Here’s a demonstration of how I keep shrews and mice out of my hives over the winter. Check out my shrews category for more info on shrews.
I got a question yesterday from someone who entered an invalid email address into my Contact form. I responded but the message bounced back to me. So in case you’re reading this, Bob, this one’s for you.
I added sugar syrup feeders to my hives today. Have I waited too long? Would it be better to put sugar over the top bars instead? I plan to start winterizing my hives this week. Thank you. Your site has been a great help to me as new beekeeper.
This is exactly what I like to see from one of my honey bee colonies as it’s about to go into winter. The top of the hive is a big solid block of honey with the bees clustered so far below that I can’t see them when I look down through the frames.
On this Thanksgiving weekend (in Canada), I’m thankful I’m not a male honey bee.
Canadian Thanksgiving Day is the traditional time of year when drones are expelled from honey bee hives, pestered to leave until they die, though I’ve seen drones kicked out of the hive as early as August.
I know many beekeepers who feed their bees sugar syrup in the fall and stop feeding after the first frost.
We got our first hit of heavy frost this morning. If I followed hard and fast beekeeping rules, I would stop feeding now.
Here’s a 24-minute behind-the-scenes video that documents what I was doing with my bees in October 2017:
There’s more talking than showing and I pause the video several times to briefly discuss topics brought up in the video. The run time was originally 19 minutes but my voice-over diversions add another 5 minutes. Even though the video doesn’t show any hive inspections (I’m usually done with hive inspections for the year by then anyway), it covers a fair bit of ground, including:
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.
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the installation and use of a moisture quilt for winter insulation and ventilation.
All of my moisture quilts are built differently because I’ve never put much planning into building them (I have zero woodworking skills). Some are converted ventilation rims that require a rim underneath, like the one in this video. Others have built in rims as part of the design. Some fit perfectly and create a tight seal on the bottom. Some don’t. And it doesn’t seem to matter either way because they all do a great job at wicking moisture out of the hives and keeping my bees dry all winter.
Moisture quilts, in my experience, aren’t necessary in local climates that aren’t particularly damp and foggy and wet. Smaller colonies that don’t produce much condensation from the bees’ respiration don’t always need extra ventilation or insulation either. A piece of hard insulation over the inner cover often does the trick. Moisture quilts can be a bit scary, too, when it seems like half the colony on warm days attaches itself to the bottom screen of the quilt. But for me the pros outweigh the cons. If dampness is a problem inside any of my hives, I know a moisture quilt will fix it.
Empty moisture quilts are excellent ventilation aids in the summer too.
Brief April 2019 Introduction: I have no doubt about it now. This is how I use my hive top feeders, with the screen over the middle portion of the feeder, not the reservoirs. I also have screen stapled down in the reservoirs to prevent the bees from getting into them once the feeders runs dry.
Last year I posted a video of a simple modification I make to hive top feeders that prevents bees from drowning in them. I staple screen over the syrup reservoirs and along the bottom edge inside the reservoirs so there is no way the bees can get into the reservoirs and drown.
If the screen above the reservoirs extended over the entrance area of the feeder (the part where the bees come up to access the syrup, whatever part that’s called), then the bees would also be contained inside the hive. I didn’t have enough screen to do all that recently, but I did add some screen to the entrance area of the feeder so it looks like this:And guess what? It works.
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.
The drawing pins / pushpins work just as well as staples as far as I can tell. That mesh isn’t going anywhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
Something To Keep In Mind: Plastic buckets from the hardware store contain BFA, a substance that is generally not good for humans. I doubt much BFA would get into the honey in this process because the honey isn’t stored in the plastic. It mostly just passes through the plastic funnels and sits in the plastic bucket for less than a day. But still, stainless steel or food-grade plastic buckets are preferable. Honey meant for public consumption should not come in contact with non-food-grade plastic.
I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method (a method I stole from the Backwards Beekeepers), which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.
This probably isn’t a bad method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.
It’s April 2019 and I’ve deleted the original post from 2012 except for this photo because there’s really not much to see or talk about.
Sometimes in the fall when I have left over frames of honey that the bees didn’t fully draw out, I scrape open the capped honey and place it over the inner cover so the bees can take the honey into the hive for winter. The photo shows one frame, but I often do it with supers full of partially capped honey. That’s about it. It’s just another method of feeding the bees before winter.
I began stealing honey from my bees, a little bit at a time, beginning in July. Almost half the honey was in comb form, all natural and beautiful. The rest was extracted liquid honey in jar form, not exactly natural or nearly as pretty, but it’ll do. The last batch of honey was extracted today — the jar on the left in the photo. Compare it to the jar on the right that was extracted a month ago.
Judging from its golden appearance and its flavour (almost sickly sweet and pungent), I’d say the honey extracted today is mostly Goldenrod honey. The honey extracted a month ago is darker and the flavour is rich and earthy. Although it doesn’t qualify as a dark honey, I think much of the nectar for that honey may have been collected from Black Huckleberries that seem plentiful out in the country where the bees are now.
I didn’t have time to observe the bees this year, so I’m just guessing. It’s fun to wonder, though. Every batch of honey this year was different.
I harvested two medium supers of honey from two hives last year. The weather last summer was the pits. This year I harvested about four medium supers of honey from maybe four hives. This summer’s weather was incredible. I could have had truck loads of honey, but three colonies swarmed on me, two queens failed and so on. T’was a difficult year. A year that made me realize what I like about beekeeping and what kind of beekeeper I want to be. Here’s a hint: I like bees, not beekeeping. For instance, I like seeing this kind of thing when I pull out a frame:
That’s a partially drawn frame of honey comb I saw while harvesting the last bit of honey from my hives today. I only took about five medium frames in all. Most of the honey, like the capped honey in this frame, was left behind for the bees.
For each of my seven hives, I moved the honey super above the inner cover (with a queen excluder underneath), so the bees will move the remaining honey down into the brood chamber. That way they should have enough honey to get through the winter and I won’t have to feed them syrup before winter kicks in.
April 2019 Postscript: As it turns out, the decision to give my bees only honey instead of topping up the hives with sugar syrup was a bad call. It resulted in one of my giant colonies starving to death over the winter. A death of a colony will happen to every backyard beekeeper sooner or later. I take it in stride when something bad happens these days, but the first one was the hardest. Thankfully, I’ve haven’t had a healthy colony die on me over the winter since.
I harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up my hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, I decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves me the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if I’m in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?
I began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that I didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then I switched to deep frames full of honey that I pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.