Midwest Beekeepers Prepare Hives for Winter

G & Doyle new hive

This is an image of Gus and his mentor from IHPA, Doyle Kincy, after they had installed the package of bees into his first hive.

In addition to harvesting their row crops, many Midwest farmers clear off their vegetable gardens and prepare flower beds for the winter. I’m one of those gardeners who leaves ornamental grasses to provide cover for birds throughout the winter. While I was picking up garden hoses and doing some other yardwork before an October snowfall, I started thinking about what happens to pollinators in the winter.

While most bees and wasps hibernate, honey bees stay active throughout the winter. So how do honey bees stay alive during a long, cold Midwestern winter when perennial plants are dormant and our fields are barren? I remembered a fellow member of the Communications Committee for the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) has a son who keeps bees, so I reached out to Pat Arthur and his son Gus to help me learn more about beekeeping.

“Beekeeping is not scary, nor intense, nor is it a romantic process,” says Gus, 17, who has been keeping bees for four years. “Beekeeping is instead a thoroughly calming, mentally stimulating, and all-around pleasant experience with the reward of the knowledge that you have ensured the continued survival of your hive, plus you get honey from it (naturally).”

Gus new bees 2017

Here Gus is holding a package of bees which contains about 10,000 workers and a queen. This is what Gus used to start his first hive

Gus got interested in keeping bees after he and his family watched a presentation at the 2016 Iowa State Fair by Andy Joseph, state apiarist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). During that presentation, the Arthur family learned about a youth scholarship  from the Iowa Honey Producers Association (IHPA).

“I thought keeping bees sounded like fun, so I applied for the scholarship,” says Gus. “The scholarship included a hive of bees, the necessary equipment to keep them, an introductory class on beekeeping, as well as a mentor to show me the ropes of beekeeping. The package was a tremendous gift to get me started on my beekeeping journey. My mentor, Doyle Kincy, continues to share his knowledge and guidance to this day.”

“Beekeeping is a fascinating process of observing the hives, identifying and diagnosing any potential problems, and coming up with a potential solution over and over again, leaving the entire task greatly thought provoking,” adds Gus. “The most fascinating part of it is that no two beekeepers seem to do this in the exact same way, and so beekeeping is able to become different for all who keep bees.”

Gus & me hive inspection 2017

Hive inspections are an important part of beekeeping to ensure the colony is doing well. This image is me watching Gus doing an inspection of during his first year as a beekeeper.

Honey is collected once per year, generally prior to the State Fair. Gus and his dad process their own honey. It starts with coaxing the bees out of the supers, which are the top hive boxes that contain the harvestable honey. A box with an almond-scented aroma is placed on the top super, and the scent drives the bees lower into the hive enabling the removal of the top super. Supers are removed this way one at a time. If it has been a good year, a super could contain about 30 pounds of honey.

Each super contains nine to 10 frames of honeycomb that the bees have capped with a thin layer of wax. The wax cappings are carefully cut from the frames of comb with a long, serrated knife. The frames of comb are then spun in a centrifuge to extract the honey, which is run through a filter to remove impurities such as wax.

Winterizing Hives

The winterization process for the hives begins with a Varroa mite parasite check and treatment, which, occurs immediately after the honey is removed from the hive.

“In early to mid-fall as the weather starts to cool, the size of the hives’ entrances are reduced to protect them from potential robbery from other hives when nectar becomes scarce,” explains Gus. “Additionally, a metal mouse guard, black insulative wrap, winter feed, and insulation material to absorb condensation are placed on the hive. In November or December, an additional treatment for parasites may be applied to the hives.”

Winterized bee hive

This is an image taken 10/26/20 after an early snowfall. The image shows the black wrap Gus describes and you can also see the mouse guard we install in front of the entrance to keep mice from taking up residence in the hive during the winter months when the bees may not be able to defend the hive as well.

“We wrap the hives in a black insulative wrap to help keep the heat inside the hive and warm it a little due to black-body radiation,” says Gus. “For the most part, the bees do a good job of keeping the hive warm by vibrating their flight muscles. They ball up around the queen and slowly move about the hive over the course of the winter, consuming their honey stores.”

In case the honey stores are depleted, Gus makes boxes of clumped sugar and leaves them inside the hive. The honey and sugar provide food sources until spring. Generally, sometime in March as the weather starts to warm, the hives are readied for spring. The measures that were in place for winterization are removed. Gus also makes a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water in a container within the hive. This division board feeder nourishes the bees until spring flowers bloom.

Many annual flowers, like lantana and salvia, attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Here’s a link to Proven Winners® recommendations for annuals that attract pollinators. Perennials like coneflowers and bee balm also attract pollinators to your yard. Click on the links below for additional tips for attracting pollinators.

When we feed honey bees, they treat us! Today Gus is sharing with us one of his family’s favorite ways to enjoy the honey they produce. Making baklava has become an annual harvest tradition for the Arthurs after they process their honey.

“We enjoy trying recipes that use a lot of honey because we think honey makes everything taste better,” says Gus. “Making baklava is a little tedious, but it is oh so worth the effort!”

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Honey Walnut Baklava


  • 4 cups finely chopped walnuts and/or pecans (or your choice of tree nuts)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1lb (454 g) package of phyllo dough (thawed)
  • 1 3/4 sticks butter, melted
  • 340 g jar of honey


  1. Stir the nuts, sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Remove the phyllo dough from the package and unroll on the counter. Trim to 9" x 13" (23 cm x 33 cm) and cover with a damp cloth.
  3. Brush the bottom of the pan with melted butter and place a sheet of phyllo dough into the pan. Carefully brush melted butter onto the sheet of pastry and top with another sheet. Butter and repeat until you've used 5 sheets of phyllo dough.
  4. Divide the nuts mixture into 3 equal portions and sprinkle one third over the pastry layers in the pan.
  5. Repeat the pastry and buttering process with 5 more sheets of phyllo dough, and top with another third of the nuts.
  6. Repeat with butter and pastry sheets again; top with nuts, then one last time with 5 more sheets of pastry and butter.
  7. Using a sharp knife, cut halfway through the layers (lengthwise into 3, and crosswise into 4). Next cut each piece in half, diagonally to end up with 24 pieces total.
  8. Bake in 300°F (150°C) oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until top is golden brown. Remove from oven.
  9. Heat honey until hot, then spoon over hot baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven. Allow to cool in tray on cooling rack. Keep at room temperature, covered with aluminum foil.
  10. To serve, cut all the way through the layers to remove the pieces from the pan.

Recipe sourced from:  www.christinascucina.com/honey-walnut-baklava