October will be arriving next week and summer is now
officially over.Out in the fields only
a few flowers of the aster family are still in bloom.The first frost is not far off and will kill
this last remaining pollen and nectar source.
I looked into several hives and nucs last weekend.The queens have severely cut back on raising
of brood although there were still small patches of capped brood, open brood,
and eggs.With the decline in both
nectar and pollen coming into the hive, northern queens will soon stop all
laying.Some queens of Italian stock may
continue laying throughout the winter, but a slower pace.
The stopping of brood rearing provides an ideal time to do a
last mite treatment for the year.By
late October all brood should have emerged; along with all varroa mites hidden in the capped cells.With
no mites hidden inside brood cells this provides the ideal time to apply an
oxalic vapor treatment to kill phoretic mites and leave the hive relatively
mite free throughout the winter.
The daily high temperatures and nighttime low temperatures
are also declining.These lower
temperatures will cool any feed being offered to the bees.The bees will not take in cold syrup and, as
a consequence, the hours per day when the feed is warm enough for the bees to eat is greatly
shortened.Hopefully you have already completed
any fall feeding you were planning.
Any weak hives should have been combined in September as
recommended by previous articles in this blog.
On the few warm days ahead the bees will be propolyzing the
cracks and minor holes in the hive.This
is done to prevent winter winds from gaining access to the hive.After October 1st do not split the
upper and lower brood chambers.This
will break the propolis seal between the boxes and the bees may not be able to
repair the damage.
For those beekeepers that approach beekeeping from a more
scientific basis it is a good idea to understand the strength of each
hive.Strong hives tend to survive
winter better.By raising the inner
cover for a few seconds you can visually determine the colony strength.Simply count the gaps between frames that are
filled with bees.Eight to ten frames
(8-10) with bees are considered strong hives.Less than five (5) frames are considered weak.Ideally, all of your hives will be
The next thing to consider is how you will limit moisture
build up in the hive during winter.Moisture is generated by the bees when they eat and metabolize their stored honey.You should be incorporating moisture control
methods now; not in the middle of winter.You can either let natural air movement vent any moisture from the hive
or you can incorporate some type of moisture trap into the top of the hive.Everyone knows that warm air rises.This air movement will take any moisture
from the hive if you provide an air escape hole high in the hive.Some beekeepers simply drill a one inch
diameter hole below the hand hold recess in the upper brood chamber. This hole is left open throughout the winter. It also provides a secondary exit if the lower entrance becomes blocked by snow. (This is the method the author uses with good
success.)Other beekeepers modify the
inner cover and add a ¼ inch deep by one inch wide notch in the edge of the
inner cover. The notch is positioned
down against the top of the upper brood chamber.(Inner covers with the notch already present
are available commercially.)Both
methods work.If you don’t want to put
holes in your equipment, then you need to add a moisture trap below the inner
cover.The moisture trap can be wood
chips or shredded paper suspended above a screen, or a commercially available
Here is an example of the moisture vent hole drilled below the hand hold cutout. It also acts as a winter emergency exit.
Here is a moisture vent cut into the inner cover. The vent is placed downwards against the top of the brood chamber. It also acts as an emergency exit if NOT covered by the outer cover rim.
The weather is still to warm to contemplate adding winter
wraps or providing winter feeding,.Winter wrapping is usually done in late October.The pros and cons of wrapping your hives will
be discussed in the next post and probably at the next club meeting.As will
the providing of emergency winter feed.
In several previous postings we talked about feeding the hive to get its weight up to a minimum necessary for winter survival. In the central Wisconsin area a minimum hive weight of 130 pounds is recommended. (This is for a standard 10 frame Langstroth hive. I assume the minimum weight for an 8 frame Langstroth hive would be the same.) This weight consists of the wooden ware, an upper brood chamber 90% full of honey and a lower brood chamber with a combination of bees, brood and honey. Further north in Wisconsin and in Minnesota beekeepers sometimes use 3 brood chambers or roughly 200 pounds to ensure winter survival.
For those beekeepers with a more scientific bent it is possible to make a simple and cheap hive weight measuring tool. Total investment is about $15 and a little of your time and labor.
First purchase a digital luggage scale. These are inexpensive; $9 to $15. The one shown here was $9. It will measure up to a maximum of 110 pounds (50 kg).
If you have a strong back and strong arms you can simply attach the scale via a canvas or nylon web strap beneath the landing platform on the hive. Then lift the scale until the front of the hive starts to lift. Based on a few mechanical calculations the scale should read a minimum of about 59 pounds. The rear of the hive is supporting the remainder of the 130 pounds.
By building a simple lever mechanism you can make the task much less stressful. I slightly modified a short length of 2X4 to hold the scale. Then using a gas can ( or box, etc.) as a pivot point I can easily raise the hive by lightly pressing on the end of the 2X4 while watching the digital readout. 59 pounds is still the minimum weight required.
