It’s that time of the year again when we get lots of calls to remove flying insects that are actually yellowjackets or wasps, and not honeybees.
Our local club President, Danny Cannon, delivered one of the best lectures I’ve ever sat through at a MSBA meeting a few years ago. It was titled Flexibility in Beekeeping, Being Flexible in Beekeeping, or some such similar title.
That lecture keeps ringing through my brain lately and for good reason. One of the components of the lecture was moving backwards as easily as we move forwards in our management. For instance, recently I’ve been playing musical chairs with supers, frames, and bees. Let me explain.
In the Spring it’s all about adding, expanding, and growth around here. Things seem to get bigger. A lot of addition taking place – boxes, hive stands, and new hives. The thinking is, If I can stay ahead of them with “more” they won’t swarm. Add, add, add. Grow, grow, grow. Feed, feed, feed. Pollen, pollen, pollen. Gotta add more boxes! Look and act – usually with more, more, more. Find a swarm and be flexible enough to have an extra stand, bottom board, and box – capture, and add to the apiary. And that’s how most of the management goes in the Spring.
And then comes the post flow Summer, Fall, and Winter management. But can I break that addiction to adding? Can I be flexible enough to read the bees and the situation? The queen will slow her production down as nectar wanes and more so when the days start getting shorter. Can I tap the brakes, slow down, make changes? I’m just too reluctant to pull that super off that I worked so hard to build them up to needing. Or maybe they’ve swarmed and the hive is half empty now, yet I want to leave those boxes on in hopes they will build back up – and they very well might if I’m flexible in my management!
Maybe a queen fails and it becomes noticeable at the hive entrance that activity has slowed. But it’s hot and I’d rather not look inside; say it isn’t so because I’d really rather not track down a new queen. Or I have two hives that are in steep decline, should I combine them with stronger hives? After all, I have a vision of how many hives I need to complete the mental picture I have of my hives sitting on their designated hive stands in my well designed apiary. I want X number of hives not X – 1 hives.
And so, I return to the topic of flexibility. Can I be flexible enough to respond appropriately during these months post nectar flow? Oh, it’s difficult. But if I don’t employ the same discipline of flexibility in removing unpopulated boxes, combining weak hives, or replacing a failing queen what penalty is paid? Unlike the threat of swarms in the spring, the lack of flexibility now is paid for with increased pests, hive failures, and loss of valued comb. Hives no longer able to cover comb with bees allow Small Hive Beetles to go unchecked and run amuck in nectar. Worse still is the bane of Wax Moths that move in on weakened hives and steal your most precious resource – your hard earned comb. Weak and declining hives need to be combined with strong hives and I must look at that empty spot on the hive stand and tell myself that maybe a split may be possible later in the year or at least next Spring.
It’s all flexibility. I’ll read the bees as best I can, make adjustments, go with the flow every time I visit the apiary or open a hive. It’s a roller coaster with ups and downs, round and rounds, bright lights and dark tunnels. When I get off the ride I don’t say I enjoyed the ups but not the downs or the round and rounds. No, really I enjoyed the ride itself. Be flexible.
I used to buy bees, lots and lots of bees; singles from South Carolina, nuclei from Florida and frames of brood from New York. I used to buy queens, lots and lots of queens; queens from Georgia, queens from Texas and queens from California. Every year it was the same. Pick up the pieces of my apiary in the Spring, send a big check to southern queen breeders, split up my best colonies, and hope I made enough of a honey crop to pay the bills. Some years I did, some years I did not.
Read full article here: Over Wintering Nucs- A Better Way — BEEKeeping: Your First Three Years
Most beekeepers have come to realize that due to lack of natural forage in our urban and agricultural landscapes, feeding pollen substitute has become necessary to keep bees healthy in most parts of the country. Last summer was an especially challenging season in the West due to extremely hot and dry conditions. Despite a wet spring in California and Oregon last year, the spigot was shut off abruptly early in the summer and what little forage was available quickly shriveled. Beekeepers who had not been providing supplemental feed saw their colonies dwindle as the summer went on. Although it’s still early, this year is looking like it could be similar.
Read the entire article here: Pros and Cons of Feeding Dry Pollen Sub — Bee Informed Partnership
Based on my own experience, and in talking with others, honey removal places an additional stress on the colonies. And, if you think about it, it does so in several ways. Of course we just took away much of their stores. Often we have taken apart their entire structure and rearranged the order they had created. The scent of torn honey combs may have caused some robbers to investigate which necessitated defense of the colony. Simple removal of a hive body changes the thermodynamics and ventilation characteristics. And on top of it all we have done all this at the beginning of one of the most stressful times of the year – dearth and pest season.
I’ve lost colonies within a month of harvesting in prior years. It may have been because of mites or robbing and simply coincided with harvest but regardless, the stress of harvesting played into their inability to maintain the healthy state they were in prior to my disruption.
So, back to my original question, What have you done for me lately? Or more appropriately, What have you done for your bees lately?
Are you providing ventilation to allow them to cool the hive? Screen bottom boards? Small upper entrances to allow air flow? Popsicle sticks under the outer cover? We know they are working hard to cool the hive as evidenced by water gathering. Are you making it easy for them to gather water?
Are you giving them some syrup to replace some of the stores you took? You might say that you left adequate stores on the hive but would access to a little feeding of light syrup not be welcomed rather than having them gather water and reconstitute honey left on the hive? Remember honey harvest occurs at a peek in colony population and brood rearing and they are consuming lots of carbohydrate while unfortunately nectar flow has just dropped off so they must now take on the additional job of diluting honey and using it to feed the larvae along with all the other tasks.
Are you monitoring for hive beetles? I’ve already found a few in smaller nucs. Stronger hives seem to still have them well managed in my apiary. Soon it will be yet another job for them to guard and corral the SHBs.
Have you made adjustments in the size of your hive? You may need to add a hive body or remove one depending on the colony population.
Assess for mites. I checked my mites in early June to be ready for action after harvest. I’ve already completed my second OAV treatment and can see an increase in the enthusiasm of the bees already as the mite load begins to drop. This management of the mites means the bees can do more for themselves by lowering their stress levels so that they can perform the many other jobs they have to do.
It’s hot outside and it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out and work your bees like you did in the spring. Regardless, your bees need you more than ever right now. Hopefully they are strong and will be able to handle the many challenges awaiting them through dearth, pest season, and ultimately winter. As beekeepers we know that last minute preparations rarely yield the results we want, so we must find a way to work with them now rather than later. Try getting out early in the morning while it’s still cool. I recommend you do as the bees do this time of year – get out and get your work done early and stay home and dance after it gets hot. I’ve found the bees gentle in the early hours recently. Most foragers are out early to gather the nectar produced overnight and many of the house bees are cordial enough. Limit your inspections to ensuring they have what they need and are well. Lower their stress levels with some feed, water, and mite control, and they will do much of the rest.
Pictures above show thin syrup on top (protected) and water in Boardman feeders.
To feed or not to feed…
If they have enough honey you don’t have to feed. We tell new beekeepers to feed because they need to build comb and often their colonies have not stored enough to weather the dearth period, and ultimately the coming winter. Remember, your bees may eat up a lot of what they have stored during our long Midlands dearth period. Fall nectar flow is often minimal in the Midlands and not to be relied on. If your hive has already built out enough comb and filled it with stores then the decision is yours.
As with most things in beekeeping, try to look forward at least a couple months. If your bees have plenty right now then they won’t starve over dearth but keep a close eye on their stores as dearth progresses. You may find they have eaten up much of what they have stored by late summer. That’s fine and you’ll still have time to feed if necessary before cold weather. However, ignoring them and waiting until the winter is imminent will not give them time to ripen (reduce moisture) syrup given too late in the season so plan accordingly and always look forward a couple months.
Other factors: If you have a weak hive sitting in close proximity to strong hives they may be robbed by the stronger hives. The past few years I have used open feeding at a distance from the hives to give the bees something to gather. The stronger hives seem to dominate the open feeders and I get the impression I’m paying off the stronger hives to prevent them from robbing the weaker. Oh, well.
We had a commercial beekeeper speak at a meeting a few years ago that said he open feeds with buckets but severely limits the amount of feed available by limiting the number of holes on the bottom of the feeder to just a few. The bees know feed is there and work the feeder but it takes a while to drain the feeder. I’ve tried doing this but at some point the limited access creates rather brutal fighting for the syrup. It’s an unpleasant sight.
Fat Bee Man feeds on the hive but limits the number of holes in the lid. He uses a staple gun to punch two small holes in the lid. That, he says, provides them with enough feed to maintain the hive without causing excessive storage of feed or overstimulating brood rearing.
How much is enough? I’ve asked this question to some of our more experienced beekeepers in our association. The reply I have heard most frequently for hive maintainance and to sustain the hive is a quart a week. Of course, it also depends on your goals for the hive. If you made a split then you’ll have to offer them as much as they want. The quart a week is more of a maintainance amount for a typical hive to sustain them over summer dearth.
I spoke with a member at last night’s meeting that has hives at quite a drive from his home. He’s going to try open feeding with a bucket after having a recent small disaster feeding on the hive. I can’t remember the whole situation. I think he may have been using boardman feeders and essential oil mix in the feed. He mentioned he thought that the essential oil might be a mistake when he used it but did so anyway. Yes, it caused robbing. There is, perhaps, a time for feed stimulation but during dearth, when food is scarce is not a time to tempt strong hives to rob weaker hives.
If you want to start feeding do so when they stop bringing in nectar or if they need food based on your assessment of their stores. You can tell if they are bringing in nectar by the way they fly, coming and going at the entrance, and if they are storing nectar in the hive. You can also tell by activity at the hive entrance when the nectar has played out for the day by lack of flying as the day progresses. Yet another test can be made by placing a quart jar with syrup at some distance from the hives (far enough so as to not cause a feeding frenzy around your hives). If the bees show strong interest in the test jar then they are obviously hungry because nectar is far more attractive than sugar syrup. Also, some people with an acute eye for such things can see fat bees returning home with payloads of nectar. Make your best judgement as to whether you need to feed, and how to feed, based on your individual situation.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. During early June the nectar flow ends with only a few location exceptions. Robbing becomes a concern as nectar becomes scarce. You will notice the bees wash boarding on the front of the hive and around entrances. It’s as though they don’t have anything to do other than wait at the entrance rocking back and forth. Populations are very large now and consume a great deal of food. Good weather and long days are ideal for foraging – if only there was nectar available. The early rising beekeeper may note that the bees fly with more enthusiasm during the morning hours. But as the heat increases and the nectar dries up fewer bees forage as the day progresses.
Last month we stated that as the nectar flow increases the bees often ignore sugar syrup. This month their interest in syrup will return. Be careful with sugar syrup and when harvesting honey as any spill may incite a robbing frenzy in the bee yard. Hive inspections should be brief and frames should not be scattered around which may provoke robbing. If you have not reached the hive volume necessary to overwinter continue to feed using a feeding method which does not provoke robbers to encourage them to build comb. After they have completed those boxes then it is your decision whether to continue to stimulate the colony. Unrestricted feeding will have resulted in large amounts of brood rearing.
