreading Nosema through the syrup seemed too great. Maybe the risk is low, but I don’t want to take any chances.)
The specks of poop in the sugar could be signs of nosema, a mild case of it. (April 4th, 2022.)
I think I may have discovered Nosema, possibly a fatal case of it, in at least one of my colonies — and I’m not posting a photo of that one just yet because it’ll make you barf. When everything inside the hive is covered with feces as if the bees were locked inside and couldn’t get out for cleansing flights, even though the front door is about two inches away from the cluster — that pretty much screams Nosema with a capital N. It could be dysentery, which is also gross and not as troublesome as Nosema. Still, everything points to Nosema at the moment. Continue reading →
This video demonstrates how I catch wasps at this time of the year so they don’t get into my beehives. (I go into more detail in How To Kill Wasps.)
It’s just a standard wasp trap with a few glops of strawberry jam and a splash of water. No vinegar. No meat or cat food. Just strawberry jam and water. I’ll post a photo later today or tomorrow to show how many wasps got caught in the trap (and how many bees didn’t).
I’ve posted about this before (I’ve covered a lot of ground since 2010), but it’s always good to come back to say, “I told you it works.” Continue reading →
I’m using old pennies in an attempt to keep slugs and snails out of my hives, because apparently they don’t like the taste of copper.
I could spend $25 at my local hardware store for 15 feet of something called “Copper Mesh Fence Barrier” (at $1.67 per foot) to keep the slimy guys out of my hives. Or I can use up 24 cents in pennies per hive to do the same thing. Will it work? I don’t know. It seems the snails can still slink right up the sides of the hives, but I’m guessing most of them get in through the bottom entrance. I’ll update this post as soon as I find clear evidence that does or doesn’t work.
Some of you may have heard that the eastern part of the isle of Newfoundland where I keep bees got dinged with a massive snowstorm on January 17th, 2020. The official forecast called for about 90cm (3 feet) of snow. But with winds hitting about 120km/h (75mph), more than a few snowdrifts were taller than me.
I’m guessing a rat did this (January 26th, 2020).
The city of St. John’s and surrounding municipalities were under a State of Emergency for about a week. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t check on some of my hives until the roads were passable nine days later. This is what I found when I checked on them:
Here’s a 6-minute video of what passes for beekeeping during a snowstorm. Specifically, it’s the Snowmageddon snowstorm that dumped about a metre of snow over my hives on January 17th, 2020. I’ll make another video that goes into the details of what I actually did to keep my bees alive during all the snowfall, but this one is just to show how much snow came down.
I never got into tying my beehives down with ratchet straps because I was too stunned to know how to use a ratchet strap. I still prefer what some call “lashing” or “sport” straps. They’re less complicated to use, they seem to hold on just as tight to the hives as the ratchet straps, and if you’ve ever used them, you’ll know they don’t create any clack-clack ratcheting vibrations as they’re tightened (the kind of vibrations that don’t make honey bees happy). So if I had to go with any kind of strap to secure my beehives to the ground, I’d go with the so-called sport or lashing strap instead of a ratchet strap.
A lashing strap, usually cheaper and easier to use than a ratchet strap.
I should make a video on how to use the various straps. People as useless as me (people who can relate) might find the videos helpful. People with giant pick-up trucks who know their way around ratchet straps and heavy metal objects would probably get a good laugh out of it too. Continue reading →
It was 18Â°C / 64Â°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.)
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. Continue reading →
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.)
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.
July 2019 Postscript: Maybe the cinnamon repels ants. Maybe it doesn’t. I guess there’s no harm in trying it out of desperation, but these days I don’t bother. The ants will be around for a little and they usually disappear and never really cause much trouble.
July 2019 Introduction: I remove the mesh from the top entrances of my hives as soon as I see bees crowding to push their way through the mesh. As long as the hives aren’t buried deep in snow so that shrews can walk right up to the top entrance and hop in, I don’t worry so much about mesh on the top entrance, though I do temporarily remove them in the winter on warm days when the bees are trying to get out on cleansing flights.
