Preparing Top Bar Hives For Winter

Helping bees close up shop for the winter is one of my seasonal chores. This year my husband even helped! I am really proud of him; he has always been supportive of my bee habit and loves to sing the praises of bees, but never really wanted to get too close for fear of getting stung. He even winterized a hive all by himself! One step closer to being a big happy beekeeping family.

I have two Kenyan Style Top Bar Hives (or kTBH) at my parents’ house so we decided we should have taco night, the boys would get Grammie and Grampy time and I would get my bees hunkered down for winter.

The process to do two hives probably takes a whole 30 minutes from start to finish. You need your hive tools, I keep them all in a tool box. Specifically, a hive tool or small pry bar (I used a flat head screwdriver since my hive tool grew legs and walked off), bee brush, stapler, 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut to the size of your TBH, a bowl, knife, and straw.

Start by removing your lids and stapling the hardware cloth around the rim so it will overhang onto the sides of the hive. I did this my first year beekeeping and I leave it on year round. Also remove your observation window to see how far the girls have gotten and where you need to start prying up the bars to slide in your follower board.

Hives

Hives ready for winterization.

Remove any started or unfinished comb. The goal here is to have that follower board right up next to the last full bar of honey comb.

Unfinished comb

Small unfinished comb.

Move the follower board up to the last comb and be careful not to squish any of your ladies. Use your bee brush or a gentle hand. Neither my husband or I wore bee suits for this hive manipulation as our bees are docile.

The comb you collect here will most likely be full of uncapped honey. Cut it off the bars and place it in your bowl and share with your family. To be clear on one thing. We only harvest our honey once a year, in the spring time. NOT the fall. The bees eat their own honey all winter and in the spring after the nectar sources have returned in our area, we take what they didn’t use during the winter.

Comb

More unfinished comb.

Stuff the empty bit of the hive with straw. And I mean STUFF IT IN THERE! I used at least a 1/4 of a bale of straw just for this tiny little bit of empty hive. The straw acts as insulation. While you are at the straw stuffing, stuff a bunch into the underside of your lid. More insulation and it also helps to wick away moisture that the bees will produce keeping their queen warm.

Pack with straw

Stuffing straw

Now simply replace your lid and staple down the excess hardware cloth around the outside of the hive. Replace your observation window and ensure that it is totally secure. It is not a good thing when your window blows off in a storm and its a few days or weeks until you find it has fallen off.

TA-DA! Bees are all cozy for the winter!

More bee posts to come so keep on the look out for them. Happy Beekeeping!

Observation window

View from observation window.

Homemade Applesauce

 

This year my family got together and made applesauce for the first time. We had not only 2 bushels of FREE apples, but we also had a free day this weekend to make SAUCE. Happy Dance. And by “free day” I mean, “We are already canning 40 lbs of beef this weekend so we might as well …”

Funny how everything has to come at once. We had planned on doing the applesauce, then we got that faithful call from the meat processor that our steer was ready for pick up. All blessings of course … we have meat for our freezer and tasty applesauce for the dead of winter. The work is totally worth it. Plus you get the added bonus of family time, and passing traditions down through the generations.

No extra acid was used in our recipe, you can add lemon or citric acid, however some claim that it causes an off flavor so we opted out. Sugar is an optional add in too, it all comes down to taste. Since the babies would be the main eaters of the applesauce we chose to not add sugar. The apples we had were a mix of lord-knows-what varying in texture, size, color, and acidity. Our end product had enough acid that we were comfortable skipping it and the sugar both, simply for taste reasons and safety, too.

Lets get to it then!

Apples

Acquire your apples. You want a nice mix of sweet and tart apples. We aren’t really sure what kind of apples we ended up with, but we could tell that there were three distinct varieties ranging from tart to sweet and crisp to soft.

Coring and Peeling

Core and peel your apples. You can see we saved our skins and cores and stuffed them in half gallon jars for apple cider vinegar making. Another blog for another time.

Cored and Peeled Apples

A pot of cored and peeled apples ready for cooking.

Apples Cooking Down

Apples cooking down. We worked in batches with two large pots on the stove. Cook them until they are nice and soft and easily mashable.

Mixing applesauce

We used a hand mixer in the pot to “sauce” our sauce. It has some teeny weenie chunks in it. It’s homemade, the perfection is in the imperfection.

Filling Jars

Fill your jars. We use a 2 cup measuring cup to scoop into jars rather than a ladle. We find that we have more control over the lava hot substance, and it takes less trips from the heat source to the jars. Be sure to tap your jars gently to get out all the air bubbles or stick a utensil down into the jars to free up bubbles.

In The Bath

Add your jars to the hot water bath canner. Wait for the water to boil then set your timer for 20 minutes. Remove your jars and let them cool on a towel. The sound of can lids popping is the best sound in the world!

Happy Applesauce Making!

Pie Pumpkin Season

 

First you see them turning from green to orange in your garden. Then you see a bunch of those happy little gourds sitting on the hill of a farmer’s barn on your way to town. The next thing you know the leaves are turning and you are craving pumpkin spice lattes, hot cider and a slice of yummy warm fresh pie.

But unless you grow your own pie pumpkins or buy them from a local farmer that stuff you are scooping out of the can is not pumpkin. It’s actually more along the lines of a butternut squash, and companies like Libby have developed their own breeds of squash over the years to maximize yield, sugar content and consistency in their final product. It tastes good and technically the squash in the can is a cousin to pumpkin. The USDA’s definition of pumpkin is rather loose, encompassing a range of fleshy and flavorful squash including pumpkin. But they are rarely if ever used.

Kinda disappointing, right? No matter. You can make your own pumpkin puree! BUT FIRST, a note about pie pumpkins; don’t drag in that pumpkin off your porch that your children carved a face into to hack up and puree. It will be gross. So so so gross. Put it back. What you want is a small round pumpkin called a pie pumpkin. Pie pumpkins have a higher sugar content than jack-o-lantern types and they are less stringy too.

pie pumpkins
The pumpkin motherload

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Now get a big sturdy knife and cut them in half and scoop out the guts and seeds and bust off the stem. The best tool I have found for scooping pumpkin guts is a plain old ice cream scoop. (Save the seeds to roast or make pumpkin seed brittle! OR just give the seeds and skins to your chickens they will thank you for it!)

cut pumpkins
Halved pie pumpkins and tools for the job.

Flop the pumpkins, skin side up, into a 9-by-13-inch pan or onto a large cookie sheet. Then add some water to another pan and put it on the rack beneath the pumpkins. Roast the pumpkins until you can poke them with a fork and you can pull the skin off easily. Let the pumpkin cool and pull off the skin. Take the bright yellow flesh in chunks and either put them in your stand mixer and beat them into glop or use a food mill with the pumpkin screen and crank away. You can also use a blender if you have a strong one. NOTE: The food mill and blender will yield a less stringy puree than the stand mixer option. However if your main concern is pie, the stand mixer option works just fine. AND it is a heck of a lot easier to clean!

mixer
Completed pumpkin puree using stand mixer.

Take your finished pumpkin glop (as we affectionately call it), scoop it into freezer bags and stuff them in your freezer. If you have a favorite pumpkin recipe then freeze glop in the appropriate size for your recipe. I always do 4-cup portions for my homemade pumpkin pie and 2-cup portions for muffins and cookies. This is a great time to mention that you CANNOT can pureed pumpkin. Not even pressure can. The puree is too dense and can harbor bacteria that can lead to botulism. NOT worth it folks.

Pumpkin is high in Vitamin C and beta-carotene, and it is a great source of fiber! Cook with it and bake with it. You can sneak a little pumpkin into almost every recipe and give your family a little extra kick of nutrients to power them through their day.

Here is a soup recipe that I made up really quick the other night for dinner. With 8-month-old twins, I often have trouble remembering what time it is. It took a whole 30 minutes from start to finish and was done before my husband got home from work!

Hearty Pumpkin Potato Soup
(A One Pot Wonder Soup)

1 whole pie pumpkin, cooked and peeled (cut in half, stab a few times and stuff it in the microwave for 7 to 8 minutes)
2 cups chicken bone broth
2 medium potatoes, chunked
1 pound ham, chunked into bite-sized pieces
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups frozen broccoli, thawed
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Add cooked pumpkin and broth to blender, process for 30 seconds, or until a soupy puree with no chunks. You may need more broth. Set aside.
In medium-sized pot, boil potatoes until tender (able to stab them with a fork). Strain and set aside.

Add ham to same pot as potatoes and let cook a bit until slightly crisp.

Pour the pumpkin/broth mixture over ham. Add cheese, stir and let melt.

Drain any excess water from broccoli and add to soup. Salt and pepper to taste, and toss in red pepper flakes. Add potatoes back to the party.

Let soup sit on low for 1-2 minutes, then dish ‘er up and enjoy!

This is going to be a fall staple at our house from now on!

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