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Adventures in Beekeeping: Prepping for Winter

November 11, 2015 | 16 Comments | Uncategorized
DIY diva

It’s likely that this will be my last beekeeping post of the year, and can I just say… right after randomly adopting some donkeys, and then getting chickens, having bees on the farm was one of my best ideas yet.

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(Yes, even when I got stung in the jugular the first day I brought them home.)

I’m still an incredibly novice beekeeper, but I’m also a quick study. I’m hoping that will work in my favor when it comes to overwintering my two hives.

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Here’s how that works…

Just for reference, in the summer a worker bee will live for approximately 6 weeks and is responsible for making about 1/2 teaspoon of honey. In the winter a worker bee can live for 6 months. (In summer they basically work themselves to death.) The queen, on the other hand, can live several years. So, in winter, the job of the hive is to protect the queen so she can start laying again in spring and create a new hive-full of workers.

As soon as the temps drop they form what is know as a “winter cluster.” Basically they all just huddle around the queen, moving their wings and vibrating to create heat. The outer part of a winter cluster might be somewhere around 40 degrees, but the center– around the queen– is around 80. Even in sub-zero temps. (Are bees the most amazing little creatures ever, or what?)

Anyway, to keep up their energy for all of this space-heating, the bees use honey. I left both of my hives with 2 deep boxes of honey (which is about 100 pounds each, double what I harvested from each hive.) I also have “leftover” honey from each hive that wasn’t quite ready for human consumption that I’ve frozen to feed back to them in spring.

Right now I have one strong hive, and one that has me a bit worried, but there’s not a whole lot I can do at this point, other then make sure they’re prepped for winter…

Mostly what that meant was pulling off any “extra” boxes on top of the hive, and then adding mouse-guards on the entrances…

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Some people use 1/4″ wire mesh (which I have plenty of) but this year, for my first hives, I decided to buy legit mouse guards. These reduce the entrance of the hive… let the bees enter and exit, and keep any hungry mice that may be looking for shelter and a honey-feast out of the hives.

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I also left all sprouted broccoli in my garden beds after I cleaned everything else out since the bees were still actively collecting pollen from the flowers…

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I’m actually going to plant some near the hives next year, just for the bees.

And, since my recent tree removal left the hives a little more exposed than I expected, I may also stack some straw bales close to the hives to prevent a windbreak. Then it will basically be up to them until spring, when I’ll start feeding them again.

As for the rest of the bee equipment, I have several “boxes” (usually called “supers” or “honey supers”) as well as the frames I harvested honey from that need to be stored for the winter. After harvesting the honey I left the supers and frames out for the bees (and wasps, and flys, and ants) to clean any remaining honey from…

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Then I stacked them in the garage for a while, and just this weekend got around to legitimately storing them for winter. The trouble is that most of the frames already have comb drawn out on them. If you don’t remember, here’s what it looks like when bees are drawing out comb (top and middle), and once it’s complete they fill it with honey and cap it (right)…

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The first year bees spend a lot of energy drawing out comb, so the nice thing about the second year is that all that work is already done and they only have to fill the comb with honey. The problem with storing frames that have wax on them like this? Wax moths.

Yeah, that’s a thing. Wax moths are a bitch… like many parasites. And you can’t really treat them in an infested hive, so your best bet is to have strong hives and make sure your equipment is protected through winter.

To do this I stacked them on a piece of cardboard and taped all the seams with painters tape…

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From here you can put wax-moth deterrent called Paradichlorobenzene (more commonly known as PDB, because try saying that shit after a couple of beers) on a piece of paper on top of the boxes and then seal it all up, but I saw this fancy drawer on one of the beekeeping sites and had to buy it (so I could deconstruct it and build more for myself later, obv…)

PDB basically like mothballs (except there are chemicals in actual mothballs that aren’t good for bees) and acts as a fumigant to kill any wax moth larve that hatch. So you need a sealed tower of boxes (hence the painters tape) with the PDB on top.

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This drawer insert is awesome because PDB should be refilled every few weeks as it evaporates, and instead of needing to untape the stack to refill, I can just pull out the drawer.

Ingenious.

So the bees are tucked up and guarded from mice for the winter, the boxes are stored in the garage– hopefully safe from wax moths– and I’ve got enough honey to get me through until next year. All in all, I’d call my first year of beekeeping a success!

End of the Garden 2015
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    Comments

  • Anne


    Cool.

  • nadine


    God I’m so confused. You had to leave them 100 lbs of honey? Each box? So you had to buy double the honey that you harvested? Honey is not cheap. This does not seem very cost effective. Or productive. How do you get more honey than our need to buy? And don’t the bees know it’s not “their” honey? I would do this for an interesting hobby and an education but I’m trying to understand when it might become a win win. Anyway I hope your little guys make it. It seems like you did everything could. And more.

    • Laura C


      She just didn’t harvest all the honey they made. 100 lbs is what she left behind.

    • Lou


      I think Kit means that she didn’t take all of the bees’ honey. She left them a ton of what they created rather than taking it all for human consumption.

  • Jess


    That’s kind of you to leave the broccoli up for them! Another great late source of food is pineapple sage. It’s an annual for us here in zone 6 but it doesn’t start flowering until October. It’s covered in bright red tubular flowers that are really pretty; our plants are absolutely covered in honeybees right now. If you protect the plants from frost (plant them against a shed or house) they will flower until hard freeze. Hummingbirds like them too.

  • Q


    Nadine, she didn’t have to buy honey for them, she just didn’t harvest all that they produced. You can look back to her previous bee keeping posts and see how she only harvested 1/3 to 1/2 of the honey the bees made, leaving the rest behind for them to eat over winter.

  • Jack


    Pretty awesome!
    I read your back posts on nugget and mini additions….kinda funny(two mini P/U box long road trip) indeed but hey! Where there’s a will…there’s a way and What about baby chicks is there not to love, and they grow up feeding you and helping you with farm projects out in the yard

    :)

  • Nine Dark Moons


    i screamed when i read this because right when i was looking at the photo of the honey supers with the bees cleaning off the honey, a big, fat fruit fly landed on my computer screen and started crawling across the picture. it looked like the bees were alive. stupid half-asleep brain!
    fascinating all the steps involved, love how you winterized the boxes and hives! i think hay bales would be much appreciated by the bees as a wind break :)

    • Lou


      hahaha!

  • Sarah in Illinois


    Bees are so fascinating! I still want to raise them sometime in the future! I have so much to learn, and a fiance to convince!

  • Laura


    I really need one of those cool little drawers. Wax moths got all my wax last year because I was trying to avoid using the crystals in one of my more hippie non-treating moments. I swear I never learn. Where did you get it? Checked a couple of the big suppliers and didn’t see one.

    Beekeeping is so different in Texas – we can get by with much less honey stores – usually just a medium above a deep brood nest, but you almost never get any honey to take in a first year hive either. I love my bees. It is such a fun hobby.

  • Tracy


    Thanks so much for this post! I really do think this is fascinating, and was terribly curious about how they would survive in the cold!

  • Cindi


    Kit,
    Thank you so much for describing the process for wintering your hives. This is wo very interesting. It may be something I try on a small scale in the future. I think the hay bales would be a welcome windblock and I love the idea of planting the bee’s their own broccoli or flower beds :-) Just facinating!

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