I reckon every beekeeper worries about bad weather (amongst a thousand other things), especially in winter. High winds are a big concern, not just because they might blow a hive over, a disaster during winter, but also because they drive rain hard into the hive side. The water runs down the hive, seeping into the cracks between joins, or hive parts, and creating mould inside, either from directly wetting the inside of the hive, or by causing condensation inside the hive by dramatically cooling the hive side (water transfers heat approx. 24 times faster than air).
I live in the Pennines where both wind and driving rain are a constant worry, not just in winter either.
Standard issue hive weights – engineering bricks!
Would a couple of bricks be enough for a hive this tall in high winds?
After my first winter of beekeeping I noticed that the windward side of hives (SW facing) were constantly wet from the wind and driving rain. This resulted in internal mould on the hive walls, and on the frame nearest the upwind hive wall, which would have to be replaced, in spring, with a clean frame. Some beekeepers used a dummy board at the windward end of the hive to avoid wastefully discarding a frame from each hive every year.
The advice I got from several beekeepers, regarding ingress of water, was to tilt the hive slightly so that the water freely runs out. of the entrance Even before I had my first bees I thought this was madness. A voice screamed inside my head:
“Is that what you would do if your roof at home sprang a leak, or if damp started coming through the walls, jack one edge of the house up so the water could run out of the front door?”
No you would sort the problem at source, stop it getting in! (or move to Spain)
Overhanging roofs were the obvious first step and so I began experimenting.
My first attempts were crude, and unsightly, but very effective. I used scrap tin sheets and metal cabinet doors on the tops of hives, and scrap wood leaning against hives, or strips of hive width carpet dangling from the roof, and down one side of the hive (held in place by the hive weights).
A makeshift solution to ensure dry hives in winter, a tin sheet on top of the hive, weighted down with rocks. The pallet protects the upwind side.
Here you can also see wood, tin and expanded foam leaning against the upwind sides of the hives to keep the driving rain off. Though effective it made my apiary look like a junk yard.
From these successful experiments I concluded that purpose built overhanging hive lids were a much more elegant solution and I made use of some free galvanised tin sheet, and some discarded fibre glass sheet, to have a go at making rounded, and pitched roofs.
Rounded and pitched roofs shed water away from the hive, and to the sides of the hive keeping the entrance and landing board dry, and the humidity in the hive lower (no splashing inside).
An additional bonus to overhanging roofs is that your kit has a much longer lifespan. The joints are less likely to open up as the hive parts are not constantly expanding and shrinking through alternate and regular wetting and drying.
An overhang of just 2 inches (50mm) makes all the difference and turns a damp hive side into an uncommon event, rather than it being the normal state of affairs. The shelter the overhang affords gives any damp wood a chance to dry quickly, as soon as the rain stops, or the wind eases or drops.
My early pitched roofs were steep, like a house. They were very effective but I couldn’t easily use them during inspections, upside down, to put equipment on. They made this apiary look like a model Swiss village.
These rounded roofs now make me smile slightly with embarrassment but at the time of making I was really proud of them. The tin was too thick to bend so a rounded roof was the best way to make use of the free materials.
I dread the day the screws fail, and one side of the heavy tin lid snaps up like a mouse trap, under my chin.
The downside of rounded, and steeply pitched roofs is that you cannot put hive weights on top. Though the hives were dramatically drier there was now a danger that, without weights, high winds could blow them over. I’ll be honest, the rounded roof was so heavy with the thick tin sheet it didn’t need hive weights and was actually a problem to lift off. But it didn’t stop me coming up with a second solution, for the lighter fibre glass pitched roofs, weights which dangled from hooks under the roof edges, side slung weights.
My most recent pitched roofs now have an angle of only a few degrees, work just as well as steeply pitched roofs, and I can use bricks on top once more. However I had come up with an alternative hive weight method by then, and which I still use on the rounded and shallow angled pitched roofs in winter.
Side slung weights
I modified my rounded and pitched roofs with the addition of a coat hook to each side of the hive lid so that weights could be dangled from both sides, on rope.
Hooks under the edge of the roof. You may deduce from the neat ‘double fisherman’s knots that I am an ex-scout. Any knot will do as long as it’s secure.
The first weights I used were milk cartons full of water, but they can freeze, and occasionally burst, especially when the plastic goes a bit brittle in UV light.
Suspended milk carton weights under a pitched roof (top) and under a rounded roof (bottom).
Sash Window Weights
So now I use old sash window weights. These are heavier than cartons of water, or bricks, and I never worry about high winds at all. They are dangled down the side of the hive, just as I did with the milk cartons, and from the same hooks.
Discarded sash window weights re-cycled into hive weights with the addition of a short loop of rope.
Old sash window weights are perfect. The weight has a short rope loop attached to the top (the sash cord hole in the end of the weight is too small to slide over the hook).
The cylindrical window weights can easily roll off a standard flat roofs (and land on your foot) but I can still use them on my standard national roofs by straddling them with a length of rope, or a rope loop, and dangle the weights from the rope. It simply lifts off for inspections.
The weights can even be used on flat roofs. An unexpected bonus is that the rope straddling the hive lid ‘wicks’ away puddles which may gather on top and then leads the water down the sides to the ground, via the rope and weight. Even without an overhanging roof this hive weight suspension method keeps the hive sides drier.
Taking no chances. A conventional hive lid is protected with big piece of tin sheet, and weighted down with straddled sash window weights and a brick.
The lids I make now have roofs which are pitched at just a few degrees, use up less material, are easier to make, and work just as well as the steep ones. I haven’t made any more rounded roofs (you’ll be surprised to hear).
Putting a single sheet of creased tin on a newly made lid is much easier than trying to shape it around all those corners.
Now my pitched roofs have a shallow angle so I can go back to using traditional beekeepers bricks or stones as hive weights, however my confidence is much higher in winter, with side slung sash window weights.
So old sash window weights are very useful, even if you only use them in winter, for extra peace of mind.
No more bad weather nightmares!
(Well not until the Boxing Day Floods of 2015 obviously (see my video).)
How to tie a double Fisherman’s knot: