Illness, indecision, interruptions, and inclement weather interfere with tending to our little livestock as promptly as we would like. They also keep us from making blog posts in a timely fashion. This one has been sitting as a draft since mid-December. We might be tempted to not bother with it any further but it does describe our winter preparations and has a construction project. So here it is, updated and only two months late.

HivesBehindWindbreakAt some time in the autumn we dragged a bunch of dead sumac in front of the hives to make a sort of windbreak. Next spring we intend to plant a hedge of bush cherries for a more aesthetic solution. In addition to protection from wind it will provide blossoms for the bees and berries for the birds if not for ourselves.

A closer-than-anyone-cares-to-make inspection of the picture showing both hives hiding behind their shield would reveal that they look a bit different. They are sporting the nice, new ekes, which we added mid-December.

While the term once referred to adding a few extra coils of straw onto a skep, a modern eke, more usually found in vertical hives, is a shallow box used to eke out a little extra space for a variety of purposes. We are using ours to provide an insulating and moisture-absorbing layer at the top of the hive body, akin to a Warré quilt box, to mitigate the worst danger to wintering bees, not the cold per se but a cold ceiling on which the humid interior air condenses to drip water onto the bees.

The three thumbnails to the right give a whirlwind presentation of our eke construction. We first glue and screw a simple butt-jointed frame out of 1″x3″ cedar with exterior dimensions matching those of the hive.

We next cut a piece of metal window screening to overlap the frame about an inch on all four sides and attach it with staples. Traditional Warré technology would be to use burlap covered with some flour paste. Since the bees eventually chew through such coverings we opted for the more durable metal screening. We will likely still need to deal with the bottom becoming propolyzed over time and have to scrape it clean periodically.

Lastly we fill the frame with wool batting. Not only will this provide insulation (although honestly that pink foam sheet at the DIY store would provide more) but it should absorb humidity and wool famously continues to insulate while wet. And we put some of that pink foam atop the wool anyhow.


AnnabelleWithEkeAnnabelle’s eke gave us a bit of trouble. Her follower board, unlike Beatrix’s, is taller than the sides of the hive body (a result of our flooring over the original screened bottom) so the eke could not lay flat. Rather than hastily trim the follower or make a shorter one, we removed a top bar and put the follower in at a slant. It fit snugly enough and now allowed the eke to lay flat. Come the warmer weather we shall make a new follower.

Troubles not over, there was a bit of gapping between eke and hive. Perhaps not much but we ran a band of residue-free duct tape around to seal it. We had to remove this tape when we transferred the bars of comb she inherited from the late Beatrix and did not restore it as the gap no longer seemed so bad. Either we were in a less fretful mood or the weight of the roof had gradually improved the fit.

Although we worked quickly we did get the attention of one curious bee, who drove us off for a few seconds until she returned within and we, foolishly without our bee jackets and veils, could hastily finish. Carefully peering through the entrance hole we could see a few bees within, seemingly involved in ventilation work.

BeatrixWithEkeInstalling the eke on Beatrix went smoothly leaving it laying flat and without gaps. No duct tape required. It also brought no bees to investigate and none were seen peeking through the entrance hole. At the time we repeated our reasons not to panic: smaller colony, thicker walls, etc. although we are now rather certain that she was already dead.

While we built these ekes for winter, we may try leaving them year round. After all the Warré folk use their quilt year round. Nor do humans remove and reinstall attic insulation in their homes but trust it hold off excessive heat as well as cold. Perhaps we shall see less bearding.

And in today’s news we took advantage of a warm spell (45°F) to peek at Annabelle’s pantry. The last comb, inherited from Beatrix, which had been full at the time of the bequest, was empty in its bottom half. So was the comb before it, which had likewise been full. Deeper we did not go, satisfied that there was honey left. Besides, the girls were coming out to investigate. We left some fondant, just in case, and closed up.