Here is what I do. I feel that dabbling with bees for more 5 years in no way makes me an expert. Also remember that my methods are influenced by my local conditions, equipment limitations and choice of mite control. Using these methods I luckily got greater than 80% survival last winter. I hope some of that good survival was due to my methods and not just the warmer than usual winter. These techniques may help you in your apiary.
August is the time for a lot of beekeeping activity in my apiary. Since early July I usually do not need to add any additional honey supers because nectar availability has fallen off. This year, despite all the rain, has been no different.
Beginning the first week of August I start feeding this year’s startup hives with 2 to 1 sugar syrup to ensure these new hives have sufficient food stores for winter. These startup hives have usually not completed filling the two brood chambers with honey and would likely not survive their first winter without this aid. I continue feeding these hives until I see they have filled out the outer honey frames. I then stop feeding so that they won’t fill the brood nest area. For new beekeepers, either cane sugar or GMO beet sugar is considered OK for feeding. Note: I reserve this supplemental feeding for hives started in late May or June that I started with a new queen and a few frames of bees. Hives started with a package of bees in April or early May usually do not need this supplemental feeding.
I plan to remove my honey supers beginning about August 15th. I remove the supers at this time for two reasons. One, the honey flow in my area is basically complete by this time. If any honey is being brought in it is usually immediately consumed. If by chance the bees are getting a little surplus I would like them to store it in the upper brood nest area. Two, it’s time to treat for varroa mites. I use formic acid vapor (MAQS) which must be applied between the two brood chamber boxes. Installing and removing the MAQS pads is much easier to accomplish if the honey supers are not present.
Watching the weather forecast I schedule the MAQS application during a week where the temperature won’t exceed 85F. You have to be flexible to not apply the treatment when it is too hot; ie above 85F. Above 85F the formic acid vaporizes too quickly and could actually harm the bees in addition to the mites. At the end of the one week period I remove the spent MAQS pads, because you don’t want there to any obstruction to movement of the bees or to cause the cluster to get separated during the winter.
Those of you that use other mite control products should follow the application instructions closely.
Why am I treating in late August? I want a big mite knockdown now so that the “winter” bees, which are being raised a month from now, won’t be exposed to varroa mites and associated viruses in the brood stage. The winter bees must be in tip-top health in order to survive the 6 months to spring.
In late August or early September I then move the feeders from the startup hives to other hives that seem light. Its best to feed when the weather is warm. As cooler fall temperatures arrive the bees may not feed on cold syrup or break cluster to go to the feeder. I also do a last inspection to verify all hives are queenright. This is also a good time to replace any old queens, to replace queens in hives that have performed poorly or to incorporate improved genetics. Young queens tend to overwinter better.
Once the honey supers are removed you must also plan on extracting. Have you lined up an extractor? Do you have sufficient bottles? This time of year the bee equipment suppliers frequently run short of bottles. Don’t get caught short.