Tag Archives: insulating beehives

Beekeeping In The Age Of Climate Change

I’m Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Losing all six hives last winter took the wind out of my sails.  I set up three new hives in spring but the weather has been uneven through the whole season.  The cold weather had lasted much longer than usual and the temperature has been seesawing from spring into autumn.  Some days we had 40°F in summer and 70°F in late November.  Heavy rain washed out flowers when there should have been plenty of them around at the time.  All in all our honeybees couldn’t build much honey storage this year.

When I inspected them in September, they barely had a full 8 frames in the super.  My gut told me I had better start feeding them.  I fed them from early September until the end of October when the temperature started to drop.  The total amount of sugar syrup I fed the hives amounted to around 4.4 gallons each.  I hope this helps them through the winter as the last inspection before closing them up showed they have plenty of food stored now.

Fed with sugar syrup, ratio 2:1 (sugar/water), in a 800 ml bottle each time
Covered with 2 inch foam board, leaving only 3/4 inch top and bottom entrance open
Then wrapped with an industrial-grade plastic bag. Fastened the hive with bungie cords.

I closed them up just in time as the temperature dropped down to below 20°F for a couple of nights.  I thought they should be fine for the winter, but the weather wasn’t on my side.  The temperature shot up to above 50°F for many days and one day, even above 70°F .  We’re talking about late November here.  The bees came out every warm day.  They even did their flight orientation.

November 25: warm & the honeybees came out. Some even did flight orientation

Nothing out there for them to bring back home since frost had killed most of the flowers, so they have to depend on their food supply in the hive.  I cannot feed them again without opening the winter cover and the bottom entrance.  I hope the temperatures stabilize to something more seasonal so they can just ball up in there.  I also hope the winter doesn’t drag on like the last one did.  We have done so much damage to this planet that we are starting to see the effect of our self-inflicted wounds every season.  I’ll do the best I can for the bees in my care and keep my fingers crossed.

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