This month will start the beginning of honey bee pest management. Your colonies will need your assistance with small hive beetle, and Varroa mite control.
Elderberry, Mimosa, Sparkleberry, Clover. Magnolia in earnest.
Plan on checks twice this month.
Dearth begins this month. Start feeding when dearth begins with plan to “keep alive” until August then start stimulation.
Pull supers and process spring honey ASAP after the nectar flow ends – but no later than by end of month. If left on the hive for a fall harvest you may be surprised to find they have eaten it all by then turning honey into bees.
Place wet supers back on hives for clean up.
Assessing bee population:hive size. A properly sized hive to bee population allows the bees to handle many pests themselves. Remove any supers not needed and store.
Employ entrance reducers to discourage robbing. Remove Imirie shims.
Strong hives handle wax moths, beetles, and robbing better. Keep hives strong by equalizing space with population.
Any hive that is overachieving should be split and allowed to rear own queen now.
Check for Varroa early in the month once honey supers are removed. If treatment levels are met (greater than 2%), treat using method of choice. You will have more treatment choices if the weather remains cool. For more information: Varroa Management at NC State and more detail at Honey Bee Health Coalition.
Small hive beetle (SHB) populations may start to climb. When opening you hives always check under the inner cover first to assess and then kill as many as possible with your hive tool. Use oil traps, microfiber sheets, or other management tools to keep SHB under control. For more information: Small Hive beetle Management at Clemson.
Keep water sources for bees filled. You’ll notice they need more water than during the spring since they no longer have the moisture provided by nectar. They also need to gather more water now for hive cooling and to dilute honey for consumption. More information here.
1) Harvest honey crop.
2) Replace wet supers on hives for the bees to clean up.
3) Assess and treat for Varroa.
4) Make summer splits if hive population is large.
5) Begin feeding program if needed.
6) Consider moving bees to sourwood or cotton to capture late summer flows.
7) Attend monthly meeting.
8) Volunteer at association meeting, event, or festival; consider becoming a club leader, mentor, or become a bee buddy.
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.
By now all the new beekeepers have watched a bunch of YouTube videos showing people without any personal protective equipment handling swarms, doing hive inspections, and maybe even wearing bee beards. Even while visiting mentor and bee buddy bee yards they have seen gloveless inspections and shorts being worn by more experienced beekeepers while handling their bees. A walk through the bee yard or a quick trip out to deliver a jar of syrup is usually done without formal wear. These sorts of super-human feats of coolness are typically performed during nectar flows.
Introducing dearth, a seasonal period when the available nectar is less than colony day-to-day needs. Hungry, irritable bees. Foraging bees with nowhere to ply their trade, jobless and loafing in and around the hive. And I don’t know about you but, like the Snickers commercial, I too am just a bit grumpy when I’m hungry.
Act One, Scene One: Older bees with their fully developed venom sacs hanging out at home, irritable and ready to defend their precious stores of honey goodness.
For the beekeeper dearth means you too must make changes in the manner in which you conduct yourself around the bees.
1) Wear your protective equipment. Once the nectar flow ends I begin wearing my veil even if just walking though the bee yard or exchanging a jar feeder. You may have 1,000,000 honey bees out there but it only takes one bee having a bad day. A sting between the eyes can turn your pleasant evening stroll into a evening on the couch with an ice pack coupled with periodic and annoying questions from family members.
2) Work your bees during mid-day when the foragers are out of the hive. Depending on the size of the hive, the number of ill tempered foragers not in your way makes a big difference. A hive filled with mild mannered nurse bees is a pleasure compared to cranky guards and foragers. Also, avoid working on days that keep the bees from flying like rainy or windy days. I have noticed that if we get a mid-day rain shower the foragers will return and, during dearth, many will stay home even if the sun comes back out – learned that the hard way.
3) When going into the hive suit up, use smoke, move slowly, and get out when they tell you – when you hear them increasing their “roar.” Your time inside may be limited so work efficiently. Don’t feel you “must” look at everything regardless of them being annoyed. If you’re showing a friend your bees and yammering away then go briefly into a few hives rather than keep one open too long.
4) Start to look at how your your body mechanics affect the bees while working them. Are you frequently moving your hands across the top of the frames as you break apart the frames. Instead, use your right hand to break the entire line of bars along the right side then do the left side (with your left hand preferably). Pull the frames closest to you first so you don’t reach across any more than needed. Don’t stand in front of the hive. If possible, try working from the side of the hive instead of the back and you won’t be reaching across them as much. If you have multiple boxes and you “must” inspect to the bottom take the tower of boxes off first and inspect from the bottom, adding one box back at a time rather that stirring them up in each box as you work downward. And finally, if you have to shake bees off the inner cover, out of a box, or elsewhere, save that until last – no need to stir them up while you still have work remaining.
5) When all else fails walk away. You may even have to walk away, wait a few minutes and return to close them up. And if you do get stung, after you take care of yourself, take a picture. We’d like to welcome you to the club!
If you have more ideas and suggestions feel free to add them below.
Whether you are a hobbyist, sideliner, or a commercial beekeeper, spring is a busy time for many beekeepers. Of all the spring tasks, splitting colonies may be the most crucial. Whether beekeepers split to expand their operation, to re-queen their colonies or control varroa, splitting is an important, yet time consuming task. In many ways, splitting is a right of passage for beekeepers.
As with all beekeeping we have to ask ourselves what our goals are. Do we want to keep bees just to have bees? Do we want to keep them in as “natural” a way as possible? Do we want to make bees for sale as nucleus hives? Or do we want to manage our bees for honey production?
If one wants to manage their bees in as natural a manner as possible then do so by following their lead. Thomas Seeley and others have determined that honey bees will choose a dry cavity approximately 40 liters in size with an entrance of approximately 2 square inches. The bees select that size because it gives them what they need to meet their ultimate goals – reproduction and survival. They build up fast, fill it, and swarm which has definite advantages for them from pest, disease, and reproduction standpoints. If we want to keep bees more naturally we simply need a gum log or empty 40 liter box with a hole bored in the side – no frames, no foundation, nor fancy hive accessories.
But most of us don’t keep bees naturally. The moment we step away from that gum, skep, or single 40 liter box we are managing them in a manner to accomplish our goals not their goals. I’m not interested in raising bees in cavities like they select. I’m interested in managing bees in cavities I select based on the goals I wish to attain. But that’s not so bad. My bees benefit from disease management, protection from starvation, and pest control which they would not have if left on their own.
For me that’s different management and different box configuration for making queens, a different box configuration for overwintering, and lots of boxes for honey production. And it’s also lots of management every step of the way. Adding ventilation, boxes, making early splits, treatments, IPM, regular assessments, and interventions just so I can support them while they focus their efforts on plundering the local nectar resources.
Regarding upper entrances, they are added when needed for ventilation, reduce brood nest congestion, and increase traffic efficiency. They also create a disruption in the swarming process. They allow nectar to be cured quicker with less effort increasing the bees’ efficiency, decreasing their caloric expenditure, and saving precious wing wear and tear for their future as foragers. But managing upper entrances also means getting them back off when they are no longer needed which is after the nectar flow and prior to the major pest onslaught such as hive beetles and yellow jackets. For the most part it is a two month a year manipulation. It is work for me which increases the efficiency of the hive such that they can grow far beyond what nature intended. But it requires management.
Beekeeping is science based management. It is not for the lazy nor for procrastinators. Most people want their beekeeping to be something in between a gum standing in the backyard and what I strive for. Most probably don’t want large hives – they want a little honey and a well pollinated garden. That’s great. For them they can choose any number of hive types such as Langstroth, TBH, Warre, Long Lang, etc. and have good outcomes while enjoying their bees. It’s all good if you know your goals and follow your ideals and science.
Interesting event in the bee yard. A couple weeks ago I performed a cut out on a top bar hive that had gone burr comb crazy. I cut and rubber banded brood into deep Langstroth frames and brought it home. After letting them settle down I inspected the hive and was pleasantly surprised to find the queen unharmed. She was nice and big and had a dark color. Happy with myself, I closed them up. I did note that they seemed less than industrious and after over a week they took littl…e sugar syrup and other than attaching the old brood comb to the frames they were not building new comb. There were plenty of loafers around the front while seemingly there was plenty of work to be done!
Then, they were gone! Not like a swarm or a new package sometimes absconds in a few days. It had been well over a week; maybe ten days. It could be they were thinning down the queen for flight. I though to check if that fat, heavy queen had been left behind but she was gone. It also seemed they might have waited until almost all of the brood hatched out before they left.
I checked all the trees because I look at all my hives daily and they had been there the day before. Nothing. Then I checked the swarm traps. Nothing. Not even scouts.
I resigned myself to losing them. Then I noticed a hive I had split the week earlier. It was three doors down from the absconded colony. The split had a queen cell but I didn’t think a laying queen yet. And the split had been a weak split of just a few frames of bees. But wait. Now the split was bubbling over with bees. By now you’ve guessed it. A usurpation had occurred. Wyatt Mangum writes about this happening especially during summer when a normal swarm would have almost no chance of otherwise surviving because of dearth. Wow.
Looks like I get to cross another one off my beekeeping bucket list. Comb honey! When I started beekeeping I read Richard Taylor’s book, The Joys of Beekeeping and have had the idea of making comb honey ever since. I crowded this hive after the first month of the flow by removing a super when they actually needed one, and replaced it with a super of Ross Rounds. Now, about three weeks later, all 32 rounds are beautifully capped. I realized after pulling it today that I had no space in the freezer so I put it back on top after inserting a medium. They deserve the space for all their hard work! Currently when foragers return at the end of the day it looks like a package of bees hanging from each entrance.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. During May the nectar flow settles in providing a steady influx of nectar keeping the bees busy. Robbing is minimal as food is plentiful. The bees are typically gentle and easy to work. Populations continue to grow and the beekeeper needs to be mindful of space management or else swarming may occur. Weather in the Midlands has stabilized with few surprises and the bees continue to fly longer and longer hours each day.
New beekeepers may find that during a strong nectar flow their bees will no longer take sugar syrup. By now they have developed a foraging force of their own and nature’s food is preferred over sugar syrup. Continue to encourage them to build comb at least until they complete the brood chamber hive body and food chamber hive body. After they have completed those boxes then it is your decision whether to continue to feed or hope to capture some real honey in the first honey super.
1) Add space as needed during first part of month. There is still a month of nectar flow left to be gathered and your bees should be at maximum foraging force.
2) Manage space within the hive in both expanding situations as well as restrictive situations. If a hive appears weak, then investigate. Do not allow too much room inside the hive if the colony weakens.
3) Plan on checks every two weeks.
4) Swarm season continues but is lessened. Continue to watch for swarms.
