Beekeeping is becoming a popular addition to many homesteads and backyards across the U.S. Keeping bees on your property not only helps to boost declining bee populations, but honey bees also help pollinate your crops, wildflowers, and edible wild forage. A little unknown fact is bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food.
Maintaining beehives on your property is a great way to increase the biodiversity on your land. Bees don’t just pollinate, but they also help attract other species to your property. Including, predators. Therefore, it is important you are prepared to protect your colonies.
Here are three solutions to keeping predators at bay.
Common Predators of Honey Bees
Bears. Skunks. Mice. Oh, my.
It’s safe to say you might not want to run into a bear, skunk, or mouse on any given day. But, you really do not want to see these animals hanging around your colonies. Bears and skunks are omnivores, meaning they need both plants and animals to sustain them.
It’s a common misconception that bears will attack bee colonies for honey. This is not true. Bees, and other insects, are a great source of protein for omnivores and carnivores. That means, your honey bees make a delicious snack for hungry predators.
When a bear attacks a bee colony, the colony does not survive. The bear will destroy everything in its path to get to your bees. Skunks, however, will feast on bees that are easily accessible from the bottom of the hive. Meaning, at least part of the colony will survive, but the skunk’s attack will severely weaken the hive.
Mice, on the other hand, will climb into a colony and create a nest, especially in the winter months. While mice do not eat bees, they do create a nasty problem by contaminating honey, destroying honeycomb, and overcrowding the bees.
The good news, however, is there are solutions to protecting your hives from all sorts of predator attacks.
1. Build an Electric Fence
Building a fence around the perimeter of your bee yard is often the first line of protection for your colonies. However, an electric fence with a good bit of charge is the better solution to keep predators at bay compared to a regular, non-electric fence.
There are several options for putting a charge on your electric fence. You can choose to wire your fence into your existing electrical circuit. This may be the best option for you if your bee yard is close to an outbuilding. Or, you can keep your fence off the grid and charge it with a solar energizer. Solar energizers may be the better option if you live in a place that is prone to consistent power outages. This way, you know your hives are protected even if the power is out.
Electric fences will deter predators by shocking them when they touch the fence. However, it’s best to take other precautions to protect your honey bees, too.
2. Keep Your Hives Elevated
If you’ve seen bee colonies in the wild, you may have noticed more times than not that the colony is high off the ground. Sometimes, you will find a colony low on the ground, but most likely the colony will be located several feet in the air. Feral colonies establish their hives higher off the ground to keep natural predators, like mice and skunks, out of their hives.
You can replicate the same concept in your bee yard by elevating your hives off the ground, too. This creates space from the ground to the entrance of your hive and lowers the probability of predators entering the hive. In order to create space, you will need to create a solid foundation to set your hives on. You can use a variety of materials to create a base for your hives, such as cinderblocks, pallets, or bricks. Some beekeepers are even using legos to create functional beehives, base and all.
Building a foundation to set your hives on is one solution to deterring predators from your honey bees. Using an entrance reducer is another way to protect your hives.
3. Use an Entrance Reducer
The entrance of a hive is an obvious way a predator of honey bees can enter in. Mice are often small enough to squeeze through the entrance of a hive. If a mouse enters a hive, all sorts of problems are sure to follow. This is why many beekeepers will use a mechanism called an entrance reducer on the entrance of a hive.
An entrance reducer is the same length as the hive body and slides directly into the hive opening. The entrance reducer has a small opening big enough for honey bees to pass through. Predators larger than a honey bee, like mice, cannot pass through the opening to enter the hive. Beekeepers tend to use entrance reducers in the winter months to deter mice from building nests in the hive and to also help the bees maintain a consistent internal temperature.
Protect Your Honey Bees
There are multiple ways to protect your honey bee colonies on your property or homestead. One singular method on its own is not enough to protect your hives. It’s necessary to use several layers of protection to deter predators from your colonies.
Building an electric fence, keeping your hives off the ground, and using an entrance reducer are three simple ways to deter predators from your honey bees. Don’t wait for a predator to attack your hives or build a nest in your hives before you decided to protect your colonies. The sooner you provide your bees with protection, the better!
Cassie is a freelance writer based in Southwest Virginia. If you’d like to work with her, click here.