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.
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.
I also avoided ratchet straps because they’re were too expensive. However, I recently picked up some cheap ones at a dollar store that sell for $4 a piece or less. They don’t have the quality of the officially-branded ratchet straps, but I’m not sure it really matters. It’s not like I’m trying to secure the beehives to the back of my giant hypothetical pick-up truck that I’ll never own. My hives are just sitting there, not going over potholes and other fun obstacles while banging down a highway.
I used to put big rocks, bricks or concrete blocks on my hives to weigh them down because it was cheap. It was a perfect solution for borderline poor people like me. My hives, weighed down with bricks, or often with nothing but a heavy telescoping top cover, have been hit with winds in excess of 100 kph (or 62 mph) and they’ve never toppled over. I know a guy who had his hives strapped down to a pallet and the whole thing flipped over and took a ride during a hurricane. But that was with winds close to 180 kph (112 mph). The island of Newfoundland is probably windier than most places where people keep bees, but those kinds of winds are rare, at least on the east coast of the island where I live. I still think rocks, bricks and concrete blocks are fine for most of my hives, especially the ones close to my house where they’re sheltered and easy to check on every day. But it’s a different story in the winter.
A concrete block weighing down a hive in the summer may be virtually unstoppable, but in the winter that unmovable concrete block can slide off the telescoping top cover (you know, the top cover protected by a slippery sheet of aluminium) and it can take the top cover with it as it falls. Here’s how I see that happening: Snow falls on the concrete block. The snow melts and the water seeps under the block. The weather turns cold again and that thin layer of water under the concrete block freezes. Seeing how most hives are tilted forward a bit to allow excess moisture or water to drip out the front entrance, the concrete block, now on a sheet of ice, slowly begins to slide off the slightly-tilted top cover. That’s what gravity does. It pulls everything down. Through continuous thawing and freezing, the sliding concrete block on top of the hive eventually reaches the edge. The weight of the concrete block as it slides out over the edge of the top cover can easily flip the cover off. And if the top cover is attached to insulation or an inner cover underneath, all that can get pulled off too, leaving the bees in the hive exposed to winter weather.
This is a hypothetical conversation we’re having here. I’ve never seen this happen, but I’m convinced it’s happened to me at least twice since I began beekeeping in 2010. You can notice the same thing happening with big piles snow on top of the hives. Through thawing and freezing cycles, a layer of ice develops under the snow and you’ll eventually see the whole thing slide over the edge of the top cover. The snow usually doesn’t have the weight to do anything but crumble and fall to the ground, but a heavy concrete block doesn’t crumble. It reaches the edge and keeps going until the weight of it causes the top cover to flip and fall off.
I had this happen to one of my hives last winter. I’m pretty sure I’ll write about that another time because it was interesting how the bees that were exposed to winter rain, sleet and snow for a week turned completely mean (that’s normal), but that meanness seemed to give them an extra oomph for life and the colony, even after half the bees died from the cold, exploded to life once the weather warmed up in the spring. I’ve half-considered exposing all my colonies to a cold blast of air every winter just to rev them up for the spring (I know, it’s bit loony). But that’s another story.
The point of all this rambling is that weighing my hives down with heavy rocks and concrete blocks worked well for me until last winter when one of my hives (not in my backyard where I could check on it everyday) lost its top cover because the concrete block weighing it down eventually slid off and took the top and the inner cover with it. My bees survived being exposed to horrible winter weather for a week — which is fantastic — but it’s something I’d rather avoid if I could. So I switched to tying down all of my hives that aren’t in my backyard and can’t easily be monitored every day. I only tie them down in the winter. Rocks and concrete blocks seem to work the rest of the time.
The hives next to my house are in a sheltered area and are in no danger of being toppled by the wind, so I don’t do anything with them at any time of year. Most of my top covers are from Beemaid and they weigh a tonne. There’s no danger of them blowing away. But I have some locally-made top covers that are so light that they have to be weighed down all the time. Most of the time I don’t even use concrete blocks (you could pull your back out lifting those things). I just find something heavy-ish, usually a nearby rock, and plonk it down on the top of the hive. It works.
Postscript: In the video, I also talk about shrew-proofing my hives completely by attaching 6mm / quarter-inch mesh over the top entrances once the snow gets deep enough for shrews to jump in through the top entrances. It’s not the most organised polished video I’ve ever made, but I’m starting to like that style. It’s like dropping in on someone when they don’t know you’re coming. You get to see what actually happens. THIS, by the way, is one of the best things I’ve ever shot on my cell phone.
Here in Colorado, we can get hurricane force winds frequently in the winter with our chinook winds. I too have mostly relied on rocks and concrete blocks to keep the lids on, but have also taken to strapping the lids of my top bar hives with bungee cords, just in case the wind gets under the lid and tries to lift it off. I also have one hive strapped down TBH to the ground with a screw in stake that is close to the mouth of a canyon which frequently has hurricane force winds. I’ve seen large, heavy metal dumpsters tossed around like popcorn in such winds so don’t want to take any chances. Lately I’ve taken to strapping my Langstroth hives as one unit (not to the ground) on the idea that if the hive does topple over (i.e. by an animal or wind), it might stay together in one piece. I use both ratchet straps and lashing straps – depending on what I have on hand and was cheap. As side note, I had a Langstroth hive up on some concrete blocks one year and something kept chewing through my ratchet strap. Come spring, I moved the hive off the blocks and there was a family of mice living in the holes. That’s the time that I learned to put the holes horizontally instead of vertically.
The hives in the video that I strap down are basically strapped together too. The wind could toss the hives around but the hives shouldn’t fly to pieces. That’s half the battle.
Interesting observation you have there about mice living in the holes of the concrete blocks you were using a hive stand. I have a feeling I have some kind of rodents in this location, probably living under the hives in the space provided by the pallet. In the video, the burrow in the snow going under the hives — that’s either a mouse or a rat. I’m not sure if that kind of hole is a coincidence. I’ve heard from people who had rodents chew around the mouse-guards or mesh to into the hives.