Beekeeping on a Budget: Hive Wrap

    The following was last updated on Dec. 01, 2016.

I made this quick video as a response to several emails I got from new beekeepers asking me if there were more affordable ways to wrap their hives for winter other than to plonk down $20 to $60 per hive for commercially available hive wraps. There are always cheaper alternatives. A roll of roofing felt is one of them.

I’m not saying roofing felt is better (though I have heard some convincing arguments), but it’s cheap and it’s worked well for me for the past six winters. Keep in mind that the bees don’t need to be warm and toasty during the winter. They just need to be warm enough to break cluster once in a while so they can migrate across the honey frames and not starve to death. (I might expand on this in the comments.)

Slight correction: In the video I mention #15 roofing felt. It’s actually referred to as a “type 15 asphalt felt.”
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100 Pounds of Honey? Really?

I expected to be part of a panel discussion at the recent NL Beekeepers AGM but instead found myself in the spot light listening to words come out of my mouth like I was having an out of body experience. I apparently spoke about moisture quilts and what was referred to afterwards as my “winter ventilation strategy.” Okay. I would describe myself as somnambulistic after a week of work that left my brain running on fumes by the time I showed up at eight-thirty in the bloody morning for the AGM. Then, to cap it off, what I thought was a panel discussion scheduled for the lunch hour got pushed to the end of the day, by which time I was fighting to keep my eyes open, going to the washroom every 20 minutes to splash cold water on my face. By the time I arrived at my moment shine, it was great. Just great. I wish I had it on tape. I had a good laugh talking about it afterwards when I got home. You gotta laugh.

IMG_0384-thick-comb

At any rate, someone who was lucky enough to be graced by my presence at the AGM sent me an email this morning asking me if I really got 100 pounds of honey from one of my hives after I put an empty moisture quilt on it for ventilation. My answer was: “You better believe it!” I don’t even remember saying that during my presentation, but apparently I said it — and it’s true. I responded to his email to explain how it happened, how I lucked into it really, and then I copied and pasted my response to Facebook, and now I’m copying that Facebook post to ye ole Mud Songs blog because I’m reaching the end of another long day at work and I really don’t have the brain power to do anything other than copy and paste.

So here it is, the story of how I got 100 pounds of honey from a single honey bee colony, and in Logy Bay, Newfoundland, of all places:

By the way, I plan to write a post that covers all the topics that I expected to talk about during the panel discussion, in the form of a conversation between three beekeepers, just as I imagined the panel discussion would play out. It, too, will be great. Stay tuned.

Roofing Felt Hive Wrap Attached with Thumb Tacks

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. (Nov. 06, 2016.)

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.)

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.
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Not Topping Up Hives in the Fall

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.

Winter Preparations – Hive Wrap

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.
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