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.
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.
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.”
The following was last updated on Dec. 01, 2016.
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.
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.
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.
The following was originally posted on December 7th, 2015, but was edited and updated on October 27th, 2016, to reflect my current practices, such as they are.
Something weird happened. I got several emails from people asking me what I do to prepare my hives for winter.
I’m no expert, but here’s what I do, and what I do could change entirely by this time next week.
So the big question is: “How do you prepare your hives for winter?”
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.
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 plan (that is, I hope) to extract two medium supers full of honey this weekend. But first I need to remove the bees from the honey supers. I do that by placing an escape board beneath the honey supers. Some people call them bee escape boards, but it’s obvious that we’re talking about bees here, so I just call them escape boards. Here’s a video I recorded today that demonstrates how it works:
The bees pass down through a hole in the board (usually at night when they want to be closer to the warmth of the cluster), then through a maze covered by a mesh that leads to the brood chamber. The maze is so massively complicated that the bees are unable to find their way back through it. Within a few days most or all of the bees (in theory) will have “escaped” from the honey super so that humans can easily remove it without bothering anyone.
Here’s a demonstration of my quick and easy method of mixing sugar syrup for honey bees. I’m posting it because I keep hearing from people who do things like boil up a syrup mixture on their stove tops at home. That’s a big bag of crazy beans if you ask me, much more time-consuming and complicated than it needs to be. Probably a great way to make a mess of one’s kitchen too.
I don’t measure anything. I fill a bucket about half way with white granulated sugar (not raw sugar or anything with a high ash content). I add a drop or two of anise extract to get the bees interested in the syrup. (It’s important to note the difference between anise extract and anise oil.) I add water from a garden house until the bucket is almost full. Then I mix it with a stick for about five minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
The result is a thin syrup that works for spring feedings. I add more sugar if I want to make a thick syrup for fall feedings. How can I tell when it’s a thick syrup? Because it’s thick. Thin syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) more or less has the consistency of water. Thick syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) takes on a goopey appearance. It sounds goopey.
I know that doesn’t seem very precise, but I don’t think a precise syrup mixture matters much to the bees.
Sometimes I add about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to help prevent the syrup from going moldy, though I can count on one hand how many times I’ve bothered with that. Sometimes I put the syrup aside for a day or two so any left over sugar is more likely to dissolve, but even if some undissolved sugar settles to the bottom of the bucket, is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the hose is warm from being in the sun, though most of the time it’s cold and that works out okay too. While I understand the reason for boiling up sugar syrup and using precise weights and measures in the recipe, and I respect that, I’m just putting it out there that nothing really bad happens when the process is simplified by dumping sugar and water in a bucket and mixing it with a stick.
P.S.: I made a few edits and additions to this post a few days after I wrote it.
I use medicated pads of Witch Hazel to treat honey bee stings, just like I’m doing right now:
They’re sold under the brand name Tucks, but also generically as “personal cleansing pads.” Under whatever name, the magic ingredient is Witch Hazel, which can also be purchased at the drug store in a little bottle, though I find the pads more convenient. The Witch Hazel helps reduce the swelling. I use a few pads to soak the stinged area and then a final fully-medicated pad to wrap around the area. It’s not a cure-all. Nothing is. But it works good enough for me. It certainly takes the edge off.