When you’ve poured time, money, and love into keeping bees, it can be absolutely devastating to lose them to predators. Unfortunately, there are creatures out there that love bees and honey as much as we do — and they’re willing to do almost anything to get to them. However, there are a few simple ways to thwart said predators, as long as you’re willing to pony up a little cash and effort.
Thanks to the adorable image of Winnie the Pooh with his head stuck in a honey pot, most of us have known since childhood just how much bears love honey. However, when faced with the reality of wild animals looking for food, things get decidedly less cuddly and a little more frustrating.
Bears on the hunt for honey and bee larvae cause massive damage by smashing apart the hives to get to the goodies inside. Not only do you lose honey and wax production, you also lose the money and time you’ve invested in your beehives in one fell swoop.
Damage from bears is hard to miss. Looking for tipped over hives and missing chunks of brood nests. Although mischief makers will tip over hives, they aren’t usually interested in the bee larvae. If you find chewed up brood nests littering the ground near the hive, chances are you have a bear problem.
Luckily, keeping bears away from your bees is as easy as installing an electric fence. Install a seven wire fence, to a height of 54 inches around your entire apiary. It doesn’t hurt to bait the fence so that the bears’ tender noses and mouth parts contact the high voltage wires and receive an effective shock. The wires should be charged to between 5,000 and 7,000 volts — strong enough to deter the bears, but not so strong as to injure them.
Skunks are a nuisance in and of themselves — anyone who’s ever had their dog sprayed by one can attest to that. However, when it comes to beekeeping, skunks are a serious problem. Once skunks discover your hive, they will decimate it in no time. Since they’re nocturnal, they attack late at night, scratching at the hives and consuming the bees as they fly out.
Look for scratches on the sides and entrances of your hives as a sign of skunk activity. Since they’re not as strong as bears, they typically won’t knock the hives over.
Skunks can be dealt with a few ways. If you already have an electric fence installed, add a wire at the bottom of the fence, six inches from the ground to deter skunks. Raise your hives high up off the ground — the higher the better. If a skunk has to stand on its hind legs to reach the entrance, they expose their tender underbelly to the bees’ stings. You can also hammer multiple nails into a piece of plywood and place it nails up, in front of the hive entrance. Last but not least, you can use poultry netting around your apiary, as skunks don’t climb fencing like other members of the weasel family.
When winter weather sets in, bees will cluster for warmth — but they aren’t the only ones who seek shelter in a warm hive. Mice are happy to move in and although they won’t directly hurt your bees, they can destroy beeswax, combs, and make a hell of a mess.
It’s fairly easy to keep mice out of your hives. Construct your hive to be around three feet above the ground — this makes it harder for the mice to reach the entrance. You’ll also need to mouse-proof the entrance. A wooden entrance reducer alone won’t work as mice will chew the wood around the opening until it’s big enough to slip through. To really keep them out, you’ll want to use a metal entrance reducer and mouse guard or staple half-inch wire-mesh over the entrances and reducers. Just make sure to check for the little buggers before you put the guards on.
As a beekeeper, one of your hardest jobs will be protecting your precious bees from those who want to do them harm. It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be cheap, but it’ll always be worth it in the long run.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can find more of her articles and publications here.