Farm Hives

Yesterday I visited two beehives that I have on a farm, before snow and rain came in to make that kind of thing not much fun. Here’s an 18-minute video of that visit, but I tacked on a 5-minute condensed version for the Readers’ Digest crowd.

Here’s an index of the big events in this video, though there’s a lot more than what’s listed here.
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Winter Beekeeping with a Vengeance

Subtitled: Checking on Bees That Were Buried in Snow For More Than a Month

I still haven’t posted a video of the big storm from January 17th, 2020, that buried most of my hives, but it’s coming. It’s a spectacle, not really a beekeeping video.

This is what my “beeyard” looked like on January 18th, 2020.

In the meantime, I’ve put together two videos of the same thing — a 7-minute video for people who just want to see the bees and not hear me babble on about stuff, and the 25-minute unabridged version of the first inspections I did with these hives since they got snowed in over a month ago. It’s longer than the typical killing-time-at-work video, but it may be worth a look for new beekeepers who want to get into the nitty-gritty of winter beekeeping. I cover a lot on ground in this one. (Watching it in segments and coming back to it throughout the day might be the best bet.) It’s interesting how snowshoes have become standard beekeeping gear for me since the storm. And by interesting I mean annoying.

Here’s the highlights reel:


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Slightly Too Much Snow and a Little Problem With Shrew-Proofing Mesh

February 23rd, 2020: Here’s a 6-minute video that shows what happened to one of my hives that was completely buried in snow for a week or two — and by completely I mean all the entrances were blocked too.

The bees couldn’t get out for cleansing flights and made a big stinking mess of the hive, or at least their hive entrance. The 6mm / quarter-inch mesh I use to keep shrews out probably made the mess even worse. Who knows, maybe the heat from the colony would have melted the snow around the top entrance and allowed the bees to get out just far enough to poop. Maybe. But for now, especially if my area ever gets hit with an insane snow storm again, I may have to put 12mm / half-inch mesh around the entrances and hope for the best.
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A Rat Gnawing on My Beehive

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:


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Snowmageddon Beekeeping

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.

Weighing Down Beehives vs Tying Down Beehives

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.
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Yakking About Snow Around My Beehives

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.

Tips on Using 6mm / Quarter-Inch Mesh

It was 18°C / 64°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.)

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.
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How I Prepare My Beehives For Winter

Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.

One of my bee hives after a  snow storm in 2013.

One of my bee hives after a snow storm in 2013. The bees survived.

I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (Nov. 04, 2015.)

The typical winter configuration for a world renowned and stupendous Mud Songs bee hive. (November 4th, 2015.)

So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
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Wondering When to Remove Shrew-Proofing Mesh

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.)

Opening the quarter-inch mesh and releasing the bees for cleansing flights. (March 19, 2016.)


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Birds Eating Honey Bees

I found bee body parts scattered all over the snow near my hives today.

Body parts of headless honey bees. (Feb. 14, 2016.)

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. (Feb. 22/15.)

Signs of a shrew inside a hive. The white stuff is sugar, not snow. (Feb. 22/15.)


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First Sign of Shrews in a Hive

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:

shrew-scare
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Honey Leaking From Hive

I noticed some honey or sugar syrup on the bottom board of one of my hives this morning.

Watered down honey or syrup on bottom board. (Feb. 02, 2016.)

Watered down honey or syrup on bottom board. (Feb. 02, 2016.)

I’ve seen this before. It usually happens in the winter when open honey comb contracts in the cold and then expands in the sudden heat of a warm spell and drips out of the cells. That’s all that’s happening. The first time I saw this, I thought a mouse got in the hive and chewed open some honey comb, which is not unheard of. But there’s no way a mouse could get through my quarter-inch mesh.

Frost From Bees’ Breath

The buzz of my bees has gotten quieter through my stethoscope in the past couple of weeks. I hope they’re not freezing to death. I don’t think they are. I think they’re just contracting into a tighter ball as the weather gets colder. I saw a sign of life in one of my hives this morning.

Frost showing up from respiration of the bees' inside the hive. (Flatrock, NL, January 26, 2016.)

Frost around the upper entrance of a hive. Temperature: -20°C / -4°F in the wind. (Flatrock, NL, January 26, 2016.)

That’s frost build-up on the shrew-proofing mesh of the top entrance, frost that came from the respiration of the bees’ inside the hive. Which means they’re alive. I’ve been eager to take a peek inside, but that’s good enough for now.

Attaching Mesh With Pushpins or Tacks

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 hive. (Dec. 13, 2015.)

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.)

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.)

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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