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.

NOVEMBER 07, 2016: Attaching the hive wrap with push pins works too:

Push pins require more effort than thumb tacks and some twisting, but are probably easier to remove than thumb tacks. (Nov. 07, 2016.)

Push pins require more effort than thumb tacks and some twisting, but are probably easier to remove than thumb tacks. (Nov. 07, 2016.)

I’m not sure which I prefer at the moment, thumb tacks or push pins (I’m leaning towards thumb tacks because they’re easier to attach), but they both work.

I switched to thumb tacks and pushpins because a staple gun bangs so hard into the hive, the bees are never happy about it. But even cutting the wrap around the entrances was enough to get these bees riled up:

Some bees that didn't like what I was doing. (Nov. 07, 2016.)

Some bees that didn’t like what I was doing. (Nov. 07, 2016.)

I’m not planning to wrap all of my hives. If my unwrapped colonies get through the winter in good shape, I may never wrap again. I’d be more than happy to do without it.

DECEMBER 01, 2016: After comparing the hives that were wrapped and installed with thumb tacks to the ones that were installed with pushpins, my conclusion is that thumb tacks are better. They’re easier to tack onto the hive (the pushpins often require some hard twisting), and because they can tack on quicker during the wrapping process, it’s easier to keep the wrap tight when the tack is going in, which results is a tighter wrap around the hive. So let’s give it up for thumb tacks and the scintillating world of beekeeping! {A smattering of applause.} The only drawback is that thumb tacks are probably more difficult to remove in the spring. You’d probably have to stick your fingernail or a hive tool underneath them to pry them off. But here’s my simple solution to that:

Tack pushed in at the slightest angle so it'll be easier to remove in the spring. (Dec. 01, 2016.)

Thumb tack pushed in at the slightest angle so it’ll be easier to remove in the spring. (Dec. 01, 2016.)

Ta-da! That’s the clincher for me. I’m going with thumb tacks for now on. It’s time to stock up thumb tacks!

December 2018 Postscript: Using thumb tacks and pushpins may be cheaper and less disruptive than using a staple gun, but that doesn’t make it the better choice. All the options for attaching mesh and black hive wrap are usually a matter of personal preference, like pretty much everything in beekeeping. Some people tie down their hives with ratchet straps. I put heavy rocks on top of my hives (though most of the time I don’t use anything).

Many new beekeepers in Newfoundland buy their hives from Gerard Smith, hives that incorporate most of the features of the D.E. Hive — and they’re excellent. But they also increase the start-up costs for new beekeepers who, out of financial necessity, might go with a traditional Langstroth hive and slightly more affordable hive components instead. And that’s cool too.

Some people make hard candy or candy boards as emergency winter feed. Others might use fondant or no-cook sugar cakes instead. Some people use hive top feeders for syrup feeding, while others might use frame feeders. Some people might extract their honey, while others might crush and strain raw comb on their kitchen table. They’re all variations on a theme, they all work and they all have their pros and cons.

Yup, there is such a thing as bad beekeeping, and I know it’s bad when my bees don’t survive the winter, but everything else outside of bad inattentive beekeeping usually comes down to personal preference. Those preferences might be motivated by financial costs or by convenience or by whatever is thought to be best for the bees, or all of the above. It doesn’t matter that much. The same methods often produce different results between beekeepers because there are about a billion variables that come into play with everything in beekeeping.

But generally speaking, most methods that I’ve tried come pretty close to the mark. The key is to just pick something, go with it and see what happens. That’s the history of every successful beekeeper on the planet. I’m rambling on like this because many new beekeepers I speak to want to know exactly what they should do. But there’s nothing exact about it. To me, beekeeping is always a work in progress.

5 thoughts on “Roofing Felt Hive Wrap Attached with Thumb Tacks

  1. Phillip. I checked out all that fancy wrapping that Gerard and Andrea brought to the AGM Friday-Saturday. Andrea brought this black corrugated plastic wrap (like election sign material) that OBA distributes. I decided to stick with the roofing felt. I don’t think that plastic stuff “breathes” well enough (moisture trap) and the silver insulation wrap that Gerard had for sale looks like it will reflect the sun rays not absorb them…

    • The fancier wraps may work too. So much depends on local conditions. But except for last year, I wrapped my hives in roofing felt and had no significant problems with it. I still have the roll of felt I bought in 2010. The felt may get a little damp in the rain at times, but it’s cheap and it works. And with a little care, now that I’m using more easily-attached-and-removed thumb tacks, I think it would be easy to reuse the felt year after year.

      Some of the wraps I’ve seen seem to go a little overboard. My bees don’t spend the winter battered by cold prairie winds. They don’t need to be wrapped in the equivalent of a winter coat. On the east coast of the island, our winters are damp for than anything else. The bees don’t need to be warm during the winter. They just need to be warm enough to migrate across the honey frames.

  2. We are using felt as well and in my mind it’s similar to most farm animals. Keep them dry and draft free and they should do fine. Their own body heat will keep them warm.

    The moisture quilts are unreal and should be standard equipment for our environment. I hope everyone uses them because they keep the hive condensation from dripping back down on the bees. I never would have known about moisture quilts until I read your post Phillip.

    Thanks for that!


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