It might be quaint when Winnie the Pooh gets into a hive of bees searching for a “small smackerel” of honey, but in real life, having a curious bear tear into your colonies is anything but funny. Smaller critters such as skunks, raccoons and even mice can be trouble enough, but honey-hungry bears can do a tremendous amount of damage to unprotected hives.
When you farm on the edge of a national forest the way I do, it’s not surprising to see a lot of wildlife, but for many years my family has never seen bears. Still, we used electric fencing around the hives for protection, and then two years ago we completed work on our new bee house, protecting the colonies from bears and other critters. The timing was perfect.
Just a few nights after moving the hives into the house, black bears came by and tipped over several empty hive boxes that we hadn’t yet moved into the shed. Most were simply extra hive boxes not in use, so the damage amounted to only a few broken frames and an annoying mess to clean up. The bears did tip over one small hive that contained a rescued swarm. Overall, though, we were fortunate. Imagine the scale of destruction if all our bees had been in those hives.
The advice that follows includes several ways to protect your own hives from bears.
Don’t Leave Smells That Attract Bears
The bears that knocked down our empty hives were attracted to the residual honey smells left behind in the wood. You can prevent bear trouble by not attracting them in the first place. Clear all items that might retain the smell of honey, comb or propolis. These include bee tools, frames and hive boxes.
Use Electric Fencing
Electric fencing is the most common deterrent beekeepers use to prevent bear trouble. This method is relatively simple to set up and should be affordable, even if you have a lot of hives.
Some beekeepers find that electric net fencing more effectively stops bears because the animals have more difficulty merely slipping between strands. But no matter what style of fence you ultimately build, the key to keeping out bears is maintaining an adequate charge. Proper grounding is one factor of this, and it’s easy to do in the small-scale situation of a bee fence. A couple of ground rods nearby will probably suffice.
Of more concern is weed control. It’s easy to let a few weeks go by and then discover that fast-growing grass and weeds have grown up around the fence perimeter, reducing the strength of the shock, or possibly shorting out the fence. Keep the weeds at bay, and use a charger with enough voltage to discourage bears.
Build a Bee House or Shed
Another—and perhaps more permanent—option: Build a bee house or shed like we did.
Naturally, many options exist in terms of design and size. Our bee house is 12 by 16 feet, with room for plenty of hives, for now and the future. The hives sit flush along the inside of the main walls, with narrow slats on the outside of the building lined up with the front entrances of the hives so the bees can come and go as they please.
The bee house is strong and bearproof, giving us the peace of mind that the bees are safe from predators. Plus, it gives the bees additional protection from weather and other pests, such as mice, raccoons and skunks.
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.