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Freakish wind topples bee hives

Elena Campbell protected her colonies from just about everything. She installed electric bear fencing, robbing screens, insulating wraps, candy boards, ant moats, weights, and tie-downs. She thought she had everything covered until an unexpected Eastern Washington wind laid them flat.

Elena explained that her day started out a crisp 20°F. Although the forecast called for increasing clouds, the morning was quiet and blue. She worked outside while she casually watched her bees working a feeder about 160 yards from the hive. Suddenly, powerful gusts of wind whipped through the area and little dust devils danced across the landscape.

First the soil, then the hives

At first, she was dismayed to see the soil blow away. “[I watched] my top soil blow away from the freshly tilled and ready-for-spring vegetable garden. Then I thought, OMG, the hives!”

When she glanced in their direction, she could see they were both already toppled. “I had them individually strapped with cinder blocks on top, in the event of wind. But it wasn’t enough. One still held it’s strap, and so with some struggle, I righted it all as one unit and aligned the various components.

“The other one was a mess. I replaced the individual components one at a time on it, collected the outer blanket blue foam walls, strapped the hives individually, pushed them together, and then placed two car straps attached to the platform diagonally across both hives together.”

The next steps

Frustrated, Elena is worried about her queens. “I hate to think what messes those girls are dealing with in their respective hives, and whether their queens survived this ordeal. The wind is still coming in gusts out of the west/southwest and the dust devils persist.

“The hives still need work. Pine shavings from the blanket box mostly blew away from the left hive, and the sugar fondant (which they’d clearly already started eating!) was shattered. I just put the chunks back in and closed it up. The right hive undoubtedly has pine shavings all concentrated on one side instead of spread evenly, and I don’t know what the fondant is like. If and when we have a warm, CALM, sunny day, I’ll take them apart again and put things completely back to right.”

What to do differently?

Elena is looking for advice on what to do differently and how to improve her setup.

My own thought is the legs of the hive stand should be further apart. Having them inside the footprint of the bottom board makes the hive less stable. I would make the have stand larger than the base of the hive, and mount the legs in the corners.

Also, I question whether the legs need to be that long. If a lot of wind is tunneling underneath the stand, that may be adding to the instability. On the other hand, I’m not terribly familiar with ant problems, and I don’t know if the length of the legs is important.

So what do you think? What else can Elena do to secure the hives against quirky winds? Your thoughts are appreciated.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

An unexpected wind topples bee hives.
Elena’s hives just after the wind struck. The one on the right fell over as a unit, but the other blew apart. © Elena Campbell.
The sky on the morning the hives toppled.
The sky on the morning the hives toppled. © Elena Campbell.
The hives reassembled.
After the incident, Elena was able to tip one hive back upright. The other was reassembled piece by piece. © Elena Campbell.
Elena can expect more wind in the future.
It looks like wind will be an ongoing issue. © Elena Campbell.

Comments

Cyrus Farivar
Reply

They look secure now! But they do look awfully exposed. Placing them on the edge of a woodlot or building a wind barrier around them (hay bales with rebar to anchor them) would not only reduce the wind but also reduce the chill they bring. Thanks for the reminder to anchor my hives. It’s a big concern at this time of year.

Cyrus

Robert Howe
Reply

I live in a wind prone area and have worried about hives blowing over. I don’t use a hive stand, I place the hive on two cement blocks with the holes parallel to the ground. Then I run a strap around the hive and thru each block. This changes how I battle ants but I never like moats, so it works for me.

Glenn Nichols
Reply

Rachet straps

Debra Turnell
Reply

I have used 2 pallets attached teepee style with a giant hinge as a wind break. I also try to place my hives strategically on the non-wind side of my blue spruces or a large hill….but I guess your environment and land area would determine whether you have access to blue spruces or hills. I hope Elena’s hives make it through.

Eddy Radar
Reply

Just awful! I worry about one of mine, especially today where the 20-30 mph winds will be punctuated with 40-45 mph gusts. Only one is vulnerable, and I can see it from the house — but only during daylight. The rest are in the “bee-zebo” which keep them dry and mostly windproof here in the PNW. I would attach a pic, but don’t see how —

James Hagerman
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I have a hive stand design that I use for my hives that will solve the problem of hives blowing over. It involves a 4 by 6 or 4 by 4 post set in a post hole, sanded in to set. The post is cut at a 16 to 18 inch height and two cross members are lagged on the front face and back of the post. Over the two cross members I nail (2) 2 by 4’s the length of the hive for direct support. Set the hive over the 2 by 4’s, strap down as needed and let the wind blow.

Here are photos and a sketch.

Granny Roberta in NW Connecticut USA
Reply

Elena, that must have been awful. It certainly looks like you’ve corrected the problem, but truly it didn’t look like a problem before, so yeah, wider hive stand footprint and closer to a tree line if possible.

Your bees must have been furious. I hope you zipped your bee suit better than I did when a bear had toppled mine.
As long as comb didn’t break out of the frames and crush the queen, the bees should recover just fine.

Also, was it really a freakish wind, or was it a regular recurring wind in your area? The latter might require a whole nother approach with an open shed or something.

Jeffrey S.
Reply

Elena,

I would try to install tie down straps similar to the way they tie down mobile homes. They use a long spike with eye loops on the end that hammer into the ground. You could place one on each side of the hive and attach your ratchet straps to it looping over your hive top. I would also put them on a sturdier wider base as Rusty pointed out. I know how you feel, I had animals knock mine over last year, twice. Good luck

Sonny
Reply

Definitely need a bigger footprint with that tall of legs.

Elena Campbell
Reply

Thank you, Rusty. (And you are a mighty fine editor. 🙂 ) Also if any of your readers can please advise on expected observations if those workers have lost their queen(s). If they have, I’ll have to re-queen in a hurry and would be interested in Pacific NW suppliers to expedite delivery.

Elena Campbell
Reply

Thanks bunches for these excellent suggestions. I have hay bales and rebar so will add those in addition to the car straps that cross diagonally over both hives recently added after this incident. Was this a freakish outbreak of wind gusts and dust devils? Yes. Not usual at all. Only 40 with a drizzle today, so girls are really not out. What will they do if queenless, do you guys expect?

Kim
Reply

20 degrees Fahrenheit?

Rusty
Reply

Kim,

Yes, about -7 C.

Jack
Reply

Like ballast on a sailboat, weight should be on the bottom.

Duckbill anchors or screw type into the ground with tie downs best.

Anna S.
Reply

Elena, that is a very unstable setup. Those legs are too long and too narrow. Place the hives on cinder blocks and strap them to the blocks. And that’s not enough if dust devils occur in your area. You need a solid windbreak. Can you move the bees near the house? This is what we do in winter.

Dieter
Reply

1. the hive was top heavy due to the high legs.
2. the legs were supposed to keep ants out.
3. instead of these high legs, cut them down to 10cm or 4–6 inches, place these in tin cans and fill them with oil (used fryer oil, etc.). Will keep out ants, mice, etc.
4. then straw bales around as a wind break.

wessexmario
Reply

A vertical obstacle will provide a windbreak for a distance of around three times its height, so moving the hives nearer a large natural windbreak like the trees or hedges in the background would be best. Better to avoid the wind in the first place, than to have to over-engineer a solution from being in the most exposed position. That will also reduce wind-chill, and make it easier for foragers to land when returning (even in moderate conditions). Your foragers will live longer if the hive is less exposed.

debbie
Reply

Just looking at the set up scared me right away; them legs are a dead giveaway. No support system. If the bees did not fly or dump out, the queens should be okay. The hive just dumped. Usually if you pick them up, the bees will put the hive back together. I’ve picked up hives that were broken open and setting for months and the queens were still there producing brood, so you have a 50/50 chance.

A good solid base, with rebar in the ground, and straps to the rebar. People tend to put hives on pallets, although I have no clue as to why, seems cumbersome to work with. We get high winds here because we are high on a hill, so hives are always strapped in the ground for security, even spring and summer, at all times. One never knows when the high winds will come and unsettle the beehive. One of my greatest fears during winter.

I hope your hives make it through. You can always open the top, put the shavings back where they belong, and the candy, and check on them, periodically, If they are moving and calm, you know you have a queen. From the pictures, the hives look like they w/be vulnerable to weather. And the one pic w/the hives blown over, where is the second brood box? It’s shown in the latter pic, but not the fall over pic. From that pic, it doesn’t look like the bees were dumped, just the hive fell over.

Things hopefully will be ok. That’s how one learns in beekeeping, by things happening to them ! Oh the joys of bees!

Dave
Reply

Hi, sorry to hear about your hives!

From the photo the feet look like they could be bolted onto the pallets without too much effort. That might cause you an issue with the moats but perhaps you could cover the legs with grease to stop the ants? Also I agree it would help making them shorter and spread wider apart.

Some ratchet straps might be useful as they can be tightened a lot and are pretty cheap. A cheap windbreak might be fine netting on a frame, some reduce wind by 40-50%. Also another note I’m not sure how much help insulation boards are on just 3 sides, couldn’t make out if there was insulation on top, but I’d advise insulation on all 4 sides and the top, making it airtight around including the top, otherwise its like having a 3-walled house with the 4th wall made of plywood, all the heat will escape from the least insulated place.

Hope something works out for you and good luck with the queens!

Ames
Reply

Queenless? I was wondering about that very thing myself.

If you lose a queen in the winter, and the girls have the resources to start a new queen in there on their own, how will it mate with the drones? Mate in the hive? Wait for a warm snap to take a mating flight? Delay the mating flight till spring risking a drop in virility? And being a week performer due to limited mating opportunities forever be marked by the hive as temporary, awaiting springtime execution? Rusty?

Rusty
Reply

Ames,

1. I could respond better if I knew your location.
2. In northern climates, drones are thrown out by now. If you live in the north, I imagine you have none unless you’ve had a particularly warm autumn.
3. Honey bees cannot mate in a hive. They must mate in the air.
4. Drones will not mate with their sisters, so drones and queens must be from different hives. I’m not sure how they recognize nest mates, but I imagine it’s by pheromones.
5. If you lose a queen in winter, most likely laying workers will develop and the colony will crash. If you catch it in time, you can combine the colony with another.

Dave
Reply

Hi Rusty. You mentioned drones won’t mate with their sisters, how far does that extend? Will they not mate with a hive they were split from? For example a walkaway split the queenless hive will refuse to mate with drones from the original hive.

Will they be reluctant/refuse to mate with sister hives from 1 or 2 generations?

Thanks, Dave

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

I would have to do some research in order to give a thorough answer. Most of what I remember about this came from discussions in my master beekeeping classes.

However, the entire purpose of drone congregation areas and multiple mating (polyandry) is to limit the possibility of inbreeding. So even if one mating out of say, twelve, is with a close relative, the rest wouldn’t be. That means that perhaps one subfamily of twelve in the colony may be weaker than the other eleven subfamilies, but the colony could survive nevertheless.

But even so, with hundreds or even thousands of drones in a DCA, the likelihood of inbreeding (even without the effect of pheromones) would be very small. When it does occur you can get diploid drones (which came from fertilized eggs with identical sex alleles) but these do not survive.

iokra
Reply

I think you would be able to hear that distinct groaning buzz sound at the hive entrance should they have lost their queen. You can also tell from the behavior, because agitated, worried bees run on the alighting board and in front of the hive. I really hope your hives are both OK.

Rusty
Reply

Iokra,

I agree. I usually notice the distress sound before anything else.

Nancy Ogg
Reply

So many good ideas—thanks, everyone! I lost a hive this summer, which had been toppled, and then righted with little fuss. It appeared to have absconded. Mine are down our ridge a little way, in the lee of prevailing NW wind. I think the culprit was a goat kid thinking it was just another mountain to be conquered. The doe goats carefully avoid the hives, for good reasons.

I’m considering placing a T-post at the off-rear corner (the side I don’t work from) of each hive, then strapping the hive to it. How much this might interfere with inspection and care, I have to ponder.

OK, go ahead—somebody suggest I just keep the goats where they belong. Chuckle, chuckle.
Nancy
Corinth, Kentucky

Rusty
Reply

Hey Nancy,

Why don’t you just take care of the goats?

Cynthia
Reply

I would put the blocks on the bottom thread ratcheting through to make it more bottom instead of top heavy—also in agreement that the footprint bigger.

I had a hive vandalized—everyone made it out ok—you might be just fine!

Good luck!

Gary J Mullen Sr.
Reply

I used 4×8′ lattice fencing half-inch steel rebar to hold the 4′ sheets sideways, all around the cove of our home.

Summer time gives total privacy, winter purchase tar paper wrapping each hive, with several bricks on each hive. We live on an elevated hill with a lake 300 feet away resulting strong winds moving up the hill.

There are a number of trees on the property when the leaves are vacuumed the in the fall in 55 gallon bags they are placed inside the lattice next to the hives. By doing this process the bags stiffen up the fencing acting also as a barrier of which dramatically blocking drafts/chill of winter winds.

Linda Beehler
Reply

Sorry to see and hear about your situation! Our hives have held up in such gusts here in mid-Michigan several times. We use PVC pallets and ratchet straps are attached to the pallet and up and over the hive to the other side making a wind resistant and raccoon resistant hive. When the raccoons stand on the pallet and push against the hive they are only adding more resistance with their own weight. So far so good!

Your new set up looks like it will hold up too.

Linda

Elena Campbell
Reply

Thanks, all of you, for your many fine suggestions. And thank you, Rusty, for providing the forum. We started on raw land 18 months ago and we’re still plugging away. I’ll be re-engineering the current location, rather than moving them (won’t take time here to explain reasoning) but will combine a number of your suggestions. Then I’ll update Rusty with a pic.

This may belong in a separate post, but I’ve studied Rusty’s site at length and have ordered recommended literature on bee friendly plantings and trees. I’ve been prepping for bee flowers this fall for spring sowing, and before all this, I had already planned for a couple of trees for west/northwest of the hives from where the worst winter winds come (and the hottest summer sun.) This is a list of deciduous trees that I’m considering. What are your thoughts? The list: Black Locust (Robinia pseudocacia); Red Maple (Acer Rubrum); Flame or Staghorn Sumac (Rhus copallina, Rhus Tuphina, or Rhus Glabra); Tree Lilac (Syringa Reticulata); American Basswood (Tilia Americana); European Linden, Little Leaf (Tilia cordata.) I’ll probably take the Locust off the list because it tends to bloom early when its still too cold for the bees. Thoughts for the Pacific Northwest?

Rusty
Reply

Elena,

I was just going to say that black locust was my favorite. Oddly enough, it is a late bloomer here, flowering in May. I’ve heard that some of the non-native Tilia are toxic to bumble bees, so I recommend a native variety (or more research to get the particulars). Maples are great honey producers.

Jilian
Reply

Would you say this for maples across the board? It cracks me up a little, since no one I know plants males for the flowers, but as a landscaper I certainly notice and enjoy the tiny flowers on the Japanese maples and I’d happily plant more of them if it would support pollinators. I just can’t think of having seen bees (honey or otherwise) on them in numbers. It’s possible I’m forgetting. I knew the big leaf maples are a significant pollen source but hadn’t known about nectar.

Rusty
Reply

Jilian,

Big-leaf maple honey is to die for. I hoard it! The problem around here is that you can only get it some years because it blooms while the rainy season is still going strong, so the bees can’t get out to get it. A dry early spring can yield an amazing amount, though. I don’t know anything about Japanese maples.

In my area, Douglas maples and vine maples are also good honey producers.

Bill
Reply

Sorry to hear/see about your hives, Elena. A couple of comments. I agree with several other posters, legs are too tall. 6-8 inches max height would be more stable.

I would also recommend adding windbreaks of some sort…bales of hay would work well.

I would suggest reversing the shape of the feet so the base is wider than the top—from the picture it appears to be the other way round on your hives. The existing shape would only be effective if they were buried like fence posts.

Adding containers of oil that are wider than the footings on the legs will eliminate ant/rodent access to the hives.

Debbie in Ohio
Reply

Some thoughts on plantings for the bees …. fall forage is always sparse, so while your planning your landscape, keep in mind to plant tons of fall forage plants for the bees because usually spring plantings are plentiful while fall is often scarce. Sounds like you have a good plan moving forward. Beekeeping is adapting …. being able to adapt to any and all circumstances because the beez will really put you thru your paces ! Between the beez and Maw Nature, we’ve got our work cut out for us … anything can happen when it comes to beekeeping ! Good luck ! and yes, this is an EXCELLENT forum for knowledge. This forum pretty much covers everything in an easy to understand way. It’s an excellent site for beginner beekeepers and seasoned keepers as well. Thanks to Rusty ! Thanks Rusty !

Rusty
Reply

Blush, blush. Thank you, Debbie.

Shawn
Reply

Straw bales would break the wind. We use those for some hives. But we also re-purposed a length of privacy fence to use as a wind break on the majority of our hives. Make sure you have enough t-posts between the fence (or straw bales – yes, they too, will blow over) and your hive to hold the windbreak up. Also, a good idea to put the fence back just far enough that if it does fall over, it does not touch the hive.

We live in windy NE Kansas, so know all about wind. Additionally, we’ve had all our hives overwinter since using a wind break of some type.

Elena Campbell
Reply

Thank you Rusty. I’ll check on the curlycup. I have a couple of productive hay pastures, and a couple of others that I use to graze my Dexters……so too invasive wouldn’t be good. But I want bee friendlies to go everywhere else. Love your link: https://honeybeesuite.com/category/bee-forage/

Elena Campbell
Reply

Hi Rusty, and all. First. Rusty, your comment above is why we luv ya. 🙂 Too funny and why your site is described as hugely informative and entertaining.

An update on tree choices. (Rusty, should I post this on your wonderful forage site?) Not knowing, I’ll continue the thread here. I found an AWESOME nursery just south of me in Coeur d’Alene. He’s a bee keeper and proved immediately knowledgeable with the list above and offered additional advise for our relatively colder environs in eastern WA: He says, Black Locust: like Rusty, one of his favorites. Should be planted with a few together initially so the bees find it, and then is a bit of a nuisance (thorns and self propagating) so he plants toward the edge of his property. No problemo; Tupulo Honey; Tulip Tree; Red Maple (my choice of cultivar will be October Glory); Staghorn Sumac which he describes as understory, later blooming tree that spreads like Aspen; His choice of basswoods is European Linden Little Leaf (NOT Harvest Gold, a hybrid with less bloom) which is late summer bloomer; and Maackia, another late summer bloomer. So there you go. Trees for the girls in cold climes.

Elena Campbell
Reply

Hear Hear to Debbie in Ohio. I am a newbie and have read dozens of books, hundreds of articles and viewed as many videos BEFORE I ordered my first bee. Of ALL the sites and resources, Rusty’s is the most comprehensive and entertaining. Rusty is a rock star. (Sorry to cause another blush, Rusty, but its true.)

As for planting, yes. Focusing on the fall: Anise hyssop, Blue Curls, Joe Pye weed, Asters and more Asters.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Elena, but such compliments can turn me all catty and annoying.

By the way, have you considered curlycup gumweed? All kinds of bees love it and it grows in dry environments. But check with your extension service, to make sure it’s not invasive in your area.

Chic Fitts
Reply

I live in a black bear track in a Montana Valley, so my yard has always been… overbuilt. Fence, electricity, etc. I put 4X4 posts in concrete holes for the fence, then built a simple shelf in a corner about 18” off the ground for the hives (the height works better for my old back). The shelf is roughly a 5’ X 5’ X 7’ triangle with board slats screwed to the 2X4 edges. It easily supports the weight of 2 hives in high summer. Each hive is strapped down, through the slats, with small ratcheting straps Harbor Freight or Ace will be happy to sell you for not much, and the adjustable length of the straps works great with varying heights and telescoping kids.

Greg p Ringele
Reply

Rebar may be a chore to buy and install. Simple t-posts for making fences would work at half the cost of rebar.

And some suggested using straw bales. I would use pallets as a wind break. Most pallets are 3 foot or so wide, and 4 foot long. Pound in the t-posts about 2 foot 8 inches apart and slide the pallet down over the posts. You can buy 10 foot t-posts that take a ladder to pound in. But you can stack 2 pallets on end with a combined height of a 8 foot wind break.

That should be high enough!

Rusty
Reply

Greg,

That’s a cool idea.

Elena
Reply

Very cool idea, Greg. I have the t posts and pallets sitting in the barn. In the mean time, they are strapped down to the platform, and there is activity in both hives. I’ll not know how they fared until next spring when the first warm day rolls around. Infrared camera shows heat middle high center just under the sugar in both. I’ll check their hard candy stores if they survived and provide more if they need it.

I got 50% off on trees this fall: two little leaf lindens, one Oct. Glory red maple, one staghorn sumac, one lilac tree, one hazelnut, blackberry bushes, and one walnut. Fruit trees went in early summer. Also 50% off on Joe Pye, lilac bushes, holly bushes, and goldenrod. Ready to go with white clover, alfalfa, and honey bee flower seed. He didn’t have black locusts. Have to wait til next year. Pollinator alley, baby!!!

Elena Campbell
Reply

Dear Rusty, I wanted to update you on how the hives fared through the winter.

Surprisingly, the hive that was still largely in tact on the right didn’t make it. I’m thinking the queen was crushed or injured. The one on the left that was literally scattered to the winds made it! The overwintered girls are busy bringing in loads of yellow pollen (I haven’t seen any orange pollen yet.) So, at least I got one hive through the winter, with some of their emergency fondant still in the feeder rim to spare. Now for the bad news, on inspection of their white board below, I found about six mites. Ughhh. I’ve just today treated with two strips because those drone combs are going to busy right now. I hate to do it to the girls, but didn’t want the mites to get out of control. I hope I did the right thing. Many thanks again for all the info on this site.

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