Moisture Quilts vs Hard Insulation

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.)

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.
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Quarter-Inch Mesh Doesn’t Always Knock Off Pollen

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 bring in pollen on October 25th, 2015 in Flatrock, Newfoundland.

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…
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Quick & Dirty Winter Preparations

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 Only Good Shrew is a Dead Shrew

One of my cats killed a shrew near my hives today.

Dead shrew. (June 27, 2015.)

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 will be covering all of my hive entrances with quarter-inch mesh this winter.

The First Time I Had a Shrew in a Beehive But Didn’t Know It

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 it’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:
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Mouse-Proofing Mesh Doesn’t Keep Shrews Out

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. I wish they had.

Half-inch (12mm) mouse-proofing mesh that does nothing to keep shrews out of the hive. (Oct. 9, 2011.)


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