Type 15 or 30 asphalt felt (roofing felt) is wrapped around the hives in November to provide ambient heat and a windbreak for the bees during the winter, just enough extra warmth to allow the bees to break cluster once in a while so they can access all the honey in the hive. More costly commercially available hive wraps may keep the bees so warm that they’re more active and subsequently eat through their honey stores before winter, increasing the likelihood of starvation.
One of my beehives, back in January 2019, had its top blown off in a windstorm. The top cover — along with the inner cover and hard insulation — might have been removed in other ways, but the point is, the colony of honey bees trying to stay alive inside the hive were completely exposed to the elements for about a week. The elements included high winds, rain, freezing rain, hail and snow. Hence, the title of this post: These Bees Should Be Dead.
Not exactly what you like to find when visiting a beeyard in the winter. (January 2019.)
When I approached the hive, I didn’t expect the bees to be alive. I found dark soggy clumps of dead bees on the back edges of the top bars. Some burr comb over the top bars had lost its colour from being exposed to the elements. The frames were soaking wet with a sheen of mould growing on the surface. Ice clogged up the bottom entrance. So yeah, I expected to find nothing but dead bees inside that hive.
Here’s a playlist collection of videos I’ve posted over the years that somewhat falls into the category of Practical Beekeeping Tips. The playlist is sort of in the order that someone new beekeeping would experience, starting off with how to paint hives and how to mix sugar syrup, how to install a nuc — all that jazz.
While I’d like to update and modify some of the videos, that would take more time than I can spare (I have a full-time job that isn’t beekeeping). Much like my Beekeeping Guide, it’s not a comprehensive series of videos, but maybe it’ll help.
In my ongoing series of videos designed to obliterate the Zen-like vision of beekeeping that everyone falls for (myself included), I present to all you good folk, “Wrapping Beehives in Bubble Wrap.”
The wind is blowing in the mic throughout this video, but it seems that my cheap cellphone camera does an excellent job at isolating the sound of my voice. Despite the wind, my voice can be heard clearly most of the time. Just one more thing: I don’t consume a lot of caffeinated drinks, but when I do, I sometimes get like hyped up. This video is fuelled by caffeine. Continue reading →
There’s not much to see in this video. It’s just me talking.
I may post more of these videos in the future. Even though they’re not much to look at it, they kind of paint a picture of the kinds of things I think about as I continue on this beekeeping journey, the constant adjustments required to my beekeeping practices, the non-glamorous practical things I have to deal with, but it may provide insight for new beekeepers who might be wondering, “How do I actually do this?” As usual, I’m not saying what I do is the best thing to do, but if people are able to learn from my sharing of this experience, then hey, mission accomplished.
I may not wrap all of my hives this year, but I’ve decided to wrap at least the ones that don’t get much sunshine.
Hive wrapped with roofing felt, nice and tight. (Nov. 06, 2016.)
The black wrap will perhaps warm them up a degree or two on really cold (but sunny) days so they can move more easily onto honey frames.
Roofing felt attached with quiet-as-can-be thumb tacks. (Nov. 06, 2016.)
My feelings about wrapping my hives continues to evolve. I began in 2010 by wrapping my hives in roofing felt just like this, except now I use thumb tacks instead of staples because they’re easy to push into the hive and don’t disturb the bees like the bang of a staple gun. (Both this and using push pins to attach shrew-proofing mesh was recommended to me by one of the 6 regular readers of Mud Songs. You know who you are. Thanks.) Over the years, though, mostly due to laziness and the fact that my beehives were an inconvenient distance from where I lived, I got out of the habit of wrapping them and it didn’t seem to make any difference to my over-winter survival rates. Generally, colonies that went into winter in good shape, came out in good shape whether they were wrapped or not.
But last winter, not having wrapped any of my hives, I wasn’t too impressed with how they came out of the winter. None of them died, but neither where they strong. Having hives mostly full of old and stressed queens may explain some of it, but I also noticed in hindsight most of my hives get very little direct sunlight in the winter, much less sunlight than any of my hives in the past. So just to be safe, I’m wrapping the hives that get the least of amount of sunlight. We’ll see what happens. Continue reading →
May 2019 Introduction: I deleted most of the original post from 2012. All the photo are gone. I’ve kept this post only as a record of my first big mistake in beekeeping: not giving my bees any syrup before winter. Topping up colonies with syrup before the winter isn’t necessary if they already have enough honey. (“Enough honey” in Newfoundland is supposedly 12 solid deep frames of honey.) But as a rule now, I give my bees a least a taste of syrup in the fall just to be safe.
