Harvest is now past, the leaves are falling from the trees to blanket the Earth as we move deeper into the darker half of the year, and things are cooling down here in Maine. Now that I have 7 seasons of beekeeping behind me I know that I prefer to have all of my winter hive preparations finalized by no later than Thanksgiving. That includes removing extra equipment like Queen-excluders and syrup-feeders, adjusting inner covers, and wrapping hives. It also involves installing mouse-guards to keep rodents from taking up residence in the hives.
A mouse-guard, like the one pictured above, is a simple piece of equipment placed over the entrance of the hive that prevents mice from entering the hive while still allowing the bees to come and go freely. Typically they’re made of metal so mice can’t chew through them. You can purchase them from most beekeeping-supply stores or you can do what I do and do-it-yourself.
An added benefit of my design is that the broad stretch of wire mesh also deters skunks. They claw at the front of the hives to draw bees out so they can eat them. The bees offer a high-protein meal for skunks, which can become a big problem for the beekeeper when the skunk comes back night after night. The colony population can become significantly depleted.
I’ve had to deal with my share of skunks since I began keeping bees! Check out this story from the fall of 2015!
Why do you need them?
Mice can cause a lot of damage to a beehive. They like the draft-free hive boxes to build cozy nests in, and they will chew the boxes, the entrance-reducers and the combs to make space for themselves. It can be devastating to both the colony and the beekeeper to open a hive and discover a mouse housed inside.
When should you put mouse-guards on your hives?
It’s my preference to install mouse-guards as soon as the weather begins to cool down in September. Generally, about the time we begin preparing for winter─stacking firewood and putting the farm to bed─is about the same time rodents begin to think about finding a place to hole up for the winter too.
How to make your own mouse-guards
These wire mesh mouse-guards are super easy to make. I use 1/2-inch mesh available at most hardware stores and a pair of lightweight wire cutters to cut the mouse-guards to the desired size. For the standard 10 frame Langstroth hive I cut a rectangle 28 squares by 10 squares. For the 8 frame hive cut the piece to 24 by 10.
The wire can scratch and dig when you handle it and catches on everything in sight so I like to trim of any picky wires for safety’s sake, and to make handling the mouse-guards a little easier.
Check for mice BEFORE installation!
***Do not skip this step!*** This is a crucial part of mouse-guard installation. If a mouse has already taken up residence in your hive when you put the guard on the entrance you could inadvertently imprison the critter in the hive.
What you need:
- hive tool
- protective gear
- wire clothes hanger or stick
I’ve found this works best if you can recruit a second person to help you, though I do know a beekeeper who uses a mirror on a telescoping wand to do the job on her own.
One person needs to use a hive tool to pry the bottom board away from the lower hive box and then tip the hive back. Remember that at this point in the season the hives should be chalk full of honey stores and can weigh between 175 and 260 pounds.
While one person holds the hive in place─tipped back away from the bottom board─the other person (wearing a veil to protect their face) should shine the flashlight into the hive to look for rodents. Check the space under the frames and above the bottom board, and *if possible* shine the light up between the frames to make sure nobody is clinging to the combs trying to avoid detection.
Most often you will find nothing unusual, which is preferred. If you should happen to discover an unwanted guest typically the disturbance is enough to send them scurrying away. On the off chance that this is not the case you have your wire clothes hanger or stick which you can use to evict the visitor.
Get to it!
Whether you choose to purchase your mouse-guards from a beekeeping supplier or you prefer the do it yourself mouse-guards, the important thing is that you make the time to get this equipment on before the mice move in. Like so many other instances in farming, it’s all about timing. Don’t let this one get by you!
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