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’ll put the mesh on during the first week of October for now on and not worry about it. Waiting any longer increases the chances of mice getting in, which I think already happened with at least one of my hives (the bees switched from being really nice to really mean overnight, but that’s another story). Drones can’t get through the quarter-inch mesh and the bees are having a hard time pulling out dead bees through the mesh, but I’m fine with that.
Postscript: I was wrong. Drones can get through the mesh. It’s not easy, but they can do it. Here’s some raw video footage that shows drones going through the mesh along with a few other things. The mesh is an obstacle for some of the bees, but overall I don’t think it’s doing much harm.
December 10th, 2015: Bees naturally die over the winter and collect at the bottom of the hive. Then worker bees clean out the dead bees on the occasional warm days throughout the winter. The problem I’ve noticed, though I’m not calling it a huge problem just yet, is that the dead bees aren’t being cleared out as they normally would because the 6mm mesh is blocking the way.
This wasn’t such an issue earlier in the fall because there weren’t many dead bees laying around and it didn’t seem impossible for the workers to pull the dead bees through the mesh. But the quantity of dead bees alters the equation significantly. There are just too many dead bees and it’s too much work to squeeze each one through a 6mm hole in the mesh. So…
I don’t know. Pulling off the mesh and clearing out the dead bees myself is easy. But stapling the mesh back on causes so much disruption to the bees inside the hive (the bang of the mechanism is so forceful, it might as well be a hammer), that’s just not something I want to do.
So for now I’ll let the dead bees accumulate. The bottom entrances aren’t completely blocked with dead bees yet. Once that happens, though, I’ll have to make a decision. And I’m pretty sure that decision will be to pull the mesh off and clean out the dead bees on a warm day and then staple the mesh back on even if it riles up the bees. If it’s a warm day, the bees will be breaking cluster anyway, so whatever disruption is caused by a staple gun shooting staples into the hive , well, it shouldn’t be too bad.
But I need to come up with something that’s easier to remove and replace so cleaning out the dead bees isn’t such a headache. I don’t know how Michael Bush manages his hives with only top entrances. The bottom of my hives would be carpeted with dead bees by the end of the winter if I couldn’t clean them out. I have no trouble imagining the rotten stink after the dead bees begin to thaw out in the spring.
February 14th, 2016: The quarter-inch mesh works fine when I use thumb tacks to attach it instead of staples.
August 25th, 2016: I put quarter-inch mesh over the entrances to my honey supers on one of my hives this summer because the bees were storing pollen in the honey supers. Most of the bees got through with the pollen still on their legs, so I removed the mesh because all it really did was slow the bees down. But I did notice clumps of pollen on the bottom board afterwards. Conclusion: The quarter-inch mesh knocks the pollen off some of the bees, but not all of them. I’ll still add the mesh by the first week of October to keep shrews and mice out regardless.
October 9th, 2016: All of this is still a work in progress, but my general approach is to use thumb tacks to attach 6mm / quarter-inch mesh over the top and bottom entrances by the first week of October, hopefully while it’s still warm and the bees aren’t clustered tight and can therefore act more defensively towards any shrews or mice that might be attracted to the warmth of the hive. I haven’t seen the narrow mesh knock off much pollen, so that’s not much of a concern for me at the moment. I’d rather play it safe and put the mesh on sooner than later.
October 14th, 2016: Here’s a photo of some pollen that was knocked off by the mesh:I noticed the mesh didn’t knock off some light-coloured pollen I saw the bees bringing in, but it knocked off this pollen for some reason. Possibly because some pollen is stickier than others? Either way, the bees seems to have shifted to a pollen that gets knocked off easier, so I decided to keep the top entrances of the hives free of mesh. Shrews can jump and climb into the top entrances, but for now I’ll assume those entrances are safe because the bees are still clustering near and guarding the top entrance the most.