In my ongoing series of videos designed to obliterate the Zen-like vision of beekeeping that everyone falls for (myself included), I present to all you good folk, “Wrapping Beehives in Bubble Wrap.”
The wind is blowing in the mic throughout this video, but it seems that my cheap cellphone camera does an excellent job at isolating the sound of my voice. Despite the wind, my voice can be heard clearly most of the time. Just one more thing: I don’t consume a lot of caffeinated drinks, but when I do, I sometimes get like hyped up. This video is fuelled by caffeine.
00:00 — Two of my eight colonies this year strongly propolised their hives and they’re the only two of the eight that are clustered low in their hives now. I generally view low-hive clustering as a good sign in the winter.
02:18 — At this point in time, I also view defensive winter bees as healthy bees. I’m not sure what it is, but my more-defensive winter colonies tend to survive the winter well and seem able to withstand harsher conditions. The colony in one of my hives (in this same location) had the top blown off its hive for a week last winter. Imagine removing the roof from your house so that when you went to bed at night and looked up, you saw the stars — in the winter. Then imagine living like that in freezing rain, wind and snow for a week. When I found the hive like that, I didn’t even consider that the bees would be alive. But as I was beginning to dismantle the hive, the bees came pouring up from the bottom of the hive — in a really bad mood. That colony went on the become a giant, one of the most productive and robust colonies I’ve ever had. Go figure.
03:23 — Do I bubble wrap the hives with the flat side of the wrap facing in or out? I decided to go with it facing out, but when I look closely at the video, I see that I have it on the inside next to the surface of the hive instead. I’m not sure what happened there.
04:05 — The first hive wrapped in bubble wrap. It’s a bit loose, so I had to staple it down tighter.
04:30 — Asking whether or not the bubble wrap will create a greenhouse effect that traps the heat inside the bubbles. Will the black paint absorb heat and will the bubble wrap maintain that heat longer? I don’t know.
06:00 — Explaining why I don’t like wraps, namely they keep rain and moisture trapped close to the hive. It freezes. It creates mould in the spring. Yup, I have no love for that at all.
07:00 — Explaining why I prefer “sports straps” over ratchet straps to tie my hives down (tightening a ratchet strap produces vibrations that disturb the bees too much for my liking).
08:00 — Looking over the second hive wrapped in bubble wrap (after running out of staples for my staple gun).
08:30 — A short demonstration of the noise a ratchet strap makes.
09:00 — The bubble wrap is 24 inches high, which is about the height of three medium supers or two deeps.
09:30 — The reduced bottom entrances of the hive.
09:38 — Assessing the health of each colony by looking at the location of the clusters. The lower-clustered colony gives me little to worry about. The bees in the other hive, though, might require a quick peek under the hood as soon as weather permits. I’ll have some emergency sugar on standby just in case.
10:10 — Here I describe how the hives are set up with no insulation, just inner covers with ventilation rims up top. The bubble wrap, if it does anything, might provide a little insulation and a break from the strong winds. I have no doubt that someone on YouTube will leave a comment saying, “All you need to do is wrap them in roofing felt!” That’s the reason the Internet exists for some people, to tell other people what they’re doing wrong. (I usually respond with, “Thanks for the tip,” instead of, “Thanks for pointing out the obvious,” because I don’t want to be mean.) Using bubble wrap as a hive wrap is an experiment. I don’t think it’s going to work well as a windbreak or as insulation. But I’ve talked to people who know a lot more about thermodynamics than I do, and some have said that, theoretically, it should work. But in practice, with all the other factors that come into play when we shift into the real world, who knows what will happen? That’s why it’s called an experiment. One way or another, I don’t think it’s going to hurt my bees, and it might even be fun.
10:25 — Pulling off the some duct tape I used to keep the bees inside while I was stapling on the bubble wrap. Exhibit A: Defensive bees.
11:45 — Closing thoughts. Most things that go wrong in beekeeping are the things the beekeeper did when it was better to leave well-enough alone. This experiment could end up proving that. That being said, as I mention in the video, I’m not convinced that coddling the bees with various wraps in the winter contributes to the survival of the colonies is one’s beeyard. (Subarctic conditions or beeyards on windswept prairie land — that’s probably a different story.) I’d rather have bees that can survive my cold, damp Newfoundland winters without any kind of special treatment.
I was tempted to leave these bees alone this winter and not provide them with any kind of wrap or insulation. The hives are painted black. The bottom entrances have quarter-inch / 6mm mesh to keep shrews out. The bottom entrances are also reduced. The hives have a ventilation rim over the inner cover (more or less the D.E. Hive configuration). I’m not convinced they need anything else to survive the winter.
If I had more than just eight hives and could afford to lose one or two, I’d probably leave these hives alone. My instincts, based on 10 years of paying close attention to my bees and seeing all kinds of things that are never mentioned in any books I’ve read, tell me the colonies would survive the winter just as well as any wrapped hives. They might be a little slow to start up in the spring, lowering the risk of swarming, but once the spring nectar sources wake them up, they make up for lost time in a hurry. That’s my story for now anyway.