5) Continue to check for queen cells – make splits if swarm cells observed.
6) Monitor for disease. Assess mites levels. Temperatures will allow wax moths to set up shop in weak hives – kept your hive volume and colony population appropriate.
7) Remove any honey supers that are filled. Provide super space with drawn comb for bees to deposit nectar to ripen.
8) Notice Blackberries in bloom. Tulip poplar in bloom. Then Honeysuckle, Dandelion, Privet Hedge, Confederate Jasmine, Persimmon.
9) Add additional space conservatively toward end of month as nectar flow lessens to make sure honey gets capped properly.
10) Begin IPM program. Place beetle traps or other hive beetle management items. Your management method for wax moths is a strong hive with sufficient bees for the hive volume.
11) Email your local club Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
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.
You may be called to come out and get the bees from someone’s water source. I get a few calls now and then. In the Spring they want beekeepers to come get them off the bushes. In the Summer it’s bird baths and swimming pools. Here’s a typical response I offered a gentleman who reported 20 or so bees coming to his garden pond. He was able to track them towards a wooded area close by:
“Yes sir, we have a member over that way. I doubt they are his bees as usually the bees will find the closest water source and use it exclusively. I see between the two of you there are lots of water ponds the bees would have to fly over to get the mile or so to you.
There really is no way to round up bees coming to a floral source or water. A colony of bees this time of year might have about 30,000 or more bees so 20 is just a few. Also, the queen has to be captured in order for a colony to survive. Otherwise it’s certain death for the workers captured. They have no way to reproduce without the queen and the lifespan of a worker is about 6 weeks.
Take comfort in the fact that only 1 in 6 colonies in the wild survive the winter. That means they will most likely be gone next Spring. In the meantime, also know that honey bees only sting in defense of their hive unless harassed. My mother in law lives with me and sits on our front porch where we too have a garden pond. She has come to enjoy the hum of the bees coming and going to the water source. By Fall they will stop coming and start settling down for the winter. In the Spring they have all the fluids they want in the way of nectar. So this is the only time of year they come to water sources.”
Let’s say you were going to open a new business and wanted to hit the market with a bang on day one of shopping season – say black Friday or whatever. You’d have to start preparing for that day ahead of time. How far ahead of time? You really don’t want to hire employees too soon and not have anything for them to do for months. Instead you want to hire them just enough ahead of time to get them oriented to their new jobs, well trained, and ready to service mobs of customers exactly on your Grand Opening date.
The same applies to your honey bees. Grand Opening date is the day the nectar flow begins in earnest. We can never know exactly when that date is as nature deals us a slightly different set of circumstances each year. But seasoned beekeepers in your area can give you a good estimate of the date nectar flow begins and ends in your area. Your job, as the beekeeper, is to have a full staff of employees ready and trained to gather that nectar starting on day one of the season. You’ll also have to worry about employee retention and expansion over the course of the nectar season. Finally, you’ll have to curb hiring as the season diminishes so that you’re not squandering resources on employees that will never gather nectar.
Here in the Midlands of South Carolina most seasoned beekeepers recognize the beginning of the spring nectar flow as April 1st. This year it appears to be running behind schedule. For the purpose of this article we’ll say April 1st and you can adjust for your location and observations. A 3 week old foraging bee available to work on April 1st has already graduated through the various stages of nurse bee, house bee, wax producer, etc. Prior to that she spent 21 days as an egg, larva, and pupae. So exactly when did you need your queen to lay that egg to produce that foraging bee available for work on April 1st? Bee math tells us she needed to lay that egg on approximately February 14. This is easy to remember as it is Nicolai Nasonov’s birthday. But wait, if the queen lays 1,200 eggs per day and does so on February 14 that results in 1,200 foraging bees on April 1st – but we want more than 1,200 bees don’t we? No worries, she didn’t go from 0 to 1,200 in one day. Instead, she’s been increasing her output since the winter solstice. But my point is February is critical for the beekeeper to stimulate production if he or she wants to have a full staff of foraging bees to get the job done in a manner that produces excess honey.
The same math can be used to determine when to start curtailing hiring new employees (bees) during the nectar flow. Our Midlands nectar flow ends approximately June 1st – a brief 2 months from its start date. An egg laid on April 19th will become a foraging bee on June 1st. That’s simply too late to contribute to nectar gathering. But that same bee will eat as much as any other bee in the hive and required the same amount of nutrition and work to create. Now here’s the dilemma, that colony is going to be in full tilt workaholic mode during the course of the nectar flow. It’s all hands on deck and as long as nectar is coming through the front door the queen will continue to lay eggs. The colony will continue to build and build bees because they have all the resources to do so. And the summer solstice isn’t until June 21st so that’s of no help. If you’re still hiring bees after April 19th you’re setting yourself up for having to feed those non-productive bees during the remainder of the nectar flow as well as the coming summer dearth. That means less excess honey for you.
What’s a beekeeper to do? A couple ideas might be to use that nectar flow time after April 19th to create a brood break by caging the queen. This would benefit the colony by reducing mite count via a brood break. A second option might be re-queening your hive allowing for a brood break. Moving your queen across the yard and allowing them to requeen would provide an almost perfect 25 or so days with out new brood. (Your queen across the yard is your failsafe.) Another option might be to “steal” frames of brood and get an early start on summer splits. The number of cells in a deep frame is around 7,000 although there is honey and pollen taking up some of the cells. Nevertheless, taking a frame of open brood, a frame of closed brood, and a frame of honey will hardly set an expanding colony back much and should result in an increase in your honey yield due to fewer mouths to feed. Plus you’ll get another colony, a new queen, a break in mite production, and a backup colony should anything go wrong in the fall. And with the nectar flow still in progress everything goes easier – wait until dearth comes and the same tasks will be much more difficult.
I’ll end here. Tending bees is a lesson in looking forward.
Congestion. A topic I repeatedly misunderstand. And, in all likelihood I remain confused. Congestion, which leads to swarm behavior.
I used to think congestion was not enough room within the hive to comfortably house all of the bees. Kinda like when your cousin comes to town with his 6 kids and stays for a week. Apparently this is in error. Adding an empty box with foundation may help a little because the wax producing aged bees may go up and draw some wax but that’s not it, really. I mean your cousin’s kids are still holed up in your bathroom even if you make them sleep on the back porch. With my cousin’s kids it’s not congestion in the house, it’s congestion in my bathroom. With the bees it’s not congestion in the hive, it’s congestion in the brood nest.
So, I’ve read about opening up the brood nest with an empty frame. I tried this a few years ago (2015) only I couldn’t bear to place an empty frame in there so I placed a frame with foundation. Mistake again. Placing a frame of foundation only split the brood nest up causing more problems rather than helping.
So a couple years ago (2016) I thought maybe it’s time for me to switch to nine frames since I have drawn comb now. That has to be more “open” right? Turns out I got it wrong again. What this would do is reduce the number of frames for bees to hang out making them more likely to be crowded on each frame.
Okay, so what I understand now, I think, is (how can I really know anything when it comes to bees?) that it is nurse bee congestion in the brood area, not bee congestion. And it is not simply too many nurse bees. I mean it IS too many nurse bees, but more importantly it is unemployed nurse bees in the brood nest. The nurse bees are getting in each other’s way. There is an overabundance of out-of-work nurse bees for the amount of work available. It’s like ladies night and there are only 4 guys in the bar.
So, what does a colony do when it has too many nurse bees, which also happen to be coming into wax creating age? Swarm, that’s what.
So how do we reduce their unemployment and keep them in the hive? Give them work. 1) Add drawn comb in the brood area for the queen to lay in, producing more work space and more employment opportunities for nurse bees as well as spreading them out (reducing congestion). 2) Also add drawn comb above the brood nest for the bees to store nectar in thereby reducing the tendency to backfill the brood nest with nectar.
All this adding of drawn comb into critical areas promotes more work space, egg laying, and work opportunities also creates some disruption in the hive, something I consider beneficial during the period the bees are contemplating swarming. It may also allow for Queen pheromone to be more equally distributed amongst the workers which satisfies another swarm theory.
This worked for me last year so I’m going to confirm by trying it again this year. Good luck with your bees!
Upper entrances. Increasing efficiency of nectar delivery to the hive means more honey stored. George Imirie developed a shim to add entrances between boxes. This is an upgraded version and the idea came to me from a friend. An advantage over Imirie’s design is the space between boxes is reduced to 3/8″ thereby reducing burr comb. I modified the measurements and added reducers.
Additional benefits include:
-They allow upper access and reduce travel across the brood nest possibly decreasing brood nest congestion and swarming. -They add ventilation.
-They cut down traffic across the brood to the honey supers allowing better access thus some think an increase in honey stores.
-If doing comb honey they cut down staining
– And if using an excluder it may help encourage storing in the supers.
Cost is less than a buck each.
Read more about my upper entrances here: Goals in Beekeeping and Upper Entrance
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. April starts with the nectar flow in earnest and the beekeeper is busy with hive space management and swarm prevention and control. The bees will be in high gear growing populations, seeking opportunities to swarm, and storing excess nectar. Weather in the Midlands typically stabilizes with few surprises and the bees are actively flying longer and longer hours each day.
Beginning beekeepers get a “gentle” introduction to beekeeping as the bees are less defensive due to the availability of plentiful food. Also swarming behavior is not typical during a colony’s first season if space management is followed and the bees provided with proper space as the colony grows.
1) Monitor for queen cells – check suspect hives every seven to ten days for swarm cells hanging on bottom bar in boxes above brood chamber in hives with screen bottom boards and all boxes in hives with solid bottom boards.
3) Plan on checking every two weeks for hive body management i.e. space management.
4) If not yet added, place additional honey super(s) beginning of this month. On strong hives, install multiple honey supers if frames have drawn comb. Weaker colonies should receive less supers accordingly. If drawn comb is not available and foundation is used supers should be placed one at a time. Periodic checks should be made during the honey flow to see if additional supers are needed.
6) Unite weak colonies with strong colonies unless suspect of disease. Replace weak queens.
7) Make splits if increase is a goal with mated queens or allow colonies to re-queen themselves. Splits can be used to curtail swarm behavior but may decrease honey production. If increase is desired, split any hives not previously split and re-queen any weak queens. Queens should now or soon be available if needed.
8) Actively manage your hives designated for honey. Manage brood space allowing the queen room to lay. Utilize other methods of swarm prevention. There is no longer time for a colony to re-queen itself in time to raise foraging bees in time for the nectar flow. If needed, add a purchased mated queen or combine colonies if not diseased if seeking honey.
9) Begin IPM program. Place beetle traps or other hive beetle management items.
10) Watch for swarms daily and inspect for swarm cells every week to ten days.
11) If not already done, bait hives should be in position at various points 360 degrees surrounding apiary. Place bait hives at 50 to 150 yards away from colonies, edges of open fields, close to “bee” aerial landmarks, scent with lemongrass oil, 1 1/4″ circular entrance equals the 2 square inch recommendation.
