Bees

DIY: $9.33 Insulating Hive Wrap for wintering honeybees

Wrapping the hive for winter is likely not necessary in my region. However everything on a farm boils down to energy management: less energy spent on keeping the cluster warm over winter translates into less energy consumption. This both extends the winter resources as well as lessens honey consumption. The latter point translates into more honey remaining in the spring, thus less need to refill the frames consumed over winter, thus allowing the bees to start storing excess honey sooner, thus increasing the harvest of the following year.

Total price tally (from amazon for universal considerations):

($17 for insulation + $11 for velcro) / 3 hive wraps can be made from these materials = $9.33 per wrap

First of all, I did not take very good pictures of the process so hopefully I can describe the process adequately with words. Secondly, I realize this post is late as I never got it written before I took my break in the fall. Third, as with all of my beekeeping posts [so far] I use 10 frame langstroth hives.

Tools Needed:

  • String or something to measure (tailor’s tape, etc)
  • Scissors
  • Empty hive body (can be any size, we are just after the outer perimeter measurement)
  • Rubbing alcohol and a rag for cleaning

Materials Needed:

  • Reflective Bubble Insulation (Affiliate link) 16″ wide by 25 feet (enough for 3 hives of 2 deep supers each) ($16.25 at time of writing)
  • Industrial Velcro, (Affiliate link) 2″ wide by 4 feet (enough for 2.75 hive wraps but see notes below) (I bought mine at walmart for $8 if I remember correctly but use that link as a reference to the exact product but save some money getting it locally) ($11)

IMG_20151102_133006

Procedure:

  1. Use the string to measure the outside of your hive body
    1. My hive bodies are 19-7/8″x16-5/8″ for a total parameter of 73.5″
    2. My actual measurement was just over 74″
    3. I like to compare the measurement to the expected perimeter calculation based off of factory measurements for extra assurance but this is likely not necessary
  2. Add 2 inches to the parameter total to accommodate the overlap needed for velcro
  3. Cut the insulating material to length
  4. Clean the last two inches along opposing edges with alcohol and a rag to ensure adhesive sticks well
  5. Apply velcro to OPPOSING FACES ON OPPOSING ENDS so the velco will align when wrapped around the hive
    1. for clarity: imagine the insulating wrap is a piece of paper. Put on strip of velcro on the top of the front of the page. Put the opposing strip on the bottom of the back of the page.
    2. ALSO BE SURE TO use the two different types of velcro at either of the two ends the loop velcro can catch the fuzzy velcro
  6. Apply to hives!

Picture of the finished product:

IMG_20151112_103626

Oops! On my original design I forgot to account for the overlap needed for the velcro to grab its opposing self so the insulation is cut to the exact perimeter of my supers. Which brings me to my next point.

Notes

This velcro is incredibly strong. After 2 months of use, the maximum of 1/4″ overlap I could barely stretch out of it has held the hive wraps in place without a single issue. I’m actually worried about being able to get the wrap off in the spring had I provided a full 2″ of overlap. After all, its advertised to hold fire extinguishers to the wall! I was also originally planning to reinforce the adhesion to the wrap by stitching the velcro in place. I decided not to for 2 reasons:

  1. The insulation is like unpoppable bubble wrap used as a packing material so stitching through it would have ruined the insulating air pocket under the strips of velcro
  2. After playing with the velcro, I decided it was unnecessary. Ok Ok…I actually dropped the velcro and almost destroyed the carpet trying to detach them from each other. If the adhesion wears out down the road, you all will be the first to know!

Insulation power:

The insulating wrap I linked to has a extremely low insulation value: R=1.04 which is roughly equivalent to 1 inch of solid wood, increased to 4 if a 3/4″ gap is made. That gap could be achieved by putting blocks of wood under each of the 8 corners but the work required was not worth it for me. Regardless, this current set up serves me fine as I doubt I even need insulation. If your location calls for more insulation, I would use many many many layers of this or use the age old method of hay bales (or both in combination) or leave snow piled up around the hive with the entrances clear for ventilation.

Dimensions:

I chose 16 inch insulation because overwintering, my hives are 2 deep supers: each 9-5/8″ tall or about 19″ total. The 3 inches of difference leaves the bottom entrances open for ventilation as well as the top entrance (although I keep that one plugged unless condensation becomes an issue). If you have a different hive configuration you will need to calculate or measure the required width and buy or cut the insulation to that figure.

Similarly, I use 10 frame deep supers so if your configuration is different you will need to calculate or measure the length requirement of the insulation. Don’t worry it is simple and discussed in steps 1-2 above.

Final thoughts

The setting sun can hit these hives and reflect off in blinding fashion that makes it look like the hives are on fire. If your apiary has a line of sight to a roadway or bee thieves are a valid concern, you may want cover the outside with an additional layer of fabric or paint. Also this makes me wonder if the wrap is causing the hives to lose that warmth but I feel that keeping in heat is more valuable than capturing it in the winter (although backed by no calculations).

Also after seeing how ferociously strong the velcro is, next time I am going to use only a few inches at each corner and maybe on in the middle instead of lining the entire length of the end of the insulation.

Lastly, I may build a collar of sorts for the hives out of scrap wood to give the insulation the 3/4″ gap that quadruples its insulating rating. It would be a simple wood frame that sits down over the hive to be wrapped instead of the hive itself.

Honestly with the low insulation this provides, the benefit is likely more psychological to the beekeeper than anything else. As bees are best left undisturbed over winter, it is a hard time for a keeper who is uncomfortable with taking a hands-off approach. This at least provides a piece of mind that the keeper is doing everything in her or his power to help the bees survive!

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Bees

Simple DIY Honeybee Waterer from 2 common items: Cork and bucket

This summer dryness is really affecting the flora and fauna of the farm. My part of the Shenandoah Valley has not had a strong rain since early July. My bees need water like the rest of the plants and animals! Bees need a water source where they won’t drown while drinking. If you are a beekeeper, be a good neighbor and provide your bees with a source of drinking water. Nothing will provoke the wrath of those uneducated about bee behavior quicker than their swimming pools or fountains or birdbaths being constantly full of your bees. I mention uneducated because bees are not aggressive when foraging for resources thus pose little threat unless crushed with bare skin and most people cover their irrational phobias of bees by stating they are allergic when only 1 or 2 people out of 1,000 are actually allergic (Source: USDA). However, those hypothetical neighbors are completely in their rights in wanting to keep bees from congregating in highly trafficked areas.

All that is needed for this project is wine corks and a 5 gallon bucket. Corks are easy to procure even if you don’t drink wine. Restaurants, wine stores, wine tasting events and friends are all potential places that may accumulate wine corks. Mine came from a tent at a wine festival.

Tools required:

None…maybe a wine opener deserves to be included?

Materials:

  • Bucket (You decide the size that is right for you)
  • Wine corks

Procedure:

  • Put wine corks in bucket
  • Fill bucket with water

Alternative Procedure

  • Fill bucket with water
  • Put wine corks in bucket

I jest but this project is incredibly simple. The corks give the bees a place to land and rest while drinking while the bucket holds enough water for quite some time.

Mosquitos suck. I’m anal about standing water on the farm. A zero tolerance policy is in effect. There is literally not a single drop of exposed water on the farm so last week I went on a 3 hour hunt to find the source of the mosquitoes who were biting me one evening. I finally found two tires I was storing behind the barn (to make cement filled mobile fence posts) that had filled with water. When I set out to write this post, I realized I never heard any justification for the oft advised figure of 1 week as the time to replace water to prevent mosquitos. So I researched myself.

After reading various agricultural and etymological sources, I found that mosquitoes can go from egg to adult in 4-14 days depending on the species and conditions. Thus I will strive to change this water every three or four days!

Armed with only anecdotal evidence as most scientific efforts are focused on more important aspects of honeybees, I can tell you that in my observations and many many others on forums and in beekeeping meetings that honeybees tend to flock to stinky water whether it is stagnant or contains some other odor like chlorine. Thus I recommend adding something smelly like essential oils. Without an emulsifier, the oils will not mix into the water and only serve as an attractant. I would not use this technique to deliver anything meant for varroa treatment like wintergreen, spearmint, thyme, lemongrass, etc.

I do however add a small quantity of salt to the water. Up until recently, the published science has only stated that salt lessens the lifespan of bees. However, any beekeeper that has worked in the summer has noticed the bees landing on their skin only to drink the salty sweat. Pools are notorious for luring bees. Now the science is finding that bees have salt taste receptors on their feet and have found this is the reason they are attracted to chlorine salts in pools as well as the newer saltwater pools. Furthermore, they don’t have to even land near the water; those taste receptors can sense it in the air (source: livescience.com). Even more, beekeeping publications like Ross Conrad’s article on Bee Tea in Bee Culture (August 2010) are claiming boosted immune systems of bees from mineral salt. The science has yet to catch up to substantiate these claims.

Beekeeping, like most other fields of agriculture, is incredibly slow to adapt and change. Beekeeping has seen little technological advancement since the advent of the Langstroth hive in 1850. So my decision is to try to stay ahead of the curve in this instance and add 2 teaspoons of salt per gallon to my feeding water.

 

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Bees

Siting the First Beehive

An unintended use for the LiDAR data has been made apparent. During my research for beginning beekeeping, I found the consensus among beekeepers was to locate hives where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. I have not found a scientific source for this so I won’t go into the justifications just yet.

Using the LiDAR data in GIS software, I can create hillshades that show where sun reaches the ground at various points in the day as well as aspect maps. Aspect is the direction the land faces. Using hillshades and verifying with aspect, I found a good spot for the first hive plus solid locations for other hives!

Morning Sun:

HillShadeMorning

Afternoon Sun:

HillshadeAfternoon

Aspect Map with 3D Trees

3dTreesAndAspect

Note that the trees will cast shadows to the NorthEast in the afternoons!

For the initial hive, I chose a small, SouthEast facing clearing in the woods. The sun exposure factors are correct and they will have peace from livestock, laboring farmer and equipment back in the forest. My plan is to grow a perennial, spring food plot in the clearing to give nursing Doe nutrition for their fawns. Clover and Chicory will be the most likely seed (and the only seed I will plant outside of gardens) so hopefully the bees can find enough food year-round with the forest, pasture, vegetable gardens and food plots!

Decision is made!

BeeHiveSite

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