As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of July:
July tends to be very hot, often dry, and represents a huge challenge for both the beekeeper and the bees. Stressors for the bees are the recent harvest, nectar dearth, heat, and pests. Robbing becomes a concern as nectar becomes scarce. You will notice the bees bearding on the front of the hive in an effort to reduce the heat inside the hive. Populations typically remain large and they can consume a great deal of food. You may see a reduction in brood rearing due to the reduction in forage and increase in stressors.
The main stressors for the beekeeper are heat and finding time and enthusiasm to manage their hives during suitable temperatures and busy summer schedules. The exciting colony growth period of spring gives way to a less appealing time of feeding, dearth, and pest management. Moving beekeeping chores to early morning hours helps with temperatures. And never forget to hydrate before, during, and after working your bees.
This month the bees’ interest in syrup is impressive. Many hives will consume a quart or more a day if provided. Be careful with sugar syrup during inspections as spills and unattended frames with honey can incite a robbing frenzy in the bee yard. Hive inspections should be brief and frames should not be scattered around which may provoke robbing. Established hives left with plenty of stored honey may not need feeding although feeding of a thin syrup will increase needed water in the hive and promote a continuation of brood rearing. New beekeepers, with newly established hives, are typically advised to continue to feed to promote comb building and to provide the colony with food and hydration to maintain brood rearing to keep a balance of all ages in the colony population. Use a feeding delivery method which does not provoke robbers.
This month honey bee pest management becomes a beekeeping chore not to be ignored. Your colonies will need your assistance with Small Hive Beetle (SHB), and Varroa mite control. Plan on brief checks twice this month but do not work unless necessary to prevent the triggering of robbing.
If used, remove any Varroa treatment products at the end of their treatment period. If not treated for Varroa in June then assess Varroa levels and treat this month as needed. Time to keep a close eye on Varroa levels before they become too high for treatment to be effective. Remember the mite is simply the vector for the true villains – viri.
Dearth in earnest this month. Even if you left the bees plenty of honey consider feeding a minimum amount of syrup to provide hydration. Syrup is quick and ready for the bees to utilize as needed, helping them keep the brood fed, cool the hive, and keeping the hive at 50% – 60% humidity.
Above: What summer beekeeping management looks like: feeding, managing and treating for mites, providing water, and proper space management.
July lst – July 30th
1) Remove dry supers for storage if left on hives or returned to hives for cleanup. To protect drawn comb, supers should be stacked tightly with paradichlorobenzene crystals on a paper plate or piece of newspaper between each 5 supers. (Remember fumes from the moth crystals move down as they evaporate.) DO NOT USE COMMERCIAL MOTH BALLS! They are a different formula and not approved for use on beekeeping equipment! Other methods of protecting drawn comb from wax moths include storing in freezer, and leaving drawn comb open to air and light while protected from rain.
2) Treat for Varroa mites if treatment indicated by mite count assessment. Write down dates if using strips that will need removing later. Southeastern U.S. Varroa mite Treatment Decisions
3) Inspect colonies for queen status and order queens for August replacement, if necessary. August is usually the last month local Midlands queens are available. If needed you should make contact with your local queen supplier now to ensure receiving queens.
4) Assessing bee population, remove any supers not needed and store. Maintaining a strong hive means adjusting the internal volume to match the colony population. A strong colony will handle many pests themselves.
5) Consider feeding established colonies with a plan to maintenance feed until August then start stimulation. With full on dearth now present, all feeding should be done cautiously to prevent robbing. Internal feeders are preferred. Boardman feeders are discouraged. Open feeding should be done at a distance greater than 50 – 75 yards from your hives if possible. Feed additives with essential oils are discouraged for two reasons: 1) the bees don’t need encouragement to feed as they are already hungry 2) syrup laced with the scent of oils will mark their hives as targets for other hungry colonies and pests. Also, do not let syrup ferment which will attract SHB. Anytime your bees stop taking syrup then investigate the reason with an inspection. Should you decide to go full tilt with feeding be mindful of the potential of stimulating late season swarms – monitor for signs of becoming honey-bound.
6) Monitor pollen stores in the hive. Some locations may produce adequate pollen while other locations will not. In some Midlands areas a pollen dearth often occurs during late summer. Bees must have pollen just as they must have nectar or syrup in order to create brood food and to maintain a healthy immune system. Monitor pollen stores by observing the presence of pollen on brood frames and the frames on the edges of the brood nest. If your colony needs supplemental pollen consider feeding dry pollen or substitute in open pollen feeders. Do not use pollen patties as they create SHB problems here in the Midlands. More here: Pros and Cons of Feeding Dry Pollen Substitute
7) Monitor entrances and use entrance reducers to discourage robbing. Remove multiple entrances such as Imirie shims if used. Keep a balance of internal hive space and bee population such that entrances have guard bees.
8) Strong hives handle wax moths, beetles, and robbing pressure better. Keep hives strong by equalizing space with population.
9) Consider combining hives that are failing, are losing population too fast, have poor queens, or are otherwise not performing up to expectations. Combine with a strong hive, swarm, or late flow split that is progressing nicely. Do not combine two weak colonies. Never combine a sick, diseased, or colony collapsing from Varroa hive with a healthy colony.
10) Keep multiple water sources for bees filled. This month you will start to see them gathering water in earnest. Use a Boardman feeder to place water on the hive.
11) There may still time to consider moving to late summer bloom like cotton, sourwood, or soybeans.
12) Begin measures to control Small Hive Beetles as they will begin ramping up their populations now. Do not feed pollen patties.
13) A small upper entrance may be beneficial with venting excess heat – depending on your colony strength staple a screen to prevent unwanted visitors yet allow ventilation. Or use popsicle sticks between the inner and telescoping covers to allow heat to escape.
14) For safety, work bees earlier in the day before it gets hot. Hydrate before, during, and after. Quit early, before you are tired. Take frequent breaks if needed. Bees can be testy during dearth – wear your veil even for minor tasks. Carry your cell phone. Work outyards with a buddy. Heat Safety
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.