12) Notice Dogwood blooming and azaleas in earnest the first week. Sassafras and Tulip Poplar blooming. Also, notice the greening up of many, many nectar producing trees.
13) Email your local club Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
For your viewing pleasure this month Kirk Anderson show us how to capture a swarm:
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.
Why did my bees die?
This is a question often asked and sometimes difficult to answer. The beekeeper looking at a dead colony is left with clues that can sometimes indicate the cause of death. More often though the beekeeper looks at the “crime scene” and makes an incorrect assumption. We’ve all heard it, “Wax moths killed my bees.” or “They got robbed.” or Small hive beetles killed them.” Most often though these are the results of problems that were missed or not addressed earlier.
I like murder mysteries. And, like in murder mysteries, what kills the bees isn’t always the most obvious suspects. It’s not the one the mystery writer wants you to initially think it is. After all what fun would that be? Instead the beekeeper must use some logic in backtracking the history of the colony to solve the mystery. Many times the downward spiral started some time back and we missed it before it lead up to wax moths, robbing, small hive beetles, or other maladies.
This past winter I had a 9% overwinter loss coming into the spring buildup. All in all, in today’s world of beekeeping that’s pretty good. Early in this season’s buildup, in February, I rotated boxes as a swarm prevention technique. I noted that a particular row of hives were not building up as fast as my other hives. As I rotated the hive bodies I inspected and found that they were all queen-right though so I just chalked the slow buildup up to “one of those unexplained things.”
That row of thirteen colonies coming into spring lost six colonies AFTER that first box rotation of spring. All of my other colonies continued to grow and expand. Granted the ones lost were not the strongest but they had queens (I saw them). How were these different than the ones that were thriving? Time to put on my detective hat. They were unique in that they are all on same row, were not taken down in size last fall (I just ran out of energy), and had older queens. So what killed them? I don’t know but I suspect the stress of the box rotation on an already stressed colony. How were they already stressed? Why did they not build up like the other areas in my bee yard? Thinking about the differences: this group had older queens, larger hives usually have/maintain higher mite counts, and were in an isolated row in the bee yard. I don’t know exactly which stressor was the largest but I suspect some or all of the above come into play.
Now my overall losses were at 27% instead of the 9% prior to this event and most likely because I failed to reduce size, monitor this row for Varroa better, and not re-queen in the fall. Which exactly? Beekeepers always want to know which one is the culprit. I don’t know. Maybe it was multiple stressors and not just one. But I do have some excellent suspects! Regardless of which stressor killed these colonies I failed to do that which a good steward should have done for these bees. Ultimately it’s on me.
So, after writing the above I was further pondering the possibilities while making up some sugar syrup, and I was thinking about the stressors and it came to me what killed those colonies. Distilling it down to a single element – laziness. I should have taken those hives down to 2 boxes post nectar flow last summer. I should have monitored Varroa better in that row instead of assuming it would be the same as the newer hives in other areas. And I should have re-queened as would have happened easily if I had made splits last year when I should have taken them down in size. My laziness killed those colonies. So there, I came up with a single cause, identified the culprit, and solved the mystery!
It won’t happen again. Maybe something else but not this.
This week reports of swarms have increased indicating that swarm season has started in earnest. The flood of calls has yet to begin but will start soon. This picture, from last year shows a swarm capture utilizing my friend Dave’s combination arborist’s tree tool and a homemade bucket with paint strainer modification. These bees were about 28 feet up.
In the US, those interested in catching swarms should visit Bees on the Net which lists beekeepers willing to go out and retrieve swarms in their area.
This was done online at canva – I was full of ideas until I started playing with it, it’s not the final one .. but was interesting to have a play with. It needs making more even. The templates are there to play with so I might have another go and see what I can […]
It’s spring colony splitting time and one thing we should keep in mind as we delve into the congested and complex hive is having the correct balance of bees of various ages within the hive or split. An upset in the balance of bees’ ages upsets the proper functioning of the colony. Ex.: who’s going to clean the cells and feed the young larva if the colony goes queenless for an extended period and all of the bees have passed that stage in their adult development? Reversible? I wonder to what degree, and about the quality of work that can be expected from a bee that has passed it’s normal period for the work expected.
I’ve read below and elsewhere that there is some flexibility in the bees’ ability to move forward or backward in their age defined activities. However, the quality of the work suffers based on the bees’ physiologically ability to perform a particular task.
When making splits during the spring buildup there isn’t any difficulty finding brood of various ages so as to provide a split with a diverse population. Done well, a split hardly misses a beat and continues to grow and build effortlessly, while poorly configured splits struggle to get going and sometimes fail.
A simple diagram showing the life history of the honey bee worker.
The schedule of worker bee activities is both flexible and reversible, depending more upon physiological age than on chronological age, and is altered according to the needs of the colony. Diagram Source: Sipa Honey Bees
(All beekeeping is local. The dates given below are guidelines for the Midlands of South Carolina. Adjust to your local area as needed.)
This time of year both beekeepers and the honey bees are working towards the same short term goals but for different reasons.
Let’s start with some bee math. We can expect a bee born this time of year to have a life expectancy of approximately 5 or 6 weeks. Of those 6 weeks only approximately 3 weeks will be spent as a forager.
We also know, based on information provided to us by our seasoned mentors, that here in the Midlands we can expect our nectar flow to begin, in earnest, around late March / early April and to last approximately until the first week of June.
To gather the greatest amount of nectar (ultimately honey) and to get the most comb drawn during that 2 month window of strong nectar flow we must have all hands on deck on day one of the nectar flow. Meaning a colony at its peak of nectar gathering abilities, fully staffed to handle the challenge of millions of blooms occuring in a short period of time. (Think of it as having enough wait staff in a restaurant just prior to dinner hour. Too few staff and things just don’t get done.)
The bees want the same thing we do at the same time. They want a full staff on day one of the nectar flow. Missing the mark and showing up with a full staff at the end of the nectar flow is useless and, in fact, a burden on the colony’s ability to feed lots of bees after the nectar is gone.
So, it seems we have a mutual goal between beekeeper and honey bee – lots of bees on day one of what amounts to their work shift.
Let’s make a best guess as to when Day One occurs based on history as given to us by our mentors and say it’s April 1st here in the Midlands. Should I run an ad in Free Times advertising for Help Wanted to help with this year’s nectar flow?
“Seasonal Help Wanted: Honey Bees to help gather nectar during this year’s nectar flow. Must be willing to travel and be in foraging phase of life.”
No, probably won’t work. But using bee math and the bees own instincts for this time of year we can determine how to get those bees. I need a three week old bee available on April 1st. Given it takes 21 days from egg to birth and then allowing for the three week age requirement for the job, I can determine that a new foraging bee on April 1st was an egg exactly 6 weeks before the nectar flow began. Also, since the queen can only lay a set amount of eggs a day – perhaps 1,200 or maybe a bit more, I had better start even before that 6 weeks if I want a FULL staff on day one of the nectar flow.
Still with me? Great because the good, and bad, parts are coming soon.
What this means for you today (Feb. 20th), is that we are just now at that date when an egg layed today will get her work permit as a 3 week old forager on the first week of April. That’s good! Another thing that’s good is the bees have already been ramping up and your queen should be a laying machine right now. What you want to do is encourage that queen and that colony to continue this egg laying, brood rearing mania, tirelessly for the next 60 days. Important: Do you know how to do this?
Now for the bad news. Your reasons for the buildup are not the same as the bees. You both want a buildup and on that point you support each other’s efforts. However, because you have different end goals you have to understand each other’s motivations if you are going to be successful partners.
I’ll try to be gentle but, you see, they (the bees) want to move out. Not all of them; just about 60% and the queen. They’re preparing now for their move. You may have thought they were building up for the nectar flow and you’re right, they are, but they see the start of the nectar flow as providing the means for a successful move. We call it a swarm; they call it reproduction. By moving out at the start of the nectar flow it gives them the best chance of building a new home and surviving.
For the beekeeper this is like half of your employees leaving just as your grand opening day presents itself. And the amount of work to be done is so great that you’ll not get it done if you lose more than half those employees (well, you’ll probably get enough for them but not you).
So, the dilemma is to convince the bees they’d actually like to stay around in their current home for just a while longer. Very Important: Do you know how to do this?
Heck, convince them that if they stay, in June you’ll actually help them move (i.e. make split).
There’s lots to do in the bee yard today since mother nature has stolen at least two weeks preparation time out from under us here in the Midlands of South Carolina.
I had a few, okay maybe a half dozen, hives that were just too burr combed up in the feeding shim to properly handle when I should have ten or more days ago. Things weren’t better today.
The first venture into the hives after winter is probably one of the most difficult and dreaded for me each year. They have burr combed up all my violations of bee space and propolized everything together such that not much goes quite as planned. Then there’s always that space between boxes where the bottom bars of the frames above become connected to the top bars of the frames below. The bees, having not been allowed much in the way of drone comb find this a great spot to build drone comb and raise spring drones. That the hives in question today had been deferred spoke to the fact that I didn’t really want to deal with them ten days ago as I should have.
But things must be handled and there’s always the knowledge that afterwards the hives are easier to work for the remainder of the season.
My first adventure today was into a well populated two story nucleus hive I overwintered. They objected somewhat but adequate smoke kept them in check while I rotated a full box off the top and replaced it with drawn comb and returned some of their stores. I was happy to get out of there though as I was spending far too long performing my tasks being a little rusty and not having every widget available I normally like.
I did the same for several more nucleus hives and started in on the ten framers that still had feeding shims in place. That’s when the trouble started. Entire feeding shims filled with willy-nilly comb in all directions and filled with honey and drone brood. And black with bees covering everything and spilling out over the boxes. A little smoke helped move them but nothing short of a rap of the inner cover on the box dislodged them back into the uppermost hive body. Unhappy bees; unhappy beekeeper. Usually though they settled down shortly. Once I had to take a walk with them following me for 100 feet or so. I was probably not working them slow enough in the hive nor fast enough overall to get out of their domain. Get ‘er done, and I was almost there.
I had passengers in the truck with me as a drove away from the last hive. Windows down, suit on, and proud of myself having gotten the deed done without a sting through my glove or on top of my head as sometimes happens with the veil pulled down tight.
Oh, what’s that? A hive over by my main stretch of ten framers with it’s brick standing on end. Usually I use this brick position to indicate a queenless condition but I remembered from ten days ago why I stood it up then. The bees were too thick and they were too irritable to bother so I deferred and stood the brick up. Having completed all except this one hive I decided to stop and complete today’s task list. Only take a minute – probably.
The bees were still thick under that inner cover and they had the entire feeding shim filled with honey comb and drone brood. Most of it hung down off the inner cover. I smoked them down and waited. They kept coming back up in short order. As mentioned earlier, there tends to be an overall time limit for bees after which they just say, “You’re done here.” I was running out of time and knew it. I had a thought to go back to the barn and get a bottle of Bee Go to run them down out of that shim with its unpleasant odor. But my dilemma was time. Things weren’t going to get better in ten minutes. I was already taking a heavy bombardment of bees against my veil. I decided it would be best to bang the inner cover against the shim and smoke them some more. After a couple raps most of the bees dislodged and I was able to get the inner cover and the shim removed. I scrapped the honey and drone comb into a ready bucket and thought I’d better close up. Then, as one does when they are tired, a bad decision presented itself to me. While it’s good to know that I’m still capable of decisions at my age, bad ones just stink. I decided as I reached for the replacement inner cover that the bees were so thick I had better check for swarm cells between the boxes. Okay, that’s a quick hive tool between the boxes, a tilt upward, and I should be done – right? Well, there was drone brood between the boxes as I should have known, and maybe in my haste I forgot to smoke them down. Or maybe I did and they were so thick they had nowhere to go. I took my hive tool and scrapped the first top bar and my gloved had was covered. Second top bar and they have decided to cover my entire right arm. Third scraping and they are like Velcro on my jacket and veil. I can’t remember the final strokes as I was in get ‘er done mode. I did get the box down and in place when I started to feel the stings though my jeans and forearms. Oh my! Folks, when they decide they have no place left to light on you other than your jeans you’ve stayed far too long.
I started walking, stopping occasionally to brush some off. New beekeepers, remember I told you to buy a brush! I walked and walked and covered a hundred yards. Finally I headed back. I still had to replace the inner and telescoping covers. I did so and had to walk again with irritable bees. I had made every mistake I could have, overstayed my welcome by a stretch, rapid movements, and kept coming back when they said, “GO!”. One last trip and I eased into my waiting truck and drove off fully suited with about twenty bees that decided it best they give me an escort.
Done but not proud of my finesse on this one. Maybe I’ll go back for my smoker later, or tomorrow. Wonder where my hive tool is?
This week we are talking to Joe Lewis from Maryland in the big Ol’ US of A. This is Episode Ninety Nine of our beekeeping podcast.
Hi, it’s Gary and Margaret here, We are beekeepers from the hills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland, New Zealand. Our podcast is about beekeeping, Gardening and bit of politics about environmental issues. We also have been known to go off on tangents about other issues.
This interview was recorded in October 2016.
Joe is a Beekeeper and writer from Bel Air, Maryland which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia in North America. He has a passion for the Honey Bees and took up the hobby after retiring from the US Army. He was self diagnosed with the “Not enough bees disease” over eleven years ago and spends his days trying to locate a cure.
Click one the video below to see a video lecture by Joe Lewis
Not long ago, someone asked when we should start feeding the bees. The answer given was another question – What are your goals?
We want to building strong colonies but for what purpose? To catch the nectar flow? To make splits?, nucs?, or early pollination purposes? Each goal has a different start date.
Much of what we do with our bees involves looking forward. Last year I wrote a piece on when we should start the push towards building them up for purposes of capturing the nectar flow. I’ll bump that article to the top at a later date when it’s more relevant. Today, though, I’d like to think through another planning exercise for the beekeeper wanting to make strong splits from overwintered colonies.
I like bee math!
An experienced mentor and bee buddy of mine called me recently to ask if I wanted to order some early season queens. He caught me off guard just a bit because I really had not done my math homework for the coming splits season. Well, I’d better get hopping and decide if I’m going to order queens or make queenless splits.
And if I’m going to make spilts, when do I need to get busy?
Framing the issue:
We know from prior swarm seasons and winners of the “Golden Hive Tool Award” (given to the first captured swarm of each season) that swarming in the Midlands starts as soon as late, late February but typically early, early March and will remain strong for a month to six weeks into April then taper with an occasional spurts and sputters along the way.
We know that nature provides natural pollen and nectar for buildup in the Midlands around early to mid February (give or take). Some people see some earlier and this is climate and location dependent. So in nature we see feed for the bees a ~ month or so before swarming.
We know that the climate is still a bit dicey March 1st with occasional surprise freezes which could impact the survival of splits. I’m not sure I want to tempt Midlands weather.
March 1st looks to be an intersection between climate and colony readiness.
So, with natures help,some colonies are ready to swarm as early as ~ March 1. What constitutes being “ready?” Well, colony swarm preparations are a topic in itself but one hardwired componet is drone production. So we deduce that swarming colonies will have made drones ready to mate. I presume nature and the bees assume other colonies have done the same so as to provide some genetic diversity. But back to the point. If a colony is ready to swarm with ready drones when did they start those drones? The answer might help me as to when to start pushing buildup.
Let’s try to nail down a date to promote drone production by reviewing our bee math for drones: 3 days as an egg; 6 1/2 days as a larvae, and capped by day 10. 14 days as a pupa – 24 days. Right? Oh, but we must not forget that that drone is but a wee tot when born and needs to get to his “adolescence” to be ready for mating. That occurs after another 14 days give or take. Okay, I need to start making drones 38 days prior to making queenless splits. Right?…Wrong. Remember that if I make a split the bees will have to begin queen cells and we don’t need ready drones at the start of queen cells. We need them to coincide with the time it takes to make a queen and allow her to “harden” ready for her mating flight. Oh my, that probably negates some of my original calculations.
Nature tells me it will start making the splits for me (i.e. swarm) around March 1st. Let’s use that a date that nature chooses as the earliest date swarms are likely to survive and use subtraction to come to the date I need to start building up my hives in order to maximize my success with queenless splits. March 1st minus 38 days leaves me at January 16th. I know this date as the birthday of Johann Dzierzon, father of parthenogenesis. (In animals, parthenogenesis means development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell. Ain’t that a coincidence?) But, as much as I would like to start pushing for drone production on Johann’s birthday, remember I need to deduct (or add back) the time for the colony to create a mating ready queen or approximately 20 to 24 days. My head is starting to hurt. Okay, January 16 plus 24 days = February 7th (or three days before Ormond Aebi’s birthday).
Isn’t it a curiosity that my efforts at calculations results in a bunch of needless time wasting when mother nature gave me the buildup date to begin with – the bloom of Red Maples! That is, when the maples bloom is the start date when nature itself provides the necessary ingredients to maximize successful colony reproduction on a date conducive to climate and impending nectar flow. You can’t fool mother nature. I’m exhausted but it serves me right. Beekeepers should probably reply to questions like this with bloom dates rather than calendar dates.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina or a similar climate where the bees are flying at least a few hours most days of the year. February begins a gradual warming in the Midlands but can often be all over the map with freezing temperatures as well as the occasional warm, even spring like, day.
Red Maple blooms in earnest at the beginning of this month and other early bloomers soon join in. The queen goes full tilt with her egg laying and the colony makes plans for reproduction. A lot is happening but mostly it’s a covert operation within the hives for the bees during February. While we humans believe it’s winter the bees have decided to go forward with spring plans and are building up their population in anticipation of colony reproduction (read what Randy Oliver has to say about Understanding Colony Buildup). For the beekeeper it’s crunch time to prepare themselves and equipment for the coming rush of spring. Bees will possibly swarm the later part of February in South Carolina.
1) During inspections this month we are looking to ensure the bees have enough food stores to support their current brood buildup. During February the bees will be intent on raising lots of brood regardless of their pantry stores. For that reason we are entering a risky time for colony starvation.
2) We get occasional warm, spring like, days in February. You may do a pre-spring inspection, checking for the presence of a queen and assessing the colony and stores. Look into the hive as far down as the brood nest if the weather is warm and the bees are flying. Be purposeful and brief. Check honey supply and feed with a candy board, sugar bricks, fondant, or thick sugar syrup if below one-half super. Whatever you choose, the food must be placed close to the cluster or on top for them to access the food during cold weather. If you saved frames of honey you may add these (after thawing), placing them close to the cluster. When removing a top telescoping cover with the inner cover exposed, if the bees are visible in the hole in the inner cover you need to feed quickly.
3) Depending on the Midlands climate, be ready for an early buildup. As brood rearing continues and populations increase, make note of increased population and congestion in the brood area. Swap (rotate) brood boxes if temperatures allow based on your assessment of buildup. Rotating boxes provides the queen with empty drawn comb to lay in as well as disrupts the colony with regards to swarm preparations. Only rotate brood boxes when most of the nest is in the upper brood box (food chamber). You do not want to split the cluster. Rotating brood boxes is a swarm prevention measure, not simply to get the queen into the lower brood box.
4) When rotating boxes notice that the bees will often have built drone comb in the space between boxes (bottom bar to top bar). You will break this comb as you separate the boxes – don’t panic. Before scraping this clean, visually assess for the presence of Varroa mites on the drone pupae. Also note whether the drone pupae are at the purple eyed stage which indicates queen rearing may start soon if efforts are not implemented.
5) Assess for Varroa levels early February and give a spring clean up treatment if indicated. When choosing your treatment method make note of how soon it needs to be out of the hive prior to placing honey supers. Remove any medications in hive if already in place.
6) If not yet done, continue to assemble honey supers, frames, etc.
7) Notice Red Maple starting along the roadways in the Midlands. Also Dandelions, Japanese Apricot, and Camellias.
8) Notice bees bringing in yellow pollen.
9) Place and bait swarm traps (bait hives) by mid month.
11) Build and prepare woodenware and frames for upcoming spring splits.
12) If you stored your drawn comb using paradichlorobenzene for wax moth control, start the airing out process.
14) Renew your association membership. Attend local meetings.
16) Email your Association’s Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina or a similar climate where the bees are flying a least a few hours most days of the year. Even then, do not open the hive deeply or excessively during the winter months. A brief peek inside, looking downward through the frames, is okay on days the bees are flying.
1) Continue to assess stores by tilting your hives from the back to check for weight (hefting the hive). You may peek into the hive if the weather is warm and the bees are flying. Check honey supply and feed with a candy board, sugar bricks, fondant, or thick sugar syrup if below one-half super. Whatever you choose, the food must be placed close to the cluster or on top for them to access the food during cold weather. If you saved frames of honey you may add these (after thawing), placing them close to the cluster.
2) Long periods of temperatures below 50F will keep the bees inside and clustered. If you’d like to check on them place an ear against the side of the hive and give a knock to the side of the hive. You should hear a roar. An alternative method is to use a stethoscope which you can use to determine exactly where in the hive the cluster is located.
3) Continue to clean, repair, paint, and construct new equipment. Clean up and repair any deadouts. Learn from your deadouts.
4) Eagerly look for the start of Red Maple blooms by monitoring the sides of Interstates and roadways.
5) Colony population starts increasing as you continue feeding this month, especially if using artificial pollen. Population will rapidly accelerate when Red Maple blooms. Be prepared for a decrease in the amount of stores as the population expands and they start to feed more larvae.
6) Check for pollen stores and pollen coming in. If none, consider feeding pollen substitute.
7) Moisture control: Frequently check for excessive moisture on the underside of the telescoping cover. If wet, consider adding an empty box above with an absorbent material such as sawdust in a burlap bag or a quilt. Increasing ventilation will also lower moisture inside the hive.
8) If dwindling or queenless combine bees with another colony.
9) Our first reported swarm of 2017 was on February 14th. This year, consider building a nucleus hive or a portable hive for swarm captures. Build a swarm trap to capture your own swarms (and your neighbors).
10) Order package bees and queens for delivery mid to late March or as early as possible for your area.
11) Read a good beekeeping book. Mid-State Beekeepers Association is fortunate to have an excellent library and books available for checkout at meetings.
12) Register for a spring conference or other beekeeping educational opportunity.
13) Renew your association membership. Attend local meetings.
14) ‘Tis the season to be grateful. Be thankful to have a local beekeeping association with hard working volunteers serving the membership and community. Thank a club leader or volunteer; offer to lend a hand.
The winter solstice signals more than the first official day of winter. In the natural world, animals use the changes in available daylight to signal their actions. Eventually, longer daylight hours will signal song birds to sing more to attract mates and begin laying eggs and dormant plants to emerge and begin anew. Remarkably, the winter solstice signals honey bees to begin spring preparations now.
Read the full article here: Winter Solstice and Honey Bees — settlingforbees
The Winter Solstice means something different to beekeepers. It’s typically associated with the beginning of winter for humans. But for the bees it’s the beginning of spring. Very slowly, as the days lengthen the queen will begin an increase in the number of eggs she lays. On a colony level, for the bees, the goal is to have a full staff of bees ready to reproduce on a colony level (i.e. swarm) at the beginning of plant nectar and pollen production (best chance of survival). That means preparations such as brood rearing begin during the first months of the new year resulting in hives bubbling over with bees by March. But it has other ramifications for the beekeeper wishing to discourage that workforce from leaving. The beekeeper seeks to 1) encourage brood rearing while 2) protecting the colony from starvation as the bees feed ever increasing numbers of larvae, while 3) discouraging swarm preparations in the same time period. It’s like walking a tightrope!
African Bee, Apis mellifera, beekeeping, Buckfast bee, Cardovan bee, Carniolan, Caucasian Bee, choosing honey bee stock, German Black Bee, honey bee biology, Italian Bees, management, Minnesota Hygienic Bee, Russian bee, Survivor Stock Bees, Varroa sensitive hygienic (VSH) Bee
In my experience, selecting bee stock is the most important decision when starting in Bees. If you choose the wrong type, you can wind up with an aggressive bee or a disease ridden colony. Here is a quick-start guide to help aid you in your search for the perfect strain for you.
Apis Mellifera is the main scientific classification for European Honey Bees. There are several sub-species and hybrid species available. We will start our journey with the German Bee.
The cold weather is here, You’ve done what you can to tuck them in for the coming season. So, what are you going to do with all your time now?
1) Continue to lift the back of your hives to check for weight. Now is why you learned this method of assessing stores.
2) Perform maintainance on honey supers pulled off hives – painting or otherwise.
3) Assemble new equipment for next year – boxes, frames, stands, etc.
4) Order packages, nucs, or queens.
5) Plan for changes you’re going to impliment next season.
6) Call, visit, or write farmers or landowners where you’d like to place hives for out yards next spring.
7) Attend local and state beekeeper meetings.
8) Scout trees for placement and prepare swarms traps. Construct swarm capture bucket.
9) Build a nuc now to keep in your car or truck for community swarm captures next spring. Register with on-line swarm call lists.
10) Order or ask Santa for a copy of that beekeeping book you’ve been wanting to read. Read some every day.
Once a year an opportunity comes along for the beekeeper to treat all of his or her hives for Varroa for less than ten dollars and about five minutes per hive. That’s ten bucks to treat all of your hives. But this opportunity only comes once a year and is only available for a short period of time. In South Carolina, that time is now, or soon, during the broodless period.
I’m reading more and more about abscondings. It’s interesting that most posts relating these abscondings place the blame on wax moths, yellow jackets, or robbing. I suggest these invaders are the second or even third string teams coming in after the true villain has struck a weakening or fatal blow. Did the bees abscond? Yes, most likely from the reports I read they did indeed. From reports, one week the bees are there, the next week gone. But I ask you, if your home was overridden with ticks, with the infestation getting worse each day, how long would you stay in your home?
Why now? Varroa levels increase in the fall and having no drone brood and minimal open worker brood means mite density in the brood area increases.
Last year I watched a group of nine untreated hives go into winter and come out as three. Ten dollars total and maybe 45 minutes might very well have saved them if they had been managed differently.
For more information on how to perform an oxalic acid dribble, Rusty lays it all out here on HoneyBeeSuite: https://honeybeesuite.com/how-to-apply-an-oxalic-acid-dribble/
And here’s a “how to” YouTube video:
I’ll close this post with some words from Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping:
“Three strategies I’ve found that always fail when battling varroa are:
1. Denial—“I haven’t seen any mites, so my mite levels must be low.”
2. Wishful thinking—“I haven’t seen very many mites, so I’m hoping and praying that my bees will be OK.”
3. Blind faith—“I used the latest snake oil mite cure, and it’s gotta work!”
Every time I’ve been “blindsided” by the mite, I was in actuality simply being blind.”
From Blount County Beekeepers Association:
With winter approaching (in some places it’s already here), the beekeeper has two jobs:
Neither of these jobs involves a lot of work at this point, but they shouldn’t be neglected. The main characteristic of good beekeepers is that they think ahead — one or two seasons ahead.
Now is the time think about your bees, the equipment you have and the general environment that will confront the bees when they start flying in the spring.
Will you need to order packages of bees or nucs to rebuild your apiary in the spring? That, of course, depends on how many of your hives make it through the winter. We don’t know what will happen in that regard at the moment, unless you have already experienced losses.
What we do know is that in Tennessee the winter losses for beekeepers have been about 30 percent during the past few winters. The smart thing then is to plan for that kind of loss and hope it doesn’t happen. Now is the time to get in touch with the folks who supply you with bees and see what their availability will be. Most of those people are starting a list now, and your name should be on it.
We’ll have more to say later about equipment and environment.
Right now, you should plan for some losses and think about how you will replenish your apiary.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of November:
Plan on checks once this month but otherwise do not work unless necessary to prevent the triggering of robbing behavior. Try to not be too disruptive in order to allow them to get their house (brood box) in order for winter.
1) Make sure bees have stores enough for winter and proceed accordingly. Last month we suggested aggressively feeding colonies that were underweight using 2:1 syrup. The goal was to increase their weight to approximately 30 – 35 lbs of stores. This month with the cooler weather we increasingly start to concern ourselves with excessive moisture in the hive. If your colonies are still lagging behind in stored nectar / syrup you may be forced to continue feeding 2:1 syrup. If they have stored enough syrup, later this month you may wish to add some insurance in the way of a candy board or mountain camp style dry sugar feeding.
2) Moisture containment becomes a major management concern this month as we move into cooler weather. Moisture within the hive can not be avoided. The bees breathe and, like humans, express humidity which condensates in the cooler weather. Additionally, the process of eating and metabolizing honey results in the release of water molecules. Important reading: A review of methods to control moisture within the hive can be found here.
3) Further reduce entrances if not yet done. The appropriate amount of reduction is what your bees can guard. Colder weather will result in the bees staying inside more and clustering. Lack of forage will also reduce their need for a larger entrance. You probably won’t see as many guard bees on your landing board. Rather than struggling with removing the current reducer, simply place a small piece of wood across the front of the current reducer to attain a smaller entrance. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation and allow moisture to escape. If the colony is small a piece of screen across the upper entrance will insure no unwanted guests have access.
4) Make repairs on your equipment, assemble new equipment, and make some of those time saver gadgets. Replace any bad equipment.
5) November is an excellent month for selling honey as customers prepare for the holiday season.
6) Make plans to attend your association’s monthly meeting. Mark your calendar for the annual holiday dinner. Start hinting at what books or equipment you’d like this year for holiday gift giving. Start setting your goals for next season.
Palmer has a direct, no-nonsense speaking style that gets right to the point and stays there. In the course of his decades long career in beekeeping he has listened, tested and learned…and fortunately for the rest of us is generous in passing along his field-tested findings.
It would not be possible to set down his points in detail: Palmer simply presented too much that was useful, often ground-breaking and always interesting. Hence the links, below, to his full lectures. But I will try to summarize his famous “Sustainable Apiary” approach and touch on any topic that as a beekeeper I found particularly valuable.
Read the full article here: Michael Palmer and The Sustainable Apiary — Here We Bee
It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging. It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner; of all our hives, they have the most honey stored. This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic, and the bees are the first out the door to forage.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary. Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then. If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive. Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored. I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game! We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them. Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.
Read full article here: Preparing for Winter — Lazer Creek Apiary Blog
Soon we will be heading into cooler weather. The concern here in the South Carolina Midlands isn’t the cold. It doesn’t get too cold here for the bees. They will cluster and as long as they have 1) honey, 2) enough bees, and 3) a dry cavity they are fine. With these three conditions present they will make their own heat and do well. The concern is moisture within the hive. The moisture is deadly as it will drip on the bees and wick away the heat, chill them, and they will die. If you don’t believe in the power of moisture to wick away the heat I encourage you to get out tomorrow morning and wash your car. What seems like a beautiful fall morning will chill you to the bone. If that fails to convince you try it again when the temperature falls to freezing.
I got the following from over on the Bee-L discussion list. It’s something to think about as temperatures drop and moisture in the hive condenses and becomes dangerous. The information below did not come with a named author.
Here’s some math on 100lbs of honey with 20% moisture… nice round numbers to keep the math simple: 20% moisture on 100lbs (45.4kg) of honey is 9.08kg of water which at 1L per kg is 9.08kg of water.
Now for the rest of the honey:
This quantity of honey is 80% (80lbs) of fructose. Molar mass of fructose (C6H12O6) = 180.72g/mol
6 Carbon -> 12.01g/mol x 6 = 72.60g/mol
12 Hydrogen -> 1.01g/mol x 12 = 12.12g/mol
6 Oxygen -> 16.00g/mol x 6 = 96.00g/mol
Total = 72.60g/mol + 12.12g/mol + 96.00g/mol
80lbs of fructose = 36287g
36287g of fructose / 180.72g/mol = 201 mol of fructose.
For future ease, lets round this to 200 mol of fructose.
Fructose is consumed by the bees and burnt with the oxygen they consume to release carbon dioxide and water. Here’s the balanced formula:
C6H12O6 + 6O2 -> 6CO2 +6H2O
Since 80lbs of fructose is roughly 200mol of fructose we need 1200 mol of oxygen to produce 1200mol of carbon dioxide and 1200mol of water.
200[C6H12O6] + 1200[O2] -> 1200[CO2] +1200[H2O]
Water as a molar mass of 18.02g/mol.
So 1200mol of water x 18.02g/mol = 21.6kg of water.
At 1L per kg we get 21.6kg of water released in the consumption of 80lbs of fructose.
