DIY: $9.33 Insulating Hive Wrap for wintering honeybees

Wrapping the hive for winter is likely not necessary in my region. However everything on a farm boils down to energy management: less energy spent on keeping the cluster warm over winter translates into less energy consumption. This both extends the winter resources as well as lessens honey consumption. The latter point translates into more honey remaining in the spring, thus less need to refill the frames consumed over winter, thus allowing the bees to start storing excess honey sooner, thus increasing the harvest of the following year.

Total price tally (from amazon for universal considerations):

($17 for insulation + $11 for velcro) / 3 hive wraps can be made from these materials = $9.33 per wrap

First of all, I did not take very good pictures of the process so hopefully I can describe the process adequately with words. Secondly, I realize this post is late as I never got it written before I took my break in the fall. Third, as with all of my beekeeping posts [so far] I use 10 frame langstroth hives.

Tools Needed:

  • String or something to measure (tailor’s tape, etc)
  • Scissors
  • Empty hive body (can be any size, we are just after the outer perimeter measurement)
  • Rubbing alcohol and a rag for cleaning

Materials Needed:

  • Reflective Bubble Insulation (Affiliate link) 16″ wide by 25 feet (enough for 3 hives of 2 deep supers each) ($16.25 at time of writing)
  • Industrial Velcro, (Affiliate link) 2″ wide by 4 feet (enough for 2.75 hive wraps but see notes below) (I bought mine at walmart for $8 if I remember correctly but use that link as a reference to the exact product but save some money getting it locally) ($11)



  1. Use the string to measure the outside of your hive body
    1. My hive bodies are 19-7/8″x16-5/8″ for a total parameter of 73.5″
    2. My actual measurement was just over 74″
    3. I like to compare the measurement to the expected perimeter calculation based off of factory measurements for extra assurance but this is likely not necessary
  2. Add 2 inches to the parameter total to accommodate the overlap needed for velcro
  3. Cut the insulating material to length
  4. Clean the last two inches along opposing edges with alcohol and a rag to ensure adhesive sticks well
  5. Apply velcro to OPPOSING FACES ON OPPOSING ENDS so the velco will align when wrapped around the hive
    1. for clarity: imagine the insulating wrap is a piece of paper. Put on strip of velcro on the top of the front of the page. Put the opposing strip on the bottom of the back of the page.
    2. ALSO BE SURE TO use the two different types of velcro at either of the two ends the loop velcro can catch the fuzzy velcro
  6. Apply to hives!

Picture of the finished product:


Oops! On my original design I forgot to account for the overlap needed for the velcro to grab its opposing self so the insulation is cut to the exact perimeter of my supers. Which brings me to my next point.


This velcro is incredibly strong. After 2 months of use, the maximum of 1/4″ overlap I could barely stretch out of it has held the hive wraps in place without a single issue. I’m actually worried about being able to get the wrap off in the spring had I provided a full 2″ of overlap. After all, its advertised to hold fire extinguishers to the wall! I was also originally planning to reinforce the adhesion to the wrap by stitching the velcro in place. I decided not to for 2 reasons:

  1. The insulation is like unpoppable bubble wrap used as a packing material so stitching through it would have ruined the insulating air pocket under the strips of velcro
  2. After playing with the velcro, I decided it was unnecessary. Ok Ok…I actually dropped the velcro and almost destroyed the carpet trying to detach them from each other. If the adhesion wears out down the road, you all will be the first to know!

Insulation power:

The insulating wrap I linked to has a extremely low insulation value: R=1.04 which is roughly equivalent to 1 inch of solid wood, increased to 4 if a 3/4″ gap is made. That gap could be achieved by putting blocks of wood under each of the 8 corners but the work required was not worth it for me. Regardless, this current set up serves me fine as I doubt I even need insulation. If your location calls for more insulation, I would use many many many layers of this or use the age old method of hay bales (or both in combination) or leave snow piled up around the hive with the entrances clear for ventilation.


I chose 16 inch insulation because overwintering, my hives are 2 deep supers: each 9-5/8″ tall or about 19″ total. The 3 inches of difference leaves the bottom entrances open for ventilation as well as the top entrance (although I keep that one plugged unless condensation becomes an issue). If you have a different hive configuration you will need to calculate or measure the required width and buy or cut the insulation to that figure.

Similarly, I use 10 frame deep supers so if your configuration is different you will need to calculate or measure the length requirement of the insulation. Don’t worry it is simple and discussed in steps 1-2 above.

Final thoughts

The setting sun can hit these hives and reflect off in blinding fashion that makes it look like the hives are on fire. If your apiary has a line of sight to a roadway or bee thieves are a valid concern, you may want cover the outside with an additional layer of fabric or paint. Also this makes me wonder if the wrap is causing the hives to lose that warmth but I feel that keeping in heat is more valuable than capturing it in the winter (although backed by no calculations).

Also after seeing how ferociously strong the velcro is, next time I am going to use only a few inches at each corner and maybe on in the middle instead of lining the entire length of the end of the insulation.

Lastly, I may build a collar of sorts for the hives out of scrap wood to give the insulation the 3/4″ gap that quadruples its insulating rating. It would be a simple wood frame that sits down over the hive to be wrapped instead of the hive itself.

Honestly with the low insulation this provides, the benefit is likely more psychological to the beekeeper than anything else. As bees are best left undisturbed over winter, it is a hard time for a keeper who is uncomfortable with taking a hands-off approach. This at least provides a piece of mind that the keeper is doing everything in her or his power to help the bees survive!


I have accepted a full time job

After getting my hands dirty for a year on the farm while researching extensively, I uncovered some important information. From the anecdotal evidence found in blogs/feature articles like this one, most small farms fail because they don’t have the guidance provided by goals within an extensive plan. Both of these require immense research, calculations and planning; all things that can be completed while retaining personal financial security from unrelated employment. The reality is most farms fail because they start producing without a plan to turn that production into income. Realizing that there is either no market available or will require lots of extra work to reach a market (making the venture economically unsustainable) tends to shatter the romantic views of back-to-the-land farmers.

I’ve also been researching the sustainable farming industry as a whole and found some equally distressing issues: most of the successful farms rely on off-farm income or free labor from interns or students. These operators may reach personal success while in my opinion, fail as farmers. I want to delve deeper into how the successful ones obtain that success and conversely, why the ones relying on free labor must do so. I’ll publish my reports along the way while undergoing this big project.

Since my research contains some negative reflections on the state of an industry I am passionate about, I expect to get some equally negative reactions. I simply want to ask and follow through on the tough, soul-searching questions that only with complete intellectual honesty can significant conclusions be reached. Since I want to create a replicable sustainable farm model, profits must come directly from farm products thus I am unwilling to cheat with relying on free labor to do so. Also, what if the reason so many farms fail while successful ones are being consolidated under a few corporations is a government policy to which citizens can initiate change? Regardless, I seek to gather data first then draw conclusions later.

I accepted a job I am passionate about in the clean energy production industry. It is close to the farm allowing continuing establishment while planning out how to be a successful-stand alone business. Plus I will have no commute living downtown in a small city.


All in all, the job was too perfect to pass up!

What does this mean for the farm? Not much change! I had already decided to focus the organic garden on self-production while maybe offering some add-on offers for sales primary commercial products. Diving into both animal production and crop production is simply not feasible at the time of start-up. In the future, what I learn during my attempt to gain produce self-sufficiency will be invaluable to diversifying the farm efforts in the long run. My love of botany will certainly keep plant operations going strong thus generating fresh content for this blog.

Bottom line: the only change to the previous plan of more posts as the farm is implemented full-time farm is that there will be not much of a change relative to the current state of the blog!

Books, Garden

Changing tactics as new material is learned

Previously, spent wood ashes from making own lye were disposed of into the compost pile.


After digging into the new book, The Humanure Handbook, no substance that significantly alters pH including liming agents (eg: agricultural lime, wood ashes; sulphur on the other end of the pH scale) should be added to the pile. Instead, these substance should be added directly to the soil and can be added at the same time as compost. The issue lies in how the pH affects the microbes responsible for the process of active composting. Thus I would see no problem with ashes being added to entirely mature compost once the biological processes have terminated.

In fact, the book presents a finding that liming agents as well as other soil amendments like acidifiers and fertilizers are more fully utilized and reach deeper into soils that have been dressed with compost compared to untreated soils. The author asserts that increased organic matter is like responsible for the observations.

Composting any organic scraps from paper to veggie peelings to bones (and yes, human manure but we can take steps one at a time!) is an easy way one can take to lessen their environmental impact and keep precious nutrients from be lost forever to the anaerobic landfill. That compost can help any plant from lawns to veggies to potted houseplants to landscaping plants and everything in between!


Christmas gifts happily bolstered my reading materials

It is no secret that I love to read. Typically multiple books will be read simultaneously if they are wildly different topics like 1 fiction novel and 1-2 non fiction novels covering different matters. For example I am currently re-reading (well, listening) to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn read by Elijah Wood (affiliate link) while physically reading the two books discussed below. I had audible credits to use or lose so why not re-read this masterpiece with a twist?

As christmas gifts I received two books that have been on my list for a very long time. The book relevant to the farm venture is Humanure Handbook: a guide to composting human manure (affiliate link). We are flushing away an astronomical amount of agricultural nutrients and using an equally astronomical amount of drinking water to do so. The first step to rectifying this major oversight is to work through the taboo of discussing recycling nutrient-rich human excrement. In fact, the author had to self publish the book because as he states it “no publisher would touch this book with a 10 foot pole”.

The Humanure Handbook covers a large amount of science behind composting so I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the various applications of compost whether it be landscaping, horticulture, gardening or reducing the environmental impact of the waste each of us produces. In order to successfully fight through the fecal-phobia and taboo topic, the author definitely needs to delve into the science of composting to adequately explain how to safely turn human excrement into a nutrient rich soil amendment. He does so beautifully based on the 40 pages I’ve read so far.

The other book I received has been on my list for about two years before it was even written. Steve Rinella is an idol of mine because of what amazingly honest content he produces regarding responsible and ethical hunting. His TV show Meateater is a huge breath of fresh air  from the norm which are basically half hour infomercials for hunting products with people I don’t consider hunters shooting animals that are functionally livestock (contained in a fence and fed corn). I’ve recommended the show to friends in the vegan or animal rights categories that, while still uncomfortable with the realities of gutting/butchering/harvesting meat, gained a new and valuable perspective on hunting. His podcast by the same name is also enjoyable while more geared for hunters.

When he announced they were undergoing a seemingly impossible venture of writing a complete guide to hunting, I immediately wanted the book. Over a year later, the big game edition was released followed shortly by the small game edition. For anyone interested in processing their own meat (or just how meat is processed in general) including hunters, farmers, etc. these books are invaluable resources. Affiliate links: Big Game edition, small game edition.

I’m excited to learn more in depth and hopefully share any relevant information I pick up!


El niño year causing garlic top growth in winter


This photo kind of hurts my eyes. I must have had HDR on for some reason so I apologize for that!

Fall planted garlic is not supposed to form top growth until spring! Winter has finally arrived after much of December seeing temperatures in the 70 degrees F.

If you are concerned about the effect of unseasonably warm winters on the success of garlic, fear not. Most reading I’ve done on gardening forums has assured that the top growth will die back in when cold finally sets in only to regrow in the spring causing no harm to the clove-bulb development that we seek.

Anyone else seeing this? Or has anyone had this happen in the past and want to provide some additional reassurance?



Long break spent begrudgingly but responsibly planning farm venture

I have not posted since November. The truth is that I started crunching numbers in order to formulate a true business plan and the outputs of those calculations did not look pretty.

If all of my calculations are accurate (which is a big assumption), including pigs, cattle, laying hens, broiler chickens and apiary products, the first year would net $24258.85889 of income but this only considers direct costs of producing each animal while omitting general start up costs like fencing, water troughs, mineral feeders, plumbing, etc. Certainly not bad in of itself but it relies on a few assumptions, mainly that I will be able to sell each finished animal to 1-4 people as regulations require the processed meat to be sold as a full, half or quarter animal to a customer who must pick up the meat at the processing facility themselves. Being honest with myself: Marketing and sales are the most intimidating part of this farm venture so that assumption may be a dangerous one.

I will go into more detail about all of my calculations soon, but the spreadsheets are quite messy and require either re-organizing, lots of explanations, or both. They will also be subject to change as I find errors, new information or updated information (ie: major shift in market prices of animals or hay).

In the course of researching for then making all of these calculations, I discovered a two major things: Sustainable agriculture/permaculture is generally extremely exploitive of labor and that most small farm ventures operate at a loss or gross under $10,000 annually. To the latter point, that means the most farm ventures cannot be the sole income source of the operator.

To the first point, I attempted to find a single example of a sustainable agriculture/permaculture business with open books that is successful without exploiting labor or relying on other income sources for its very existence including off-farm jobs or a reliance on speaking/book deals for financial success. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t find a single one.

All these revelations lead me into a bit of soul searching as well as research that showed me that most sustainable farm enterprises MUST have a business plan to provide structure and goals. From gathered anecdotal evidence: most farms fail because they choose what they will produce and expect it to sell on its own thus the operators figure once they start farming, income will sort itself out. From USDA research: In 2012 small farms that gross less than $10K average -9% of the operator’s income (aka: a loss) while farms that gross from $10K to $250K only yield 10% of the operator’s household income. The “Family Farms” category averages $3,140 of farm income while averaging $80,978 from off farm sources. ( Source: 2012 USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey.)

As to the exploitive labor practices of the industry, I did not have any objective data to back up my observations. So I decided to dig in a bit deeper and dust off my computer programming skills to collect data from sustainable agriculture internship postings. After analyzing the 135 most recent internship postings on the top sustainable agriculture job board, the results seem to back my observations. Now I just need to finish my report!

Lastly, now with a more practical approach that came with all the revelations of the industry, I realized I could be doing all of this objective planning while working to maintain a source of personal income. When the business plan is done and I have concrete figures and goals, I can move into the farm operation full time with minimal gaps in personal cash flow. So I took a seasonal job while applying for position in the field in which I hold a degree.


In conclusion, all my time since November has toward the seasonal job, applying and interviewing within the GIS field and working through the laborious but absolutely essential calculations involved in planning the farm business. There was simply no creative or analytical power left to maintain a good blog. From here on out, expect the normal blog content plus some boring, technical analysis of my calculations!



The Beauty of Blueberry Bushes

Edible landscaping is a growing field that I find fascinating as it marries agriculture and suburban life very well while also contributing to sustainable food by cutting out the energy used to ship food that is 90+% water.

I hope to convince people to ditch landscaping choices like burning bushes in favor of edible bushes like blueberries. Hopefully one day, my young bushes will provide all the aesthetic argument required to do so.

For now, only a hint of the fall vibrancy of mature bushes is evident in the blueberries I planted this spring:


A living mulch is to be provided by the runners of strawberry plants. What if even a small percentage of creeping or vining landscape ground covers were replaced with strawberries? Once mature, I wager most will find the combination pleasing even in a household landscape setting!



Photo: Why I love deer hunting

Nothing is a better use of my time than outdoor activities that let me observe the rhythms of flora and fauna as well as the non-biological powers that influence the biological. I love wildlife, nature, forest ecology, and general observation of how those factors respond to human activity in their singular drive to continue existing. Hunting learns me how floral activities change on an annual basis while observing faunal activity at larger scales- from seasonal to day-to-day.

Only the added goal of securing sustainable and renewable food in the forms of fall deer hunting and fall to spring trout fishing is enough motivation to endure sometimes bitter cold everyday before the sun even rises. In the case of the former, it also gets me outside for the final hours of the day. During the rest of the year however, I don’t end up spending as much time outdoors…at least not on as regular of a basis as foraging for fruit (fungal or floral) does not require as specific of timing.

In addition to the lifeforms I target for food, I’ve learned so much about those that I don’t: plants, bugs, mammals, reptiles and different birds from song to raptors to carrion.

What does this all mean? It means my knowledge of climate events and wildlife are limited to fall and spring. It makes me a bit sad that I don’t get to see the world like this at other times of the year:



Drying and storing hops

I’m using the hops that I didn’t send to the local brewery to practice the drying process. Once picked, hops need to be dried so they don’t mold while also kept from exposure to light. The latter needs to be observed all the way until the finished beer is consumed. Light exposure activates the photosynthetic tissue in residual hop matter that flavors or bitters beer resulting in the distinct “skunk” flavor that has actually become a characteristic flavor of some European beers packaged in green bottles then shipped to the US.

So I use discarded beverage trays lined with discarded screen in combination with time to dry my hops. Mild heat or airflow can be used to speed the process but I avoid mechanical processing and strong airflows that might dislodge the pollen looking resins that contain the desired acids/flavor/aroma compounds. This is only mentioned because some people use tumble driers or even clothing driers!

I start by weighting a specific amount of hops that will be kept together through the entire process. The process is to fill a tray loosely with a layer of wet (aka fresh) hops. Then repeat by stacking the next tray atop the previous tray:


When the test sample of hops loses 80% of it weight, I store them in ziplock bags, squeeze the air out then freeze. If I’m feeling less lazy, I’ll vacuum pack the hops in a food saver. When I am feeling conditionally lazy like with this batch, I’ll spend 5 hours brewing a batch of beer just to avoid the 20 seconds it takes to toss the hops into a freezer.

Note: this is just my casual process for harvesting poor quality first year hops. Usually hops are mostly green, but my centennial hops were overripe thus overdried on the vine while the cascade hops were underripe with the first frost bearing down that weekend. So I harvested and processed them together!