Its now early October and we have seen nighttime temperatures down into the 30’s. Only a few asters remain blooming.
For once I followed my own advice and on October 2nd went out and graded the hive strength of my hives. A week prior I had been removing the feeders from my hives and felt that most hives would be strong. I started the grading at about 11AM. The air temperature had increased to a cool 48 degrees F. The first hive I looked at only had 5 frames of bees when I raised the inner cover. The bees were not roaming about under the inner cover. This shocked me a little since this hive had produced 3 supers of honey and had had a strong population throughout the summer. Then it dawned on me that the bees had drawn up into a cluster to maintain warmth around the brood nest area.
On my first go through of the hives there were roughly 29 strong, 6 medium and one weak hive. All hives I had graded as medium were in cluster.
About 1 1/2 hours later, I returned to one of the medium hives because I had noted too many uncapped honey cells in the upper brood box. The temperature had increased above 50 degrees. When I lifted the inner cover to install the feeder the bees had broken cluster and now filled the entire hive. I rechecked the medium hives and they had all broken cluster and were occupying the entire hive.
Based on these secondary findings 35 hives were graded as strong with addition of one weak hive. This is the best conditions my hives have been prior to winter. I attribute this to the feeding I did after removing the honey supers and feeding of all start-up hives.
Now to the weak hive. This hive had been troublesome ALL spring and summer. It had barely survived the previous winter. I should have taken two actions then and there: 1) I should have replaced the queen. 2) I should have added brood from other hives several times. Being a softy, I wanted to give the queen that had overwintered the benefit of doubt and give her a chance to rebuild the hive. It wasn’t until mid-August that I finally replaced her. However, I still didn’t add any brood. By August and September, I was worried about weakening strong hives by robbing brood to aid this weak hive. In hindsight I should have known a strong hive could spare a frame of brood without a problem. The hive even told me it was in trouble when it did not quickly consume sugar syrup I offered in late August.
What are the lessons learned from this fiasco? First, I should have replaced the queen in all hives not showing a continuous population buildup through May and June. Two, just like helping weak hives with brood transfers in the spring, weak fall hives can also be helped by adding brood from strong hives. I had hesitated doing this because I did not want to weaken any of the strong hives.
There are 4 remaining tasks yet to do in my apiary during late October.
1) Reposition the entrance reducers so the smallest (1 inch) opening is controlling bee movement.
2) I will be adding mouse guards to a few hives this year.
3) On a warm day I will be giving each hive a oxalic acid vapor treatment to knock down the varroa mite population one last time. A warm day is preferred in hopes that the bees won’t be in a tight cluster. This allows the oxalic acid vapors to coat every bee and any attached varroa mites.
4) I will continue feeding the 12 winter nucs until they no longer take the sugar syrup. The cooler days have already slowed the consumption of sugar syrup by 75%.