Beekeeper’s Nightmare

Finally, A Good Sleep

I didn’t realize that keeping bees could give me nightmares.  It was fine in the first two years, we fenced in the two hives we had.  Though in the second year skunks had taken some bees from the third (un-fenced) hive as snacks in early spring but the hive still survived.

Two out of the three hives survived last winter and one of the hives swarmed several times in late spring.  We managed to catch them all and have ended up going into this winter with five hives.  Aside from the original two hives, all new hives were unfenced.  And, this was the cause of my nightmare.

Skunks and raccoons will not bother us in summer when there is plenty of food around.  Autumn, however, is another story.  They will do anything to pack it in for winter including raiding our hives.  I found skunk’s calling cards in front of two of the hives but I didn’t have time to fence them in.  I woke up in the middle of the night having a nightmare about the critters.  The image of vicious skunks devouring my bees left and right, raccoons wrecking the hive’s entrance and chewing off the supers woke me up night after night.  Though it was only a nightmare, I could hardly wait for the morning to come so I could check on the hives.

The nightmares stopped after we fenced the hives in.

This year we used different a material to insulate the hives.  In previous years we used 2” foam board wrapped around the hives and covered the tops.  It worked quite well but was very difficult to manage.  This year we wrapped the hives with reflective insulation, which is much better to maneuver and leaves a much smaller gap for cold air to get in.  We didn’t have time to cover the top but the bees should be fine in the hive for a few nights of temperatures below 20º F.  Roofing and mouse guards will be the task on my next day off from work.

Beehives last winter, with two inches of foam board insulation.  They came out of the winter well
Beehives last winter, with two inches of foam board insulation. They came out of the winter well

Though the nightmares stopped, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed with this new insulation material.  It’s the type of material contractors use to insulate a house: bubble plastic with aluminum foil on both sides and much thinner than the foam board.  Seems like it’s going to be another bad winter.  We’re debating on putting another layer on as well as wrapping industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorption.

This year's insulation using construction grade insulation wraparound
This year’s insulation using construction grade insulation wraparound

I’ll know if it worked well or not by next spring.  At this time I only know that it’s much easier to wrap a hive with this type of insulation material and the hive can be sealed off completely with just top and bottom entrances open.

One of the new hives captured from a swarm in spring
One of the new hives captured from a swarm in spring

8 thoughts on “Beekeeper’s Nightmare

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  1. Bee nightmares… I’ve been there too. Especially on nights when the wind’s howling outside. Always a relief to find they’re fine afterwards.

    Do your hives have mesh floors? It’s important to have ventilation too, otherwise too much moisture builds up inside the hive. But you do have a top entrance, so perhaps you don’t need as much bottom ventilation

    1. I don’t worry much about the wind since we’ve anchored the hives to very heavy concrete blocks that they’re raised up on. Last year, the hurricane blew the wooden fence behind them off the post but the hives were left standing.
      We use mesh bottom board for better ventilation in summer and to help curb mites. But we keep it closed with corrugated mite-count board from late fall to early spring to keep the cold air out. The bottom & top entrances seems to work fine for ventilation in winter.

  2. It seems that the Langstroth world ought to have pre-sized black hive covers like the ones for outdoor grills and chimeneas and so on. In any case we encourage adding some black layer. We only cover the shiny rooves and used to use black plastic from trash bags but this year used some sort of landscaping paper.

    1. Agreed with you completely that someone should come up with a pre-sized Langstroth winter hive cover. We finally wrapped an industrial grade black garbage bag on top of the insulation for sun induced heat absorption.

    1. We added another layer of the insulation and wrapped an industrial grade black garbage bag on top. I think they should do fine even with a winter like last year. The problem will be unwrapping them in spring since they look like Fort Knox with two little entrances. Trying to wrestle the coverings off so they don’t parboil inside while being treated like marauding bears should be fun.

  3. I have heard that if you take some wood and drill screws or put nails through it so that it resembles a bed of nails and place these around the ground just in front of the hive (secured so the cant be moved) it will prevent the the skunks and raccoons from stepping on them and accessing the hive.

    1. I think that’s true. However, it requires a nail-bed moat all the way around the hive, wide enough for them not to jump over. Once buried in the snow, it’s likely that I’ll wind up stepping on it. But it did work well in that Charles Bronson movie about the Bronx. We have put metal fence all the way around and hope that is enough to keep the critters at bay.

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