I didn’t top up my colonies with sugar syrup in the fall this year. I gave them all between a half and a full medium super of honey instead. Hopefully they have enough honey to get through the winter. I’ll check them again sometime in January or February and give them raw sugar if they seem starved at that point.
For the record, I have six hives on a farm in Portugal Cove and one in a secret hidden place in the city in St. John’s. I’m also experimenting with the city hive by not wrapping it. That’s all I have to say for now. Cheers.
November 13th, 20116: Some of the dumbest beekeeping is natural beekeeping. Not topping up my hives with syrup before the winter and letting the bees survive of their own natural honey resulted in my first starved out colony.
I finally got around to wrapping my hives for the winter. Here’s another how-to video narrated by me with a sore throat.
November 2018 Comment: That’s not a wax moth in the video. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a wax moth. We don’t have those in Newfoundland (yet). I use 6mm (quarter-inch) mesh on the bottom entrances now to keep shrews out, and I don’t fold the wrap underneath the top cover because it holds moisture inside the hive.
I thought about using corrugated plastic as a type of winter wrap, but I didn’t have time to mess with that, so I stuck with following the traditional roofing felt wrap method. I don’t plan to touch the hives again until late January or early February when I might have to feed them candy cakes and pollen patties. See Wrapping Hives for Winter and Winter Preparations – Part 1 for more info. Continue reading →
It’s December 2018 as I rewrite this post from April 2011. I decided to keep a record of how much snow my hives had to contend with during my first winter of beekeeping. Whenever they got nailed with heavy snow or rain or freezing rain and drizzle and fog and wind, anything that was drastically different from the day before, I took a picture of it and observed how the bees reacted to the changing winter weather conditions. More details on all that can be gleaned from the original comments for this post that are still intact. I’ve deleted most of the photos (well over 20 by the time it was done). Missing are the final photos showing how the hives were covered in ice from storms of freezing rain in April. The final record really drove home the reality that just about every place on planet Earth has an earlier and warmer spring than beekeepers on the island of Newfoundland. Yeah. So here are just a few of the photos I kept.
December 2018 Introduction: I’d like to delete this post or at least rewrite it and simplify it, but I’m leaving it alone because the comments are informative. Many of the comments during the first few years of this blog are informative. Things slowed down considerably after I was forced to move my hives because of unpleasant neighbours, but before that I was getting about 3,000 readers a day and discussions through comments were pretty consistent.
A leaky hive isn’t a huge concern. Most of what I thought of as leaks was probably condensation building up inside the hive because I had everything sealed with duct tape. It’s not a huge problem to find a few cracks between the inner cover and the top deep. The cracks at the top of the hive provide a little extra ventilation.
Today I don’t bother with insulated inner covers. I add a rim over the top deep to make room for sugar bricks and I put a piece of hard insulation over the inner cover. If I find moisture inside the hives, I create some extra ventilation by adding moisture quilts or some sort of ventilation box on top.
This post was written during my first winter when I thought pollen feeding was necessary, but it isn’t necessary. Pollen can help boost up a weak colony, but I’m not sure a healthy colony needs pollen early in the winter, keeping in mind that pollen stimulates the queen the lay more, which means more bees that need more sugar and honey, which means once I start feeding pollen, I have to be ready to keep feeding sugar and then sugar syrup so all the newly emerging bees don’t starve. And that’s all fine for saving a weak colony, but healthy colonies that are artificially stimulated to expand through pollen feeding can expand so rapidly that swarming can occur as early as May (which I have experienced). Which is fine if I’m ready to deal with swarms or create splits before the over-populated colonies swarm. But I have to monitor those colonies closely and make sure the queen doesn’t run out of room to lay. I also need equipment standing by so I can create those splits quickly or catch a swarm if necessary. When the bees shift into swarming-mode, they don’t mess around. It becomes their #1 priority. They act fast. Anyway, here’s the original post from 2011:
It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:
Hive #1 after adding final pollen patty (March 29, 2011).
November 2018 Introduction: This is how I used to wrap my hives. Today when I wrap them, it’s pretty much the same deal except I use 6mm (quarter-inch) mesh on the bottom entrances, and then later the top entrance, to keep shrews out, and I don’t fold any the of wrap inside the hive because I noticed it holds moisture inside the hive.
Here’s the low down on exactly how I wrapped and prepared each of our four-month-old double-deep Langstroth hives for winter:
1) Built and installed mouse-proof entrance reducers and made sure to check the hive for mice beforehand.
2) Flipped the inner cover to the winter position (with the flat side facing up) and placed a piece of hard insulation over it. The insulation has a R-7.5 rating, whatever that is. Apparently, R-5 or above will keep the condensation from forming in the hive. It looks like this before the top cover is added: