Quick & Dirty Winter Preparations

I’m a huge fan of moisture quilts because they keep my bees warm and dry all winter long better than anything I’ve used before. But for my first two winters when I kept my hives in the city in a relatively dry climate, hard insulation over the inner cover worked fine. For people who don’t have much time, money or carpentry skills, the winter preparations I demonstrate in this video are better than nothing.

I’m not saying this is the best winter set up for a hive, but I have a good sense of my local climate and I think this minimal set up will work out okay.

How To Kill Wasps (a.k.a. Yellow Jackets)

The best method I’ve discovered for killing wasps is to go out and buy one of these wasp traps:

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Add some sugar water and a teaspoon of raspberry jam and then watch all the wasps / yellow jackets get trapped and die. (Sept. 22, 2015.)


Add a dollop of some sweet jam, pour in some water sweetened with sugar and then hang or place the trap some place where wasps are known to congregate. I put the trap out this morning and when I came home from work, it was full of wasps — hundreds of them.

Wasp trap filled with hundreds of yellow jackets in less than a day. (Sept. 22, 2015.)

Wasp trap filled with hundreds of yellow jackets in less than a day. (Sept. 22, 2015.)


I’ll continue to monitor the trap over the next week or two. I’ll stop using it if too many honey bees get trapped in it. Judging only from the first day I had the trap out, I’d say there’s one honey bee for every 100 wasps that get trapped in it. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the latest results.
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Crush and Strain Honey: The 3-Bucket Method

    WARNING: Plastic buckets from the hardware store contain BFA, a substance that is generally not good for humans. I doubt much BFA would get into the honey in this process because the honey isn’t stored in the plastic. It mostly just passes through the plastic funnels and sits in the plastic bucket for less than a day. But still, stainless steel or food-grade plastic buckets are preferable. Honey meant for public consumption should never come in contact with non-food-grade plastic.

I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method, which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.

Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket into bucket with holes, then straining into bottom bucket. (Oct. 07, 2014.)

Honey with crushed comb dripping from top bucket (bucket #1) into a bucket with holes (bucket #2), then straining into a bottom bucket (bucket#3). (Oct. 07, 2014.)


I recommend this method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.

P.S. (July 25/15): I also posted a video called Cutting and Bottling Honey that’s been viewed 645,113 times as of today. Which reminds me, perhaps I should monetize my YouTube videos.)
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Topping Up a Hive With a Frame Feeder

Cutting to the chase: A frame feeder works just as well as a hive top feeder for anyone with easy access to their hives, especially with a modified frame feeder.

I created two nucs for a friend earlier this summer. He used a frame feeder to feed the bees sugar syrup all summer and now the bees in each hive have filled all the frames — minus two frames taken up by the frame feeder.

Question: How does he get the bees to work the final two frames with the frame feeder in the way? Answer: Leave the frame feeder in and just keep swapping out frames until the bees stop taking down syrup. Then remove the frame feeder and replace it with capped honey/syrup. Here’s the step-by-step answer:

• Remove a frame of capped syrup/honey and replace it with an empty frame.

• Keep the feeder where it is and let the bees go to work on the empty frame.

• When the new frame is full, pull another frame of syrup/honey and repeat the process until the bees stop taking down syrup.

• Make sure the feeder never goes empty.

If he’s lucky, he’ll have three or four extra frames of capped syrup/honey put aside at the end of it all.

• Remove the frame feeder and replace it with two frames of syrup/honey. Done.

Keep any extra frames of syrup-honey for emergency or spring feeding.

The fine print: Place empty frames between fully drawn frames. Shift frames around to make this happen if necessary. Pull two frames at a time if the bees are working fast and furious. You might as well insulate and wrap your hives for winter after this, because other than adding a mouse-proofing mesh, what else is there to do? Cancel that. You might want to add dry sugar before winter kicks in.

If you don’t own or don’t want to bother with a hive top feeder, you could feed your bees like this in the fall to top them up before the winter. You’d start by removing two frames of honey to make room for the frame feeder. Then you’d have to put them back once the bees were done taking down syrup. I haven’t tried it, but yeah… that could work.

Frame feeders aren’t practical for people with a large number of hives because they may need to be refilled more than once a week at the height of summer. But they’re perfect for new beekeepers because it gives them an excuse to look inside the hives and see what’s going on without disturbing the bees too much.

P.S.: The above method of topping up a hive or building up a nuc with a frame feeder may seem obvious. But the obvious is easily overlooked. How often have you heard a beekeeper say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (I wrote this post because I didn’t think of it until someone suggested it to me.)

Feed the Bees with Scraped Honey

Summary: If you want the bees to pull honey down from a honey super into the brood chamber in a timely manner, scrape the honey first.

We left one medium super full of open and capped honey on each of our hives about two weeks ago so they’d have enough honey for winter storage (and so we wouldn’t have to feed them sugar syrup). Beekeeping is one manipulative trick after another — and the trick with leaving the bees honey is to get them to pull the honey down into the brood chamber. One method is to place a queen excluder above the brood chamber, then an inner cover and then the honey super above that. The honey super is interpreted by the bees’ brains as being apart from the hive, so, in theoretical land, they’ll tear into the honey and move it down into the actual hive, the brood chamber, before winter sets in. When we did this last year on October 23rd, we made sure to scrape open the capped honey first so the bees could dig in right away. We used this do dad called a capping scratcher (or you could just grab a kitchen fork):

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Goldenrod vs Black Huckleberry Honey?

We began stealing honey from our bees, a little bit at a time, beginning in July. Almost half the honey was in comb form, all natural and beautiful. The rest was extracted liquid honey in jar form, not exactly natural or nearly as pretty, but it’ll do you. The last batch of honey was extracted today — the jar on the left in the photo. Compare it to the jar on the right that was extracted a month ago.

Huckleberry honey (?)  and Goldenrod Honey. (Oct. 04, 2012.)

Huckleberry honey (?) and Goldenrod Honey. (Oct. 04, 2012.)

Judging from its golden appearance and its flavour (almost sickly sweet and pungent), I think the honey extracted today is mostly Goldenrod honey. The honey we extracted a month ago is darker and the flavour is rich and earthy. Although it doesn’t qualify as a dark honey, I think much of the nectar for that honey may have been collected from Black Huckleberries that seem plentiful out in the country where the bees are now.

Huckleberry honey from September and Goldenrod honey harvested in October.

Goldenrod Honey harvested in October and Huckleberry honey from September.

I didn’t have time to observe the bees this year, so I’m just guessing. It’s fun to wonder, though. Every batch of honey this year was different.

Natural Honey Comb

We harvested two medium supers of honey from two hives last year. The weather last summer was the pits. This year we harvested about four medium supers of honey from maybe four hives. This summer’s weather was incredible. We could have had truck loads of honey, but we didn’t because three colonies swarmed on us, two queens failed on us… and so on. T’was a difficult year. A year that made me realize what I like about beekeeping and what kind of beekeeper I want to be. Here’s a hint: I like bees, not beekeeping. For instance, I like seeing this kind of thing when I pull out a frame (click the image to a larger view):

That’s a partially drawn frame of honey comb I saw while harvesting the last bit of honey from our hives today. I only took about five medium frames in all. Most of the honey, like the capped honey in this frame, was left behind for the bees.

For each of our seven hives, I moved the honey super above the inner cover (with a queen excluder underneath), so the bees will move the remaining honey down into the brood chamber. That way they should have enough honey to get through the winter and I won’t have to feed them syrup before winter kicks in.

Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

We harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up our hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, we decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves us the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if we’re in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?

We began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that we didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then we switched to deep frames full of honey that we pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.
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