Last Winter, a lot of Michigan beekeepers suffered devastating loss of upto and over 90% dead beehives. This year, I started to raise honeybees for purpose of conducting research to contribute and find ways to save honeybees and share them with the world. Amazingly, there are a lot of information already shared online. It is my hope that the series of Saving The Bees Instructables would make a difference to this World we share. This author is a member of both TechShop at Allen Park and SEMBA. Saving The Bees Project hopes to bring engineers, electronics, beekeepers, educators and all makers to come together to contribute in saving the bees.
Following the lead of a colleague friend, environmental conscious and experienced beekeeper Mary M., I immediately pursued her eco-friendly.advice.
Step 1: Saving the Bees: Insulating Beehives Idea.
* To share ways to improve leave bagging efficiency.
* To share ways to improve bees winter survival.
There are a lot of ways commercial and backyard beekeepers insulate their beehives. The record severe Winter in Michigan got our attention. For commercial beekeepers, beehives are likely in open fields. For backyard beekeepers, beehives are likely around trees or bushes. Some beehives could be beside the house, garage or pole barns.
Why Use Dry Leaves?
For backyard beekeepers, dry leaves are naturally occurring during fall. Instead of burning dry leaves or send them to garbage collection, why not utilize them. The idea is to bag them in 55 gallon black plastic bags and place them around the beehives. Black color bags absorb heat from Sun during warm days. The bags are going to be good wind barriers. If we allow the leaves to decompose, the bags of dry leaves would generate heat within. By Spring, we would have good compost or partially decomposed matter.
Improving Ways of Bag the Dry Leaves.
Honestly, I have never bag leaves ever before. I would use my lawn mower to munch them with the lawn grass. At this time, I could only share my experience as a backyard beekeeper. One thing we could all agree, bagging wet leaves is messy, inefficient and need to be avoided. We bag only dry leaves or slightly wet leaves only. We could use rake or leave blower to gather the dry leaves. The most difficult experience that I encountered is to keep the trash bag open. I happen to have a used hula hoop so I hack it and found some help. I then search online and quickly found this item at Harbor Freight. http://www.harborfreight.com/folding-trash-bag-sta...
The use of the folding bag stand is of great help. Although the stand is designed for 33 gallon bags, I don't have problem using it for the 55 gallon bags. For initial fill, I prefer placing it sideway and sweep the leaves in. One could use the blower as well. Once it is partly filled, you could put it upright. The weight of the leaves would keep it stable upright. When it is getting full, I simple pull up the stand higher. See one of the pictures and note the frame is now is raised position. Start pushing down (compact) the leaves at this time. Remove the bag from the stand before they become entangled.
One nice feature with this item is the it fold flat and don't consume a lot of space to stow away.
Fixing the Stand.
Though the stand is a necessity and truly very good help, it was not without a couple of glitches. First, the top parts (inserted during assembly) keep coming off. Then, the bag is getting caught and torn by the hinge joints. Currenty, I believe duct tapes would be sufficient fix for both issues.
Shredding the leaves.
If you have a lot of fall leaves to handle, a chipper grass shredder could be a good investment. For backyard beekeepers, the additional expense and bulkiness make this option not feasible. Currently, I gather the bags of leaves to a bare ground surface. I stack up two old deep beehive boxes, I filled them with dry leaves and use a 14" weed wacker to munch on the dry leaves. I was hoping weed wackers are more of a common equipment to homeowners. The weed wacker munch the dry leaves and twigs very well. I saw a youtube video hack as well and was encouraged by it.
Another benefit of shredding is that you could fill 4x more by weight. You get more free heat and more compost at the start of Spring. The weight of the shredded leaves make them for resistant to wind blowing them out of position. See helpful hints fromjmwells on composting below.
I went to the local reuse center and found a Craftman Leafwacker Plus. I purchased it for $10 for parts. I brought it to TechShop. This unit is very much alike the Flowtron brand in many aspect. With help of a colleague, we found that it was fully functional after pushing the Reset Button. A bracket was missing but I was able to redesign it with scrap wood and metal at TechShop. I am still going to hack the hand held weed wacker so that I could show my fellow beekeepers how to convert them to mulch dry leaves.
. I suggest that we wear a pair of safety glasses. A good friend Vince at TechShop reminds us to wear dust mask. It could protect us from contaniminant, allergents, fine dust particles and air-borne bacterias.For best setting, set the leafwacker to Fine Leaves setting (never set to Pine Needle setting) Too fine setting takes longer time and create a lot of dust particles.
I would continue to find way to improve the leave shredding with the weed wacker. During Winter, I would monitor the inside of the bags of shredded and unshredded leave bags to show the difference in temperatures. I would continue to search the internet on ways to help decompose of the shredded leaves during winter.
All inputs and feedbacks will be appreciated.