So the total water in 100lbs of honey at 20% moisture is 9.08L + 21.6L = 30.68 liters of water.
If getting over 30L of water off of 31.5L (110lbs) of honey still sounds crazy, realize that the bees will have to consume 38.4kg of oxygen to metabolize the honey. So 45.4kg of honey and 38.4kg of oxygen combine – through the wonders of cellular respiration – to release 30.7 liters of water inside the hive.
The best and cheapest method of lowering the moisture problem is 1) providing adequate ventilation. My inner covers have an upper entrance cut into them. If the colony’s population is robust I just leave the upper entrance open as during summer. If the bees have decreased in numbers I may flip the slot so that it is on the top of the inner cover, or screen it, to prevent intruders while still providing ventilation. 2) Reducing the water in syrup to a 2:1 mix this time of year also helps to start reducing the amount of moisture within the hive. 3) As it gets colder, I have also tried removing all liquid feed and place a feeding shim with dry sugar on top Some people simply pour dry sugar on top of a piece of paper placed on the top bars or on the inner cover (Mountain Camp Feeding). The sugar acts as a desiccant and absorbs the humidity. The bees feed on any sugar that the condensation liquifies. It’s a two birds with one stone situation. 4) My first year I placed an extra box on top of the inner cover and inside I placed an old quilt. I was surprised at how damp/wet it got with condensation. 5) I have a friend that has some sort of fiber board that absorbs moisture. He places them over the bees (top box) and it wicks away the moisture keeping it from dripping on the bees. For people with money, they are available precut from the bee supply stores and in building supply stores under the name Homasote.
Start inspecting underneath your inner and outer covers for signs of condensation or mold. If it’s staying wet, dripping, etc increase ventilation or use other means to help them stay dry.
On the lighter side, some will find this funny, others won’t be able to get by the obvious noxious vehicle of Nazi Germany. But, one takes what one can and find humor if possible:
I find myself digging ever deeper into the void of my beekeeping knowledge. It seems the more you think you know, the more you realize you don’t know enough. That said, I’m forced into at least assessing the current state of affairs in the bee yard and make decisions based on my ever increasing level of uncertainty about these things.
It seems that I keep reading here and there that the two biggest killers of honey bees are mites and starvation. More recently I saw a third reason suggested, that being winter moisture in the hive. And then let’s not forget about problems resulting from inappropriate internal hive space. Let’s call these threats to beekeeping the Fall Four. So, with these things in mind, let’s visit the bee yard and see what’s happening.
It’s now late October and crunch time for assessing the Fall Four. Hopefully you survived the summer dearth period. Some of my friends fed their bees through the dearth and others allowed their bees to eat their stores – either method works. But now is the time to take on the Fall Four and look at each item and make it right prior to the coming cooler weather. Remember, honey bees are cold blooded animals and anything less than ideal brood nest temperature, in the low nineties, is likely to be stressing. And although the cool weather has started, we’ve still got a long way to go as well as times we can’t enter the hives or use certain interventions. So, this time of year we’re all beekeeping preppers.
Item #1 is Mites. I’ve lost one colony to mites this year. It crashed with a mighty thud. Within three to four weeks it went from absolutely thriving to a handful of struggling bees. The weather was warmer then so I continued to see bees coming and going. If a mite crash was to happen now, with these cooler days, I’d probably see no bee traffic as it would take all of the sickly remaining bees to heat the brood area, queen, and cluster. Luckily I’m currently seeing traffic by late mornings on all my hives. A friend of mine told me the other day that he considers a colony dying by mites to be similar to the flu running through a dormitory – one day all are fine, but within days everyone is bedridden. It’s not the mite itself that kills but the viri it spreads. Just like the flu, when the right virus coincides with the right opportunity it’s off to the races. So, pardon my rambling, but have you checked for mites lately? That doesn’t mean look at your bees and try to find mites. It means place a sticky board underneath, ether roll, or sugar shake and count mites and treat accordingly. Recently I’ve been reading about the need to treat all hives when mites levels are high in any hive in an apiary. It seems a failing colony getting robbed out is itself a vector for transmission of mites within an apiary. Personally, I’ve decided this year to treat using Oxalic Acid. Given it is an organic acid and apparently works by eroding the mites finer anatomical parts, the mites are not able to build a tolerance or immunity over time. With all colonies looking healthy right now, my plan is to wait until the broodless period around Thanksgiving and treat all of my colonies simultaneously.
Item #2 is Starvation. I placed my colonies on a maintenance level of feeding when dearth started. I had a plan to reassess stores at the start of October but then the Flood of 2015 came and plans were dashed. By the time I got into my hives several things indicated it was time to step up my feeding program – two weeks of rain, lack of fall foraging, and bees stuck inside eating their stores. My current goal is to get the hives heavy as soon as possible. That’s going to mean switching to a 2:1 sugar syrup to encourage storage while not stimulating brood rearing. I know from my recent inspections (after the flood) that the queens have already decreased egg laying. I don’t know if that’s because nothing was coming in during those long, wet weeks or because the days are getting shorter. Doesn’t matter though, my response is the same – feed ’em up good now. Now is the time to learn to pick up your hives from behind to determine their weight. That way, during the dead of winter you can assess stores without opening them.
Item #3 is Moisture. I’ve heard and read many times that moisture kills bees before cold temperatures kill bees. I’ve watched the YouTube videos showing beekeepers in the mountains of Virginia, upstate New York, and Vermont with snow piled high around their hives – and their bees survive just fine. I think that is proof enough that bees can survive the temperatures of a South Carolina winter. But moisture, that’s a different matter. Almost every winter I see moisture inside the outer covers on chilly days. If not controlled that condensation starts to mold – not good. The old books talk about installing your hives tilted forward so condensation will run forward and not drip down directly onto the bees and chill them. That’s good but I really want to do more. For one, reducing the syrup to a 2:1 mix this time of year also helps to start reducing the amount of moisture within the hive. A little later in the Fall, I’ll remove all liquid feed and place a feeding shim with dry sugar on top. Some people simply pour dry sugar on top of a piece of paper placed on the top bars or on the inner cover (Mountain Camp Feeding). The sugar acts as a desiccant and absorbs the humidity. The bees feed on any sugar that the condensation liquifies. It’s a two birds with one stone situation. But the best method to solving the moisture problem is adequate ventilation. My inner covers have an upper entrance cut into them. If the colony’s population is robust I just leave the upper entrance open as during summer. If the bees have decreased in numbers I may flip the slot so that it is on the top of the inner cover, or screen it, to prevent intruders while still providing ventilation. I don’t worry so much about the low temperatures unless it’s also really windy for extended periods; I do worry about that wet, damp chill that comes with too much moisture in the hive.
Item #4 is Internal Hive Space. Now is certainly a good time to assess hive (i.e boxes) volume. Most colonies grow throughout the nectar flow. If you were lucky you had the pleasure of stacking boxes on top of boxes – the uppermost boxes filled and capped with hoarded stores of honey. After the great flood, I was surprised to see that the bees had eaten a good bit of their stores. Other colonies had decided to eat some frames and leave others capped and untouched. Also, some colonies started their reduction in colony size early and are now down to half of the numbers of bees they had during the flow. Either way, they simply do not need the extra space any longer. My mentors have told me that here in the Midlands a hive with a 10 frame deep and a 10 frame medium, well provisioned, is all that is needed to get through winter until about late February. (two deeps or three mediums are also okay and represent about the same volume.) So, I look to consolidate remaining honey frames into as perfect of a second box as possible giving the bees a well stocked pantry above their brood area. Any extra full frames are placed in the freezer for possible use in late winter/early spring during buildup. I take a similar approach with regard to colonies that have reduced their numbers. I give them just enough room to be cozy and remove extra boxes (remember extra boxes are invitations to hive beetles and wax moths and require patrolling by your bees). The idea is to turn hives into efficient and compact units going into late fall and winter.
As already stated, I know more and more that I know less and less about bees. I’m sure that the way I am approaching this can be done a thousand different ways. That’s the intrigue of beekeeping. It’s an art and your methods are equally as valid. What works for you may be superior to what works for me. So take my observations and methods as incentive to explore, experiment, and tweak to your own situation. It’s all an adventure.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of October:
Plan on checks twice this month but otherwise do not work unless necessary to prevent the triggering of robbing behavior. Try to not be too disruptive in order to allow them to get their house (brood box) in order for winter.
If you have not yet treated for Varroa it’s important that this is done before your winter bees are exposed to the smorgasbord of viruses that Varroa transmits when it feeds. Also, it’s not sufficient to just treat. You also need to have some idea that the treatment was effective in reducing the numbers of Varroa in the colony.
Expect the break in the weather to occur during mid-October. Local legend has it that the State Fair brings autumn to the Midlands. Looking forward, our average date for first frost is the last week in October and the first freeze the first week of November. That said, the bees still have plenty of flying days ahead before winter.
Notice goldenrod and asters along the roadways. Kudzu will also provide forage if available in your area.
1) Remove fall flow honey if appropriate. In my few years of beekeeping I have never had enough of a fall nectar flow to take honey. However, I have had colonies that were so large at the end of the spring flow that I was unable to reduce their cavity size to winter configuration until October. When this happens I am usually pleasantly surprised to be able to take some surplus frames from the bees, still leaving them enough for winter. Remember if you treated for Varroa using a product that affects the honey you will not be able to eat this honey but the bees will be happy to get it back in late winter / early spring.
2) Process supers and store for winter. After any extracting your options for cleaning the sticky frames are to either place the supers back on the hive or place them out in the yard for clean-up. If placed out in yard expect some comb tearing as the bees rob the supers of leftover honey. I am lucky that I do not have neighbors close and can separate the sticky supers from the bee yard by 100 yards or more. If you don’t have these options don’t leave sticky supers out where they can create a nuisance for your neighbors and cause a feeding frenzy spreading to your weaker hives. Instead consider simply placing them back on the hive and your bees will do the work of cleaning the supers and placing the leftover honey in the boxes below. Remove the cleaned supers in a few days returning your hives to winter configuration.
3) Protect your drawn comb. After it gets cold wax moths will no longer pose a threat. Until we get cold weather (end of November) you will need to protect any drawn comb you have removed from the hive. Methods vary from placing the frames in the freezer, placing outside open to light and air, or using Paramoth (paradichlorbenzene). Use of BT (bacillus thuringiensis aizawai) is no longer legal as the manufacturer did not apply for renewal for use with bees. The product is still available but is no longer labeled for use with bees. Clemson article on wax moth IPM.
4) Reduce entrances if not yet done. The appropriate amount of reduction is what your bees can guard. I like to see 20-30 bees on my landing board guarding the entrance. If you have this or more, and your entrance is well defended, then you may not have to reduce the entrance from its current setting. A three to four inch entrance is typical for this time of year. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation and allow moisture to escape.
5) Feed bees as necessary. As you recall, we started stimulating brood production in late August with a full 1:1 sugar syrup mix. Your bees, by now, should have some weight on them and you should be seeing an increase in orientation flights. When you see foragers bringing in goldenrod and other fall pollens they are raising your winter bees. Your colonies should have some open nectar for brood rearing available from the heavy feeding you have already provided. If they have plenty of open nectar but are still not heavy with stores it’s time to increase to 2:1 syrup to put some weight on the colony.
6) Any colonies that are lagging behind in weight should be fed aggressively at this time. Assuming you have reduced them down to overwintering configuration as discussed last month, now is the time to make sure they are increasing their stores in preparation for winter. Use 2:1 sugar syrup via your normal feeding method. Whenever they run out of syrup, refill. If using a jar feeder enlarge the feeder holes just a bit to allow them good access to the thicker syrup. The 2:1 syrup, fed rapidly, creates a situation where the bees cannot consume it as fast as they empty the feeder thereby creating a situation where they must store the thick syrup. If, however, you have colonies with more frames of stores than needed, consider sharing the bounty with less fortunate colonies.
7) Continue to tip colonies forward from the rear to assess their weight. Notice the number of frames of honey stores inside so that you can compare what you are feeling with what is actually inside. You will need this assessment skill during the cold of winter on days when you shouldn’t open the hives.
8) Pollen: Usually we get a nice pollen flow in the Midlands during the month of October. New beekeepers will notice, perhaps for the first time, the yellow and orange blooms along the roadways. That “smelly sock” odor you may notice in your hives this time of year is attributed to goldenrod. Kudzu blooms in late summer and will continue into early autumn producing a beautiful purple pollen. The bees will use autumn pollen to both raise winter bees and to stockpile for use during next year’s spring buildup.
9) Remove any queen excluders on hives. A queen excluder during the winter will prevent the queen from moving up with the winter cluster as the bees consume honey and move upward staying warm.
10) I’ve never had problems with mice in my bee yard but if you have a local mouse population consider placing a mouse guard on this month. An inexpensive method is to reduce the current opening top to bottom to 3/8 inch.
11) Attend your local monthly meeting. Volunteer to educate the public on the importance of honey bees by signing up to work a shift at the upcoming South Carolina State Fair booth.
12) Attend the South Carolina State Fair. Visit the South Carolina Beekeepers Association’s booth.
Out of curiosity I suppose, Steve asked how often you can split a beehive in one year. In other words, if you start with one beehive, what is the maximum amount of queen-right beehives that you can have by the end of the year? I answered that I didn’t know, as I’ve never tried it before and there are so many variables to consider. But it did leave me wondering how many hives a person could make if their only goal was to make more beehives (not honey production), and so the Fresno Experiment was born.
The premise of the experiment was to find out how many hives we could make that would be able to overwinter on their own stores of honey (or very limited feeding).
Get ready for Spring!
Lots of articles speak to the beekeeping year beginning in August or early Fall. Yikes, that’s now!
If you harvested in June then you probably fed your bees through the dearth. If you waited until now to harvest you probably got less honey but you saved the costs associated with feeding. Either way, now is the time to build the best bees you possibly can for the winter.
I know it’s still hot but get back in there on the next reasonably nice day and assess them. You don’t really have to take every frame out and make them upset but get an idea of what they have. Look for capped and uncapped brood, pollen, and honey stores. And start picking up the back of that hive and compare it to what you see inside so you learn what’s heavy and what’s not.
We’re on the cusp of the Fall flow and soon your hive will start to stink from goldenrod pollen. That smell should bring a smile to your face as they are making preparations for winter and raising fat winter bees. Some of you may have more honey than you need, others will see some empty comb. Read your hive and, like an artist, choose your tools to create the ideal hive for overwintering.
Most beekeepers assess and treat for Varroa after they pull honey whether that was a couple months ago or now. You want to do everything possible to increase the health of your bees now so they, in turn, raise strong winter bees over the next two generations. Sickly bees build sickly bees; strong bees build Arnold Schwartenegger bees. You want Arnold on your side when the temperatures are 20 degrees in January and the pantry is waning.
Beekeepers that started this year will reach the pinnacle of their beekeeping in March 2018. Then they will have bees-a-plenty and the race to stay ahead of the bees becomes an exciting and enjoyable problem. Using this year’s drawn comb they will explode. The bees will be saying, “Scotty, give me all you’ve got.” and you’ll be saying, “Captain, I don’t think she can take much more! She’s gonna swarm!” (pardon the paraphrase).
But, back to the topic at hand – building better winter bees. Time now to step up your game one more time before we enter the long dull days of winter. Although most days in the Midlands of South Carolina allow for the bees to fly they won’t be flying much because there won’t be anything out there. And you’ll be stuck inside wishing for Spring to come and waiting for that first Red Maple bloom, or with your ear to the side of the hive listening for their hum as they convert honey into heat.
So, assess them now and and get them flying towards a hive full of strong winter bees and a hive filled with lots of stores for the long winter ahead. Go for it! Build better bees!
Picture: Early Spring bees. Notice no leaves on the trees yet.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of September: Plan on checks twice this month but do not work unless necessary to prevent triggering robbing.
Although we have recently had a pleasant break in the weather, September weather usually continues to be hot in the Midlands. Don’t expect extended cool weather until mid October. In the meantime, slightly reduced temperatures may open up some alternative Varroa treatment options.
The main management issue this month is a continuation of last month’s focus on pest management. Pests are growing in numbers while bee populations are typically falling in response to a reduction in available nectar. Varroa, Small Hive Beetles, Yellow Jackets, and other pests can overwhelm a hive leading to decline. A weakened hive then becomes vunerable to robbing and wax moths. The beekeeper must get ahead of the pests as responding after a problem is observed may be too late.
September 1st – September 31st
1) Continue to monitor and control pests – Varroa, Small Hive Beetles, and Yellow Jackets. If you have not yet treated for Varroa now is the time to assess and act accordingly.
2) This year’s hive beetle population seems to be greater than last year’s. I suspect this is due to last year’s warm winter, increased rainfall this spring and summer, and overall supportive weather. Place traps or Swiffer pads in hives before you notice a problem. Check traps weekly and replenish or replace as needed.
3) Yellow Jacket traps with lure can be placed around the apiary. There are several low cost or no cost do-it-yourself trap plans online. If you see yellow jackets attempting to breach security at the hive entrance observe how your bees handle the situation. A strong hive will eject the intruder in short order. Keep hives strong by adjusting hive size to bee population. Poor Man’s Yellow Jacket trap.
4) Goldenrod and Asters begin to make their appearance. We sometimes get a short fall nectar flow. If we get a fall flow you’ll notice a renewed vigor on the landing board and lots of pollen entering the hive. The smelly sock odor of goldenrod will be noted when you open the hive and sometimes when walking through the apiary.
5) Typically no local queens are available in September. If you need a queen you’ll probably have to order one from a warmer climate.
6) It’s crunch time to combine weak hives with strong hives. There is a saying, “Take your losses in the Fall.” Experienced beekeepers combine their weak hives with stronger hives knowing they can split in the spring and nothing is lost. (Assess and make sure the weak hive is not weak due to disease before combining.) Better to strengthen a strong hive than allow the weak hive to perish. Use the newspaper method between boxes with slits to allow the bees to become accustomed to each other. Remove weaker queen prior to combining. Note: Assess and make sure the weak hive is not weak due to disease before combining.
7) Use entrance reducers as appropriate. Many colonies have been bringing their populations down over the course of dearth period. Adjust their entrances accordingly. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation.
8) Increase feeding this month to stimulate the brood rearing of nurse bees which will raise your winter bees. I continue to use a 1:1 mix during this time but nothing thinner. Coupled with autumn pollen flow this can give a boost to improving the quality of your winter bees. Some beekeepers begin the use of 2:1 this month. The decision is yours based on your assessment of your hives, their stores, and whether you think we’ll get cooler weather sooner rather than later.
9) Begin to tip colonies forward from the rear to assess their weight. Notice the number of frames of honey stores inside so that you can compare what you are feeling with what is actually inside. You will need this assessment skill during winter when you shouldn’t open the hives.
10) If needed, make efforts to bring all hives with extra supers down to overwintering configuration. For ten frame hives that usually means one deep and one medium OR three mediums. If you have eight frame hives do the math to accomplish the same internal volume.
11) The occasional late swarm caught this time of year can be housed briefly in a box and fed. They will pull out some nice comb but anticipate combining them after a short while with an established colony.
12) Prepare your honey and wax entries for the South Carolina State Fair. Helpful hints can be found here.
13) Attend your local monthly meeting. Volunteer to educate the public on the importance of honey bees by signing up to work a shift at the upcoming SC State Fair booth.
14) It’s September and time to start preparing for autumn! Enjoy the following resources as you prepare your colonies:
Fall Management by David MacFawn
Fall Management Review from MSBA Beekeeper Class
Here in California we had a very hot summer. For most of June, July, and August we’ve had temperatures over one hundred degrees. Most gardens with full sun exposure did not do very well and neither did bees. We were really able to see the difference between hives that were shaded (or had some shade […]
|Birth:||Aug. 27, 1923|
|Death:||Aug. 6, 2007|
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007
George Wady Imirie Jr., 84, a master beekeeper who tirelessly promoted the value of bees and beehives, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 6 at the Casey House in Rockville.
As a beekeeper since 1933, Mr. Imirie knew enough about the stinging insects to brave the swarms at his Rockville home without the usual head-to-toe beekeeping garb.
“Bees don’t like socks, especially woolly ones,” he told a reporter in 1997. “A hat is a good idea, because if a bee gets tangled up in your hair, it’ll sting you. I don’t wear a shirt, because that way, if a bee is on me, I can feel it and brush it away.”
Far more than stings, Mr. Imirie worried about the decline in bee colonies over the past several decades, infestation of the wild bee population by mites, and the level of knowledge and skill of those who keep apiaries.
“He definitely was someone who didn’t feel it necessary to tolerate any ignorance around him,” said Marc Hoffman, a member of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association, which Mr. Imirie founded. “He would interrupt someone to ask, ‘How many hours is it before the larva emerges from the egg?’ and you’d better know the answer.”
But he also shared his knowledge, writing an opinionated and blunt newsletter called the “Pink Pages,” which addressed how to prevent swarming, how to prepare in fall so bees would overwinter well and how to deal with pests. The newsletter was read by beekeepers around the world. He coined a phrase now popular in bee circles, “Be a bee-keeper, not a bee-haver.”
In addition, Mr. Imirie and his sons thrilled Montgomery County Fair visitors and schoolchildren with demonstrations with a live hive of honeybees.
A Bethesda native born to a family that has been in the area for 298 years, Mr. Imirie started tending hives at age 9, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He dropped the hobby when he went to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree.
He was studying for a graduate degree in atomic engineering when World War II broke out. He was briefly in the Army, then joined the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., working on the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war, he studied engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and American University, one of his sons said. Mr. Imirie returned to Bethesