October 24, 2015

Getting Ready for Winter

In some ways, it's hard to believe that October is almost over. Where does the time go? Earlier this week we were under a frost advisory for several days. No frost and I hope we'll have a late first frost - like in November. There's still so much to do! Here's the list autumn chores we've been busy with.
  • hay supply
  • plenty of straw for bedding
  • wood supply
  • clean wood stoves
  • clean out stovepipes
  • clean out gutters
  • storm windows or heavier curtains
  • dig out the sweaters, jackets, and longjohns
  • finish the harvest: cowpeas, corn, amaranth, winter squash, sweet potatoes, etc.

We always clean out the stoves and stove pipes, but this year we also replaced the catalytic combustor in our wood heat stove. When the interior of the stove gets to about 500° F (260° C), the combustor is engaged and begins to burn the gases released in the burning of the wood. The result is cleaner, pollutant-free white smoke, and more heat!

Our old ceramic combustor was damaged

A combustor needs to be cleaned regularly for top efficiency, but also it has a lifespan and must eventually be replaced. Ours is about six years old and the ceramic has become chipped. We decided to with a steel one, because steel will be sturdier and last longer than ceramic.

New steel catalytic combustor installed

Since this is our first year with honeybees, I had one new autumn chore: add a mouse guard to the entrance of the hive. In winter a beehive offers mice warmth and food. The bees are much less active in cold temperatures, so mice will dare to enter. During warmer weather, the bees will defend against their entrance and sting them to death.

The bees have taken this new obstacle in stride.

I used two pieces of half-inch hardware cloth. I doubled it in a slightly offset fashion because I wasn't sure if a mouse could squeeze through a half inch opening. Some say they can't, some say the can.

I've been keeping an eye on the bottom hive box,


but so far no comb is being built even though the bees are still very busy. I thought that if they filled the bottom of the four hive boxes, I might be able to harvest the top and leave them two honey boxes for the winter plus a nest box. I got a late start with this hive, so I'd rather they have good winter stores than an early honey harvest. There's always next year for that.

And here's something that's useful for winterizing - a door draft stopper.


I need one for each of our exterior doors.

Our temperatures have turned mild again and the leaves on the trees are changing. I'm glad to have most of those seasonal chores behind us. What about you? Are you preparing for the change of seasons?

41 comments:

Judy said...

Grin - yes, but not what you would expect. I have turned off the A/C, opening up the windows to enjoying the weather. Next project is to get out the metal lawn chairs that sat on my parent's porch and put them back together so I can set in the sun and knit. Hibernation in the Valley of the Sun is over! Yeah!

Vintage Maison said...

Yes, we do all the wood/chimney/stove things, like you. Our winter prep starts with the arrival of the chimney sweeps: we call them Little and Large. Little does all the work, Large stands by and instructs him! But, they give us a precious certificate so that if the house burns down, we can show the certificate to prove we had had the chimneys swept. Of course, the certificate would also be burnt, but the secret weapon against the insurance companies is that Little and Large keep a copy! The final prep is to put the barbeque away - that's when I know that winter has arrived.

jewlz said...

Firstly, let me say I saw what you did there; the new pic is lovely. As far as readying ourselves for the seasonal shift- I'd be embarrassed to put in writing how much has gone undone this year. But, we've got hay, straw, and wood put up, and soon will gather the leaves and clean the gutters, then move into maintnance mode till spring, I guess.

jewlz said...

I forgot to compliment you on your draft dodger- handsome!

PioneerPreppy said...

I used to put mouse guards on but then stopped a couple years ago and haven't ever seen a mouse inside the hives. I usually close the bottom entrances up to just a small hole and don't think the mice can get into them anyway. I kinda think the mouse thing is really only an issue way North because around here we get enough 60 degree plus days even in January that a mouse would be in trouble before Winter was over.

Robin Follette said...

Oh I so want bees. We have a lot of black bears so I've been hesitant but I think I'm going to give it a try. Seeing your hive and bees and hearing about winterizing makes me want them more.

Our first frosts were late this year, late September. We've had flurries last weekend. The to do list is getting shorter but it still seems long.

Leigh said...

Sounds good to me! :)

Leigh said...

That's really nice about the certificate for the insurance companies, although it would exclude us do-it-yourselfers. Keeps work for the chimney sweeps!

Leigh said...

I'm I'm hoping you're referring to my new profile pic. :) We did a photo shoot for my upcoming book because I wanted some updated pictures.

I know what you mean about that to-do list versus reality, *grin*. Sounds like you've got the important things done. The rest always has to wait. :)

Leigh said...

You know, I probably wouldn't have given the mouse guard thingy a thought except that every autumn we have mice moving into our attic. We're always alerted to their presence because every autumn the cats start staring at a certain corner of the living room ceiling! Every year Dan puts mouse traps in the and catches 4 or 6, and every year he plugs up more holes. After that we're mouse-free until the following fall. Anyway, because of that I worried about my beehive!

Leigh said...

Robin, I could see how bears would be a serious deterrent! I'm not sure what the answer to that is. Maybe one of those chain link dog cages with roof. ???

Ed said...

I've seen a mouse squeeze under a half inch opening first hand. It is amazing to see. However, that opening was also a lot wider than a half inch. With a half by half inch square, I would say there is no way a mouse can squeeze into that.

We always reduced our hive openings down to just a tiny hole that I don't think a mouse could squeeze in during the winters. I'm guessing since you are a lot further south, reduced holes aren't a necessity to overwinter. Something I wouldn't have thought about until reading this.

One question. I am unfamiliar with catalytic combusters on stoves and have never seen one with. Are they simply somewhere on top of the burn box? I am wondering how a ceramic one gets chipped and damaged unless it is actually inside the burn box somehow and gets hit with logs while stoking the thing. I would have thought a ceramic one to have much longer life than steel just because it would hold up better in high heat situations... unless of course it is somewhere that can be beat up by the wood.

Lady Locust said...

Love that draft stopper:)

Renee Nefe said...

we need to blow out and shut down our sprinklers. I need to say good bye to my garden and put the planting containers into the garage and make room for the grill and patio chairs. rake the leaves and put them on the garden to compost. finished daughter's halloween costume. and then start making stock from the freezer stash to can and make room in the freezer for winter foods.
but before any of that can happen daughter has an audition for a show this afternoon and then another show that she'll perform in this evening along with striking the stage afterward (that's taking it all apart!) and I am supposed to have a quick sewing job of making a toothfairy pillow...unless the advertiser was just looking for a materials list.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

You have quite a list to accomplish. Love the cat door draft stopper! Probably when it is cold they like to lay by the stove! We are making lumpy applesauce today to go in the freezer. We usually can it but not this year. Good luck getting your list done before the cold weather sets in! Nancy

1st Man said...

That "draft stopper" is ten kinds of awesome (and cute!). Not sure if you saw our post a few weeks back, we lost one hive, the weird just "disappearing" with a few dead ones in the bottom. The other hive though is doing great. Because we too got a late start and then they got a late pollen season because of our rains, we're letting them keep all the honey they made over the winter. I still need to crawl under the house and make sure pipes are covered, and then check the portable heaters and that's about it for this Winter. Fingers crossed.

The last thing I need to do is put the raised beds up for Winter, cover them, mulch, compost, etc.

Stay warm!!!

Chris said...

Meow-vallous door stopper. ;)

deborah harvey said...

exterminator said mice can enter through a hole the size of a dime.

Leigh said...

I had to ask Dan for an answer to your catalytic combustor. The cells are very thin-walled, more like wafer. He said it was damaged when we got it, but we used it anyway, although it has disintegrated somewhat over the past few years. It's service life is about five years, which is when we replaced it. The new one is actually stainless steel, which should have a longer service life. I realized I didn't mention that it was stainless and will have to add that. Good question.

Leigh said...

Too bad this style has a mind of it's own. :)

Leigh said...

Renee, you are always so busy! What are you gonna do when she goes to college???

Leigh said...

Thanks Nancy. We've been chugging away at it for awhile. Between that, the last of the harvest, and working on the fall garden, there isn't much time for anything else!

Leigh said...

Oh no! I didn't know about your bees! I have done very little blog visiting these days. That's very sad news and it makes me glad you got two to start. I'll drop by sometime today to catch up.

Leigh said...

LOL. If only she were on duty every time I needed her. :)

Leigh said...

Well, that's the thing. In my research it was always the exterminators who said that. I once confronted an exterminator who was trying to sell my in-laws a $500 a month service. They had an old goat barn turned storage shed and he told them rats eat manure. Having lived with goats and varmints, I thought he was full of manure. When I cornered him, he admitted that rats might eat manure if they were starving to death, but he couldn't back that up. He wouldn't fess up to my in-laws and they believed him rather than me.

One of the things I walked away with is that someone selling something is often willing to say whatever it takes to get the sale. Unfortunately a lot of the information on the internet comes from business sites, and 9 times out of 10 it supports whatever they're trying to sell. I always take that information with a huge grain of salt.

Needless to say, I used two pieces of half-inch hardware cloth and offset them to make the openings smaller.

Renee Nefe said...

the plan is to still continue making costumes for local theater groups.

3 Roosters and a Chick said...

I had a mouse nest under my bottom screen just last week, found it when I was putting my mouse guards on. But like PP said, I'm north.

3 Roosters and a Chick said...

Electric netting fence all the way around the hive is what folks up here use.

Sandy said...

Leigh,

Great idea with placing a mouse guard on your hive. Are you considering how to protect your hive for winter?
Great draft stopper, too bad your cat won't stay in one place throughout winter, lol....

Ngo Family Farm said...

Oh your door draft stopper is the best!! Too funny :D I'm busy here with much the same winter prep and am drying off the last dairy goat this week. A little sad about it, as I've always milked one goat through winter. But with three little ones in tow this year, dragging them through the cold and snow every morning is too much for them (and for me too, I suppose!)
-Jaime

Quinn said...

The most beautiful draft stopper I've ever seen! But I'm guessing that when the really cold draft begins, that furry tummy will be farther from the door and closer to the woodstove ;)

Leigh said...

That's a good project to be involved with.

Leigh said...

Sandy, I've seen where folks buy sheets of foam board and cut them to fit the sides of the hive. I think I'll do that if it gets really cold. Some sources say cold winter, some say warm winter. We'll just have to wait and see.

Leigh said...

Jaime, sometimes the right decision is the one we want, but it's the best! I think you chose wisely. I'll be making some adjustments in our winter milk supply too, because I decided to sell one of my milk does. I can't justify the cost of feed versus the amount of milk we'd get, especially since I don't plan to breed her.

Leigh said...

They never do what you want them to, do they. :)

Mark said...

Hi Leigh. I've got most of my winterizing chores still ahead of me, but I'm off from the day job for a week and hope to get a bunch of them done before the weather here in NE Indiana gets nasty.

Vickie @ makingoursustainablelife.com said...

I have heard of mouse guards! I need one, I suppose, because we have lots of deer mice up here. I also love your draft stopper. I'll take three! :) Of course, If I had one, perhaps I wouldn't need a mouse guard.

Leigh said...

Yikes! I understand mice can devastate a beehive. Sounds like you were timely in your autumn chores.

Leigh said...

Excellent idea! Cheaper and easier than chain link.

Leigh said...

Ah yes, isn't it annoying when the job gets in the way of real living. :) Here's hoping your winter isn't too nasty!

Leigh said...

Ha! We have four potential draft stoppers, and they do get a lot of mice, but we still seem to end up with them in the attic about this time of year. I was determined they weren't going to get into the beehive!