What Do Beekeepers Do: September
September is late summer around my parts, the weather is generally transitioning to colder nights and warm days. There can still be honey to be collected, but this is the time of year that I start putting my focus onto building for winter. There are some exceptions such as an Indian Summer with a late honey run. But overall, things are winding down for the season. This is the most important time of year for keeping honey bees. This is when it's time to do what a beekeeper does, take care of the bees.
The Most Important Time
This is the most important time of year because the simple issue that if there is an error in preparing for winter, you will probably lose your honey bees. In the spring, if there is a mistake it might cost you in honey and then you have your second harvest. But winter mistakes cost you colonies. Late summer is time to prepare for hive overwintering by:
Checking Honey and Pollen Storage
The bees will need to be building their overwinter honey supply up. This is the honey they will be eating over the winter to keep them alive. In my area, we recommend at least fifteen frames of honey for the bees. The last five are generally a mixture of honey and pollen.
As the summer ends and fall is rounding the corner, the bees will quit producing brood. This is the time to keep an eye on the honey levels, but make note of how much pollen is in the hive as well. The bees use pollen for the young bees and in the winter there are no young bees. This is a time that frames full of pollen can be kept track of to be pulled and replaced with honey frames and changed in the spring to help with the surge in brood.
Pollen will be plentiful throughout the fall and may become an issue. Honey is a little more scarce at times and this may be the time to add sugar water to the hives. This is all dependent on the weather and if there is a nectar run or not. Keep your eyes peeled and knowing your area is important. It is easier to take some honey away now if you are unsure. But do not make the hive honey bound, you still want brood.
The honey bee does not generate its own body heat. To create heat, the honey bee will uncouple their wings from the flight muscles and flex and relax these muscles to create heat. Continually burning calories and a reason that honey is needed all winter long for the honey bee.
The colony of bees will create a ball with their queen in the middle and rotate positions to keep as many alive as possible throughout the long winter.
Honey bees seem to instinctively move up within the hive. So as the summer has progressed the queen lays her eggs in the upper level. When honey is running and you put on another level, the level of honey usually does stop her from laying brood with the honey. Some people do have an issue with this, but for some reason I never have had this issue.
The same thing will happen during the winter as the bees eat they will continue to move up the hive. This is a good time of the season to carefully put some open frames in the middle lower box and encourage the queen to go to the bottom level. Brood is still being laid and you may need to rotate boxes. I try not to do this because the queen could be killed during a move and this is the time of year that it is not easy to replace her unless you can buy a mated queen.
The queen does need some space to keep laying eggs and develop the last of the season brood. So keep the middle open and the queen laying to develop the bees needed to keep the hive warm for the winter. Honey bees will still be using honey and pollen to raise the young but patterns should be or will be declining this time of year.
Weak Hives Getting Robbed
A strong hive will rob the weaker hives of their honey to build a surplus. Be aware of what is happening with your hives. This is the time of year that you are at the end of the line with building a hive up.
If you want to try a last ditch effort, push as much pollen and sugar water at a weak hive as you can. Reduce the entrance to prevent as much robbing and easier to guard. All sugar water and pollen patties should be housed inside the hive. I add an extra box and put the sugar water inside to help prevent robbing.
Another option would be to add brood frames from a strong hive to increase the population of this have as much as possible. Make sure to remove all adult bees from the frame before placing into the new hive.
Keep an eye on all the weak hives, soon would be you last chance to merge two hives together to make a strong hive. Keep in mind that you merge a weak hive with a strong hive, killing the queen from the weaker hive. Never merge two weak hives, this gives you a big weak hive that possibly has a bad queen in charge.
Merging two hives together can be a good thing. You may lose a hive for awhile, but by bolstering the population of another hive you are helping your apiary to be stronger. When merging hives together, you always want to merge a weak hive into a strong hive and kill the weak hive's queen.
This keeps the hives from fighting and killing honey bees unnecessarily. You must also slowly introduce the hives to prevent fighting as much as possible. To do this put a piece of newspaper between the hives when you put them together. The bees will take time to eat through the newspaper.
By the time they are through, the weak hive will be looking for a queen and the stronger hive will have accepted the weaker hive. Creating a single super hive if all goes well.
Winter Hive Accessories
The time has come to check your winter gear for the hives. Some people have their hives in small shelters and can put up wood, plastic, or another protective layer. Some beekeepers put straw and canvas around their beehives, while other beekeepers have an insulated wrap that goes around the beehive. I have seen a shallow box cover that people put straw or other insulation in as well.
I will be honest, I don't do any of these things. I have lost hives, fewer than most beekeepers in this area. But I try to make sure that my hives are strong and do little to no parasite treatment on my hives. I try to make sure that they beehives are in good condition going into winter and the colony has the supplies it will need throughout the winter.
An extremely well written book on managing hives and the seasonality and forethought in good management. I would recommend this book to anyone who is serious about becoming a beekeeper.
© 2018 Chris Andrews