In my last post we talked about preparing the bees for winter by ensuring they have enough stored food to keep them happy and healthy until next spring. Here in southern England in particular we also have another problem we have to deal with in hungry woodpeckers who can occasionally attack beehives in late winter when looking for an easy meal.
Green Woodpecker - Destroyers of beehives
They are beautiful birds and it seems that only the green woodpeckers attack hives in certain areas at certain times, and it's thought that it may be where families or groups of birds teach each other how to attack bee hives.
The results of a green woodpecker attack - This colony is dead
They can rip into either a wooden or polystyrene a hive in seconds creating a two inch wide hole through which the woodpecker can make quite a meal from the thousands of bees inside trying to defend the hive. The hole they leave is simply too big for the remaining bees to close up and usually the whole colony is dead from cold within hours.
It's also interesting how the woodpeckers seem to know exactly where the weakest point is and always attack where the hive material is at its thinnest, usually where the handholds are on the side of the hives as in the picture above.
So to counter this, we have to protect our hives with either chicken wire or in my case plastic fencing mesh. The mesh is big enough to let the bees through, but too small for the woodpeckers, preventing them from getting too close to the hive exterior.
Bee Good hive with mesh cover held in place by two bamboo poles
The garden mesh has holes about 20mm wide and is trimmed to length so it fits loosely around the hive and is about 1m wide, enough to cover the whole height of the hive. The two ends of the mesh are simply joined with short lengths of garden wire or twine so that the whole lot forms a protective cylinder around the hive.
We then use two bamboo poles cut to length and pushed through the mesh at the right height so that when they sit on the roof, the bottom of the mesh covers the base of the hive whilst keeping it well clear of the ground so that mice and rats etc can't use it as a climbing frame to get close to the entrance.
There is no need to protect the roof itself as it seems that woodpeckers only attack from the side as experienced in a couple of previous failed woodpecker attacks, leaving a few dents in the beehive but little real damage.
Bamboo poles removed - mesh drops down allowing easy access to the hive
Sliding out the bamboo poles allows the mesh to drop down allowing easy access to the top of the hives when we need to check and if necessary renew the sugar candy packs of feed or later to treat the colony for Varroa mites. When finished we simply pull the mesh up and slide the poles and mesh back in place.
Unlike chicken wire, the plastic mesh is light, easily handable, virtually indestructible and can be stored for the rest of the year rolled up into a tight bundle about 10cm (4") wide. With a few dozen hives to look after, storage space is at a premium, and chicken wire is both difficult to handle and bulky.
The mesh will stay in place now for the next few months keeping the Bee Good colonies safe and sound until later in the spring when the weather has warmed up and the woodpeckers have plenty of other insect food available...