Getting those hives ready for winter!

The cold weather is here!

In a previous blog (see Early Autumn in the Beeyard – Preparing for Winter!), I talked about the early steps we take to ensure we have strong hives that will be ready for winter. This includes such things as making sure the bees have enough honey stores, having strong queens and a strong population of bees, and monitoring mite levels through the spring, summer, and fall, in order to treat when necessary. In this article I will be sharing the final steps we take to make sure our hives are ready for winter.

Over the years we have tried a few different methods of preparing the hives for winter. This past winter we only lost 1 out of our 12 hives. The remaining 11 hives were so strong coming out of winter that we were able to create an additional 2 full hives, and 5 nucleus colonies. Here is how we go about winterizing our beehives.

First, we check the entrances. Mice would like nothing better than to move into a beehive for the winter – nice and warm, and plenty of free food. In the process, they can do a lot of damage to the hive – destroying comb, eating honey stores, and contaminating the hives with waste. We close up the entrances with metal entrance reducers – they leave enough room for the bees to come and go, but the openings are small enough that mice can’t get in. And, being made of metal, mice cannot chew their way through them. These can be purchased through any beekeeping supply company.

It is also important to have plenty of ventilation. Bees are very good at controlling the temperature within the hive. However, if moisture builds up on the bottom of the inner cover and drips down onto the winter cluster of bees, the bees can quickly become chilled, and the entire colony may succumb to the cold. We place the inner cover with the notch side down to allow moisture to escape. This also gives the bees an upper entrance in case a deep snowfall covers the bottom entrance. We then put a Popsicle stick under the back of the inner cover, to allow for cross ventilation and dry any moisture under the cover.

To provide additional moisture control and insulation we take an empty super and staple screen across the bottom. We then place the screened super on top of the inner cover and fill it loosely with straw. The straw absorbs excess moisture while also providing an extra layer of insulation. We then place the outer cover on top of the straw-filled super with another Popsicle stick between the top of the super and the outer cover to allow moisture to escape.

There are many different opinions on whether to wrap hives or not, and there are many different ways to wrap hives. Here is what works for us! Some of our hives are painted polystyrene hives. We do not wrap these hives, as the polystyrene provides plenty of insulation and we used a dark color paint to absorb heat from the sun. The majority of our hives are wooden. We wrap these hives to help keep in some of the heat generated by the bees. The eastern and southern sides of the hives are wrapped in tar paper only, not insulation. The black tar paper alone allows for maximum solar gain by the hive – if the sunniest side of the hive is insulated, it will be difficult for the heat to work its way in. We place Styrofoam insulation on the northern and western sides of the hive. This holds heat in and prevents heat loss on the less sunny sides of the hive. We hold the insulation and tarpaper on the hive with two ratchet straps on each hive. It is important to not cover the upper or lower entrances while wrapping the hive. Shown here is a wooden hive and a polystyrene hive all closed up for winter.

Another consideration is providing emergency feed. In warmer climates it may be possible to use a hive top feeder to feed sugar syrup throughout the winter. But here in the northeast, bees will not be able to get up into the feeder due to the extreme cold. We also do not like to feed sugar syrup in the winter as it introduces more moisture into the hive. There are a few other options, however. One is to make a “candy board”. This is a sugar fondant that can be place on top of the frames to provide emergency feed if the bees run out of stored honey. Another option is known as the “mountaincamp” method. Place a thin layer of newspaper over the top of the frames in the upper super (leave an opening in the middle to allow for some ventilation), then pour granulated sugar on top of the newspaper. As moisture rises from the hive, the newspaper and sugar become damp. The bees can then eat the sugar as emergency feed. We prefer to make sure that the bees have plenty of honey going into winter, as that is the most natural food for them. However, these are both good options if you are concerned that a hive might be light on stored food. We also usually check our hives during a warm day in January or February. If they seem light on stores we may add these supplemental food sources. We have also seen that Dadant is now selling winter patties. We have not tried these yet, but if anyone has, we would be interested in hearing what you think of them.

At this point, we consider our hives to be “shut down” for winter. We will still check on them during the occasional warm days, but hopefully we have given them everything they need to successfully make it through the winter.

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Our latest blog can be viewed on Mother Earth News – all about getting an early start on winterizing beehives!

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Bees and Robbing!

Did you know that honeybees will sometimes “rob” honey from a neighboring hive? You can read all about honeybees and robbing in our latest blog on Mother Earth News.

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Honey Harvest Part II

Our latest blog, Honey Harvest Part II, can now be viewed on the Mother Earth News website.

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Where to find our products!

Bees of the Woods and Duck Pond Maple products are now being sold at Duck Pond Farms, located on the corner of Route 20 and Route 158 in Altamont. You can also get some great homemade ice cream while you are there.
Our honey can also be purchased at Fancher’s Creekside Farm at the Voorheesville Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings.
As always, you can also contact us directly to arrange to purchase any of our products.

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Honey Harvest – part 1

I find that beekeeping is rewarding on so many levels – and one of the more tangible rewards is honey!  Thanks to the warm weather and plentiful rain, our bees have been filling up our honey supers almost as fast as we can put them on! Here is how we go about the first step of harvesting the honey – getting the honey off of the hives and into the house!
A few months ago we started adding honey supers to our strongest hives. As the spring dandelions and maple trees bloom, the bees start to make their way out of the hive in search of nectar.  Later in the summer, our bees primarily forage on alfalfa and wildflowers.  Now it’s time to see if the empty frames have been filled with honey!   After smoking the bottom of the hive to calm the bees, we remove the outer and inner covers, and check each frame one by one. We are looking to see if most of the cells in the frames have been filled with honey and capped with a beeswax cover. A good rule of thumb is that at least 80% of the cells should be capped. If they aren’t, we put the covers back on, and give the girls some more time to finish it. This ensures that the bees have had time to “ripen” the honey – removing enough water from the nectar that it will not ferment when stored.  If it does look as though most of the cells in the frames are filled and capped, we are ready to move on to the next step.
Step two is removing the bees from the frames of capped honey.  This takes a little work, because those bees would much rather keep their honey!  There are several ways to do this. Some beekeepers pull out the frames one at a time, brush off the bees, and put the frames into an empty, covered box. Other beekeepers use a “fume board” – applying an approved chemical to a felt pad that drives the bees out of the honey super. I prefer a third method – the escape board. It takes a little more time, but I feel that it is less stressful for the bees. An escape board is a thick board that is like a one way maze – bees can go down through the board pretty easily, but due to the “maze” on the underside of it, can’t find there way back up. To put it on we just lift up the honey super, put the escape board on top of the hive, and put the honey super back on top with the covers in place. Then, we just walk away and leave them alone for a few days!

When we return a few days later, most, if not all of the bees, should have moved out of the top super and down into the hive.  We give them a few puffs of smoke to calm them down, remove the super, brush off the few remaining bees, and bring the supers back to the honey house – in our case, our kitchen!

If we will not be extracting the honey immediately, we need to store the honey very carefully.  The honey supers get be stacked in a single stack on a surface that will not be ruined if any honey leaks out, and that pests cannot get into.  We have a rubber mat that works well.  The heavy boxes sink into the mat so nothing can get in, and the mat is easy to hose off when we are finished.  We also make sure the top is secure.  An inner cover with the center hole covered on top does the trick.

However, we always plan on extracting the honey as soon as possible.   Common hive pests such as small hive beetles and wax moths can stow away in equipment.  Without worker bees to keep them in check, these pests can potentially ruin the frames of honey.  While we have never experienced this, we have heard of it happening to other beekeepers.  If you think you will not be able to extract for a long time, it would be better to leave the honey on a strong hive where the worker bees can keep these pests at bay!

Now that the honey is safely stored in our kitchen, it’s time to fun the fun part – getting the honey out of the frames!  In my next blog, I will talk about how to extract and bottle all of this delicious honey!


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Latest inspection passed

Well, we checked all seven of our hives today. All seven hives were cooperative and three didn’t seem to care that we were poking around in them. We also managed to see two queens – something that rarely happens with a deep and five medium supers on top. I almost managed to lose one of them. It wasn’t until Jen looked down on the frame that was lying against the front of the hive and spotted her wandering about trying to figure out what the heck she was doing out there. Anyway, we put the frame back in the hive and closed it up thanking our lucky stars that she didn’t fly away.
One hive seems to be a bit on the slow side. They have a little over two months to pull in the honey & pollen that they’ll need for winter but my guess is we’ll have to feed them too. I really don’t like doing that but the only option that I’ve come across is to squish a queen and combine the hive with another one. Nope, I don’t like that idea. There’s still plenty of time to pull in 60lbs of honey (some colonies average 2lbs of honey a day!) so we’ll let them keep plugging along and hope that our 40 acres of alfalfa 10 yards from them doesn’t get cut by the farmer! Man how they love the alfalfa!
We also managed to pull out a frame of Bee-O-Pac comb honey. After the bees draw out, fill, and seal the comb in a Bee-O-Pac frame the beekeeper can pull the frame out of the hive, tear the 16 individual Bee-O-Pac cells apart, and throw a lid on each one. Each cell is 4 oz. of 100% pure comb honey. A nice taste test of comb honey for those who may be interested. We have a small supply for sale on the site if you would like some.
Here’s to a nice, less humid, August where the bees will pull in some nice Goldenrod (and Alfalfa) honey!

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Have Queen, Will Make Honey!

We dove into our newest hive this morning and found what we had been hoping for, a queen! You see, this hive is from the cutout in Schuylerville. After stopping by the remains a couple of times, and going back last week to gather up more bees we weren’t 100% sure that we got the queen the first time. Well we did. So now we officially have seven hives that are all doing great.

We also decided it would be a good idea to combine the nuc (some of the remaining bees from the cutout) with the new hive so they are in the process of being joined together. Since it is not wise to dump two different colonies of bees together into one hive (they get a little grumpy when you do that and have a tendency to kill each other – even though they are sisters, remember they’ve been away from each other for a few weeks) what we did was lay a newspaper across the top of the colony that has a queen and put the queenless colony on top of the newspaper. The scent of the queen rises up through the newspaper into the top colony and they accept the queen better while eating their way through the newspaper to join the other bees. This is something we’ve done in the past to build up a colony before winter. So far we’ve found it works well.

This can only mean one thing… more honey for next year! We’ll let them build up their stores for this winter, possibly helping them out along the way, in anticipation of a productive colony that will pay their rent for next year.

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We’re in business!

After starting out the season with only two hives we have quickly multiplied to seven. We do have one nuc but that may soon be combined with one of the seven hives since they don’t have a queen and are rather small. Once we get a cooler, less humid day we’ll check them out. Six of the seven hives are doing very well. The seventh is from the cutout we attempted up in Schuylerville a couple of weeks ago. They are very active outside the hive although we haven’t been in them since they arrived in our beeyard.

We extracted about 100 pounds of honey and bottled roughly 60 pounds so far. If you would like to purchase some honey go to our products page to see what we offer. Since we are small, once it runs out, that’s it. We’re anticipating another extraction this fall depending on how the bees make out in the next couple of months. This has been a great summer for the bees compared to last year. Of course our #1 priority is to make sure the bees have plenty of honey stored for the winter. We’ll keep you posted.

Enjoy the new site and don’t forget to become a fan of our facebook page as well!

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