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.)
I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.
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. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)
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:
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 a suggestion from one of my readers 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 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 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 pushpins instead of staples works perfectly. At least that’s my story for now.
Thanks for the tip, Emily.
December 18th, 2019: I’ve gotten into using regular thumbtacks instead of pushpins because the pushpins can be rather difficult to drive into the wood. A thumb tack is much easier to attach. To remove one, though, requires pulling the mesh off carefully and taking the tack with it, which can then easily go flying into the grass or get bent to the point of not being reusable. Still, they’re so much easier to use than pushpins, I might stick with them. I suppose I could use one of those staple remover things that look like a tiny fanged mouth, but that’s another gadget I’ll need to keep around and I’m more interested in reducing what I need to keep bees instead of adding more to the list.
Thumbs tacks used to attached shrew-proofing mesh. (December 2019.)
I’m a true believer in moisture quilts as the best overall ventilation and moisture reduction aid for Langstroth hives in the winter. I’m a true believer because I’ve seen soaking wet hives become dry as a bone within a week of having moisture quilts installed.
An emergency moisture quilt that saved this colony. (January, 2014.)
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the high heat of summer too, allowing the bees to regulate the temperature of the brood nest with less fanning and to cure honey sooner. Moisture quilts are also really cheap and easy to make. Everybody wins. Continue reading →
July 2019 Introduction: This post gets a little long, but I haven’t edited it down to be more concise because it demonstrates how my beekeeping practices evolve. At first, I just stapled quarter-inch mesh onto the bottom and top entrances to keep shrews out starting in October. Then I put it on just the bottom entrances so the bees could still get through the top entrances with no problems, at least until they began to cluster down for the winter. Then I switched to using push pins to attach the mesh because it’s less disruptive for the bees than the banging of a staple gun and it allows me to easily remove and reattach the mesh when I need to clear dead bees off the bottom board. And some people in Newfoundland only use half-inch mesh to keep mice out because they’ve never had problems with shrews. They’re lucky.
I was surprised to see some of my bees bringing in pollen today.
Honey bee bringing in pollen on October 25th, 2015, in Flatrock, Newfoundland.
Judging from the colour of the pollen, my guess is that it came from Japanese Knotweed. It could be Honey Clover too. I still see some of that around (what a fantastic plant that is). I saw bees from another hive bringing in yellow pollen, probably from Goldenrod, though it seems late for Goldenrod.
This is the first year I’ve used quarter-inch / 6mm mesh to keep shrews out of my hives. I was told to put the mesh on after the bees have stopped bringing in pollen because supposedly the mesh opening is so small that it knocks the pollen off the bees’ legs as they go through it. But that’s not exactly true. Every bee that came in with pollen today at least had no problem getting through with the pollen still intact. So… Continue reading →
I’m a huge fan of the moisture quilts introduced to me by Rusty Burlew because they keep my bees warm and dry all winter long better than anything I’ve used before. But for my first two winters when I kept my hives in the city in a relatively dry climate, hard insulation over the inner cover worked fine. For people who don’t have much time, money or carpentry skills, the winter preparations I demonstrate in this video are better than nothing.
I’m not saying this is the best winter set up for a hive, but I have a good sense of my local climate and I think this minimal set up will work out okay.
The best method I’ve discovered for killing wasps is to go out and buy one of these wasp traps:
Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)
Add a dollop of some sweet jam, pour in some water sweetened with sugar and then hang or place the trap some place where wasps are known to congregate. I put the trap out this morning and when I came home from work, it was full of wasps — hundreds of them.
Wasp trap filled with hundreds of yellow jackets in less than a day. (Sept. 22, 2015.)
I’ll continue to monitor the trap over the next week or two. I’ll stop using it if too many honey bees get trapped in it. Judging only from the first day I had the trap out, I’d say there’s one honey bee for every 100 wasps that get trapped in it. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the latest results. Continue reading →
One of my cats killed a shrew near my hives today.
Dead shrew. (June 27, 2015.)
I lost three quarters of my honey bee colonies to shrew predation last winter. No one ever warned me about them and I never noticed much written about them. You can expect me to write a Masters thesis on them by the end of the year, though.
I had some frames of honey stored in a swarm trap in my shed and a mouse found a way in and probably came back night after night and had a feast. Here’s a photo of a frame of honey that’s been partially eaten by the mouse:
Here’s the view from the other side of the frame. You can see how the mouse chewed through the plastic foundation and the wood of the frame.
It’s June 2019 as I rewrite this post from December 2013. 2013 was when shrews first got into my hives, but I didn’t know it at the time. I would see all these signs of shrews again during the winter of 2015 when shrews destroyed or catastrophically wrecked havoc on six of my eight colonies.
The conditions seemed perfect for shrews in the winter of 2015. I heard about commercial beekeepers in Prince Edward Island and in New Brunswick who lost up to 80% of their colonies due to shrew predation. Snow was so high at times that it seems the shrews were able to skitter across the deep snow and hop into beehives through the top entrances that didn’t have mouse guards on them. (Who puts mouse guards over the top entrances? Nobody.) Once inside the hives, the shrews would pluck one bee at a time from the edge of the cluster, suck the guts out of the bee’s body and then go back for more, all day long, day after day until the cluster was so small and the bees were so stressed that they were goners before the snow melted. It was a pretty damn devastating situation all around.
A shrew tunnel in the snow. (Next to an earplug for scale.)
Shrews can squeeze through 3/8-inch mouse guards, so page 1 from my anti-shrew playbook is to staple or use push pins to attach 6mm (quarter-inch) mesh over my bottom entrances around the first week of October or whenever I think itâ€™s getting so cold that the bees are beginning to cluster. The mesh might knock some pollen off the bees’ legs, but not enough to concern me. With push pins, I can always temporarily remove the mesh if the bees are having a particularly busy day of foraging. I sometimes cover the top entrances with mesh too just to be extra safe. And it works.
But in the winter of 2013 and 2015, I didn’t have a clue. Here’s how it first played it December 2013: Continue reading →
A mouse got inside my city hive because I waited too long to put on mouse-proofing mesh.
From what I can tell, the mouse (or mice) was in the hive for a long time and scared the bees, queen and all, into a honey super that I had placed above the inner cover during a late fall feeding. Continue reading →
I pulled four deep frames of honey from each of my hives this past summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound. I stored the frames in a cardboard nuc box and kept them in my house. Later in the fall I fed all but one of the frames back to the bees (see Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup). This morning I took a look at the remaining deep frame of honey stored in the nuc box and noticed it had mould growing on it.
I’ve had entrance reducers on all my hives for the past few weeks, and it doesn’t look like I can remove them any time soon because the wasps (a.k.a. yellow jackets) are everywhere. They’re constantly trying to get into the hives. Here’s a photo showing about six wasps blocking a ventilation hole (most of the screened holes in our ventilator rims are filled with wasps):
Wasps filling a screened ventilation hole. (Oct. 9, 2011.)
It’s March 2019 and I’ve deleted and retitled the 2011 post that used to be here (though the comments are still intact). But here’s the gist of it:
No matter how it’s installed, half-inch (~12mm) mesh will not prevent shrews from getting into a hive. Shrews, or more accurately, the pygmy shrew, can even slip through standard 3/8-inch metal mouse guards. That’s why I use quarter-inch (6mm) mesh to keep both shrews and mice out of hives.
I know beekeepers in Newfoundland who only use half-inch mesh to keep mice out of their hives and have done so for years. I took most of my cues from them when I first started beekeeping. None of them ever told me about shrews, possibly because shrews weren’t a problem in their area.
Half-inch (12mm) mouse-proofing mesh that does nothing to keep shrews out of the hive. (Oct. 9, 2011.)