2X4 modified to hold the scale.
Scale in place.
2X4, scale and nylon web strap which is looped around the landing board.
Gas can pivot. Nylon webbing looped around the end of the landing board. NOTE: I didn't have a hive in my garage so I just used a top feeder to demonstrate the idea.
After varroa and viruses, starvation is probably the next most common cause of winter hive losses. An ounce of prevention saves buying a new $120 package.
While out and about I have noticed that the goldenrod flowers have mostly turned brown. Other than a few asters there is very little natural forage left for the bees. A classic nectar dearth.
This morning I went out to my Long Langstroth top bar hive and removed 5 frames in order to make a few cut comb squares. I transported these frames in a nuc box back to my house in order to have a clean area for cutting out the squares and to get away from pesky bees looking for a free lunch. I think maybe 50 bees came home with me. After cutting the squares and removing any residual honey I returned the clean frames to the nuc box by my back door. Within 1/2 hour roughly 1000 bees were surrounding the nuc box and in a robbing frenzy. The closest hives are about 1/4 mile away!
Face of nuc box
This brings me to the point of this article. Its time to put in the entrance reducer if you have not already done so. Adjust the reducer so the 4 inch long opening is open. This will make it easier for the weaker hives to defend their winter food stores. Do not close the entrance down to the 1 inch opening yet. We may still have hot days and the hives need the larger entrance to get adequate ventilation.
The window for doing mite treatments is closing
rapidly.You may have missed it as far
as winter survival is concerned.However, treat anyways.If you
kill the mites in your infected hive you may prevent a varroa/virus bomb that
will affect both your neighbor’s hives and any feral colonies in your
Check the weight of your hives.The top brood chamber should weigh 80 to 90
pounds.Most of us do not have a scale
and must make the measurement by guess and by gosh.Another way is to inspect the frames in the
top brood box.At least eight should be
capped honey or a substitute.The two
center frames should be partially filled.After you lift a few brood chambers so provisioned you will then be able
to better gauge a fully provisioned hive. Be careful, don't hurt your back. Simply tipping a fully filled is another way to gauge its weight.
If feeding is required use 2/1 sugar syrup or high fructose
corn syrup.Feeding should be
accomplished as fast as possible.Provide large volumes (gallons) of syrup via top feeders.Don’t dribble it with quart entrance
feeders.The cooler weather also results in the bees
being active for shorter times each day.It takes time to move and dry the syrup to 82% sugar concentration.High fructose syrup does not need drying and
can be directly stored.The bees will
also NOT eat cold syrup.The syrup in
entrance feeders cools much more rapidly than internal top feeders.Try to finish your feeding in September.
Please note that the bees see feeding as a nectar flow.Their natural response is to start raising
brood.This will permit the varroa to
also raise more young.Feeding is a
double edged sword, so make sure to re-treat for mites after feeding.Several oxalic acid vapor treatments in late
October will kill off the emerging phoretic mites.The goal is to have your hives as mite free
as possible going into winter.
While on a walk yesterday I saw the honey bees heavily
working goldenrod.I can’t remember when
I last saw this occurring. In addition,
there were the usual bumble bees, yellow jackets, wasps and even medium size
red ants.The honey bees were working
the freshly opened bright yellow flowers only.They were not loading up their pollen baskets, so I am assuming they
have found nectar on the goldenrod this year.Maybe it’s the influence of our recent heavy rains.
This year I treated my honey producing hives with formic
acid in late July.I have left the honey
supers in place and will hopefully be catching a little goldenrod nectar flow to
increase my honey harvest.When performing my mite treatments, I also
made a rough count on the numbers of supers of honey. When the majority of the goldenrod flowers
begin turning brown it will be time to harvest my honey crop and I will be able
to roughly measure the increase in honey from the goldenrod. .
Some packages this year did not build up enough to produce
surplus honey.In late August I started
feeding these hives 2/1 sugar syrup to ensure they have sufficient stores for
winter.This will continue until I see a slow down in
their uptake of the syrup.
This weekend I also combined two weak hives in the hope of getting one winter survivor instead of none.
This blog had previously provided a link to the efforts of a
Hudson, Wisconsin beekeeper that last winter overwintered about 60 double deep five
frame nucs and had 80% survival.He had
no need to purchase packages in the spring.This summer I have set up 12 double deep five frame nucs and will try to emulate his success.In the past week these nucs were moved to
their intended winter locations (a sunny south facing sheltered area) and are being fed 2/1 sugar syrup to ensure they
will be at full strength going in winter.They will be also getting oxalic vapor treatments in September and
October to minimize their mite load.In
late October they will be wrapped in 1 ½ inch foam insulation for better heat
retention.Also, as shown in the
picture the nucs are gathered into batches of four (4) to allow for a potential sharing of any heat the clusters produce.