Quick & Dirty Winter Preparations

I’m a huge fan of the moisture quilts introduced to me by Rusty Burlew 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

Something To Keep In Mind: 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 not 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 (a method I stole from the Backwards Beekeepers), 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.)

This probably isn’t a bad 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.

July 25th, 2015: I also posted a video called Cutting and Bottling Honey that’s had over 4 million views even though it shows me making a few mistakes in the 3-bucket method.
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Feeding Bees with Scraped Honey

It’s April 2019 and I’ve deleted the original post from 2012 except for this photo because there’s really not much to see or talk about.

Sometimes in the fall when I have left over frames of honey that the bees didn’t fully draw out, I scrape open the capped honey and place it over the inner cover so the bees can take the honey into the hive for winter. The photo shows one frame, but I often do it with supers full of partially capped honey. That’s about it. It’s just another method of feeding the bees before winter.

Goldenrod vs Black Huckleberry Honey?

I began stealing honey from my 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. 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’d say the honey extracted today is mostly Goldenrod honey. The honey 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

I harvested two medium supers of honey from two hives last year. The weather last summer was the pits. This year I harvested about four medium supers of honey from maybe four hives. This summer’s weather was incredible. I could have had truck loads of honey, but three colonies swarmed on me, two queens failed 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:

Partially drawn, partially capped comb. (Oct. 02, 2012.)

That’s a partially drawn frame of honey comb I saw while harvesting the last bit of honey from my 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.

Foundationless honey comb. (Oct. 02, 2012.)

For each of my 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.

The beginnings of honey comb. (Oct. 02. 2012.)

April 2019 Postscript: As it turns out, the decision to give my bees only honey instead of topping up the hives with sugar syrup was a bad call. It resulted in one of my giant colonies starving to death over the winter. A death of a colony will happen to every backyard beekeeper sooner or later. I take it in stride when something bad happens these days, but the first one was the hardest. Thankfully, I’ve haven’t had a healthy colony die on me over the winter since.

Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

I harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up my hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, I 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 me 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 I’m in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?

A deep frame of honey fed back to the bees. (Oct. 23, 2011.)

I began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that I didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then I switched to deep frames full of honey that I pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.
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4 Little Hives All in a Row

March 2019 Introduction: This is a boring post that probably won’t have much appeal to a general reader, but it does go into some fine details that might be interesting for people who want to compare notes with another beekeeper (me). It’s eight years later and today I’m intrigued by the results I had with my bees at the time. I didn’t just leave my bees alone and let them sort out their troubles. I was always messing with my bees, probably more than I should have, but I have to admit that I created an excellent classroom for myself.

Here’s a short uneventful video I took of the hives today where I mistakenly refer to Hive #2 as Hive #1. (I need to paint numbers on the damn things.)

And now here’s a quick review of the 4 hives in my backyard as they stand today:
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October Pollen: The Video

My four honey bee colonies exploded with life today and brought in loads of pollen from somewhere; I don’t know where. Here’s the video:

In other news, I’m feeding my bees back their own honey — capped and partially capped honey from the honey supers. I scraped off the cappings and installed the frames over the inner covers. The bees go mad for it. I’ve given them back about a dozen frames so far, probably close to 30 pounds of honey. I could have kept it for myself, but I’m happy with the 40 or so pounds they’ve already given me, which is more than I expected anyway.

October Pollen

Whenever the bees have a chance to do anything that contributes to the survival of the colony, they do it, even if it kills them. After a week of not doing much of anything in freezing cold weather, the bees came pouring out of hives this morning, many of them coming back loaded down with pollen.

Bees brining in pollen (Oct. 10, 2011).

I don’t know where they found the pollen, but I’m impressed. Here’s a cropped-in grainy shot:

Bees brining in pollen (Oct. 10, 2011).

It looked as if the bees were shutting down for winter, but give them some early morning sunshine and temperatures hovering a little over 10°C (50°F), and away they go, making the most of what little warm temperatures are left in this year. And where is all this pollen coming from? A late-blooming field of Goldenrod must be close by. I don’t know.
video.)
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