One is the Loneliest Number

With the weekend upon us, we took advantage of a calm, albeit cool, day outside to button up the hives for winter. We removed the sugar water, and installed the insulating shroud and rigid foam top on the hives.

Hive No. 1 was a little angry with all of the poking and prodding, but we got them put back together quickly.

Unfortunately as I was preparing hive No. 3 for the insulation, I didn’t notice any bees moving about. I put my ear to the hive and didn’t hear anything. Taking a chance with the cold weather, we cracked open the hive to confirm our suspicions. Hive No. 3 was empty. The hive died out basically.

We knew the hive was in trouble a few weeks ago, but with a queen and some brood, and lots of honey left, we figured they’d survive. Well they didn’t.

We pulled all the equipment off of hive No. 3 and cleaned it up. I’m going to extract the mid-sized super, 10 frames. We cleaned off all of the deep frames from the lower two boxes. One box was basically empty and the other had a decent amount of honey. Because we had treated for mite, and no telling how old, or what shape the honey was in the one deep box, we just dumped all the honey and wax scrapings into the meadow. We’ll probably have a bear problem next.

Hive No. 1 is still strong and will hopefully make it through the winter. If it gets big enough we can even try and split it next summer. We will not be buying new bees next year. We need a break from buying bees, and beekeeping in general.

One thought we had going forward was to embrace the fact that our bees will likely die out every year and start working on harvesting pollen and propolis. That sounds like a lot of work though. But at least we’d be using the whole hive when they die out.

Oh well, we have all winter to not worry about it. The bees we have are happy and there’s nothing left to do except wait for spring to arrive in the meadow.

Winterizing Our Bees

We had two temperate November days this week. Taking advantage of temperatures in the 60’s yesterday we prepared all three hives for wintertime.

We checked the yellow jacket traps; emptying and replacing the soda inside as necessary.

All three honey bee hives were a flurry of activity, especially hive No. 3 which had a cloud of bees out front by time we were done. Thankfully hive No. 1 had a lot of bees coming and going from its entrance.

Winter Prep

  1. Locate as much honey towards the center of the upper deep box (second box from the bottom). I actually did this the last time I checked the hives a few weeks ago.
  2. Put an entrance reducer in place for each hive. Once again, did this a couple of weeks ago to combat yellow jackets
  3. Removed the sugar-water feeders from the top of the hives. They were all still fairly full so the bees seemingly stopped taking sugar-water, which is normal. Also removed the empty mid-sized super that shrouded the feeders
  4. Installed a new form of insulation on all three hives. You may recall last year I made a shroud out of rigid insulation for the hive, which worked well but was labor intensive. It also fell apart when I took it off, so assembling it may have been a challenge. This year we got pre-made insulation “blankets” that wrap around the hive. They’re basically heavy-duty black plastic, garbage bag like material, with insulation inside. I slid one over each hive. The hives are set up in this order: deep, deep, medium super, top board. I stapled the insulating blanket just below the top board (inner cover), which leaves enough space for the bees to enter and exit in the front, down low. Take a look at the photos below for a better idea of what’s going on. I used staples, but push pins would work too (I just didn’t have any handy). The insulation should be reusable year to year. It’s a new product so we’ll test it out and see how it goes.
  5. On top of each inner cover we placed nearly a full bag of sugar. The sugar will absorb moisture in the hive all winter and crystallize. Theoretically it will provide a source of nourishment as well, though I’m not sure if that’s right. The wife got this tip from a fellow apiarist at the grocery store of all places. We’ll see. I’m not sure what harm it could cause, so why not.
  6. I placed two plastic shims on top of the inner cover and then installed the outer (telescoping?) cover. This gives the roof of each hive a little angle to shed water. You may not recall but I inserted a strip of 1/2″ wood along the one side of each outer cover to make them “air tight” when the wasps were attacking. Normally the cover has some play left to right which allows insects (and mice!) to get into the hive up top. By leaving that strip in it’ll make a tight seal up top and hopefully allow the hive to retain more heat during the winter as well as keep pests out.
  7. Lastly, I will put some rigid insulation on top of the outer cover to keep heat from escaping. I use the pink stuff I have left over from last year’s insulating shroud.
illustrations by nate skow via

illustrations by nate skow via We don’t use a queen excluder, but everything else if pretty much how our hive is set up for winter. The bottom deep is virtually empty in some of the hives. All the action happens in the upper deep.



So everything is looking good on the bee front. Hive No. 1 is doing well, just have to see if they have enough honey. Hive No. 2 has plenty of honey hopefully, if there’s any left over then we will harvest that in the spring. Hive No. 3 should be have enough honey, but I doubt enough that we’d harvest next year.

There’s nothing else to do bee-wise now ’til spring. Stay tuned for some posts on an indoor project I’m working on right now. Until then, keep warm.

Hive No. 1

With much apprehension I opened up hive No. 1 yesterday to see if there was anything left. Much to my surprise the bees were doing as well as could be expected. I saw a few hundred bees working diligently to repair the damage caused by the yellow jackets.

I saw hive No. 1’s queen as well.

There weren’t as many yellow jackets as there had been before, outside the hive. Inside the hive I didn’t see any. The entrance reducer, and closing up the other entrances, had allowed the remaining honey bee forces to shore up their defenses. With just one small opening they could then take the fight directly to the yellow jackets on, one at a time. I witnessed at least one or two being escorted from the entrance to meet their demise. I encouraged two honey bees to back off and personally killed one yellow jacket myself with a stick.

It felt good.

I moved all the honey I could find towards the center of the hive. The bees were busy relocating honey as well and repairing damaged comb, as best I could tell.

The wasp traps were doing their job finally. Each had yellow jackets inside. The traps, from Lowe’s, feature two chambers. The upper is filled with soda, the lower has some sort of scented pad. All the scented pad does is attract honey bees, so I have to help any trapped ones get out before they die.

The upper soda filled chamber is working well to kill flies and yellow jackets. Pepsi seems to work better than Sprite.

Hives No. 2 and No. 3 seem to be doing well, with little or no yellow jacket activity.

Hive No. 2 should be okay for the winter. As should No. 3, though it appears to be lagging the powerhouse that is No. 2.

Hive No. 1 could survive, but no way to know for sure.  The last couple days of warm weather have been a boon. And we’re feeding as much sugar-water as we can to the weakened hive. Eventually we will take the empty deep off the bottom to make the hive more compact, and reserve the pollen laden frames for spring. The bottom deep is empty so no need to keep it on stand over winter.

Wait and see. And hope for a warm winter.

Here are some pictures, including a glorious photo of hive No. 1 still alive, as well as the traps.

Autumn Bee Check & Early Winter Hive Prep

We did a quick bee check of all three hives today. It was a fairly temperate day, and we just had our first frost, so all the signs point towards checking bees while we still can. Snow will be upon us soon enough. This is probably the last or second to last check of the bees until spring

Our goals for checking the bees in fall:

  1. Start moving honey frames towards the center – the bees will form a big warm ball of bees in the center of the hive, likely the middle or lower deep. They won’t go far to get honey, even if they are hungry. Also they likely will move up the hive, so it’s important that the middle deep is where most of the honey is at
  2. Check for mites – hives 1 and 3 both have mites, so we decided to treat all three hives with Hop Guard. Mites create bees with deformed wings, kill baby bees before they hatch and generally cause decline in bee populations. The cardboard strips of Hop Guard are placed over the deep frames, two to a hive box. They are not placed in the honey “supers” higher up in the hive.
  3. Treat for hive beetles – hive 1 has beetles so we decided to put beetle traps in all three hives. The trap is just a clear injection molded compartment that we fill with safflower oil. You can use canola oil, or other type of cooking oil that’s lying around. The beetles check in, but they don’t check out.

Later on this month we’ll install mouse guards to the entrances. These sheet metal shields are perforated to allow bees to come and go, but they won’t let rodents enter the main entrance of the hive. Up top we’ll place a queen excluder screen to keep the mice out of the top of the hive, as well.

Sometime in November I’ll fashion insulating shells, from 2″ rigid insulation. The insulating shells will protect the hives from what is supposed to be a very cold winter. This will be a pain to do every year. I’d like to invent a hive with rigid insulation built into the boxes. This would regulate temperatures year round just like an old hollow tree trunk would (that’s my theory at least).

The bees seem happy, as happy as bees can be. Hive No. 2 should be fine, as should hive No. 1. Hive No. 3 is lagging behind honey-wise and bee population-wise, so I’m uncertain. All three hives have eggs and / or a visible queen (we saw hive No. 1 queen today).

Here are today’s photos including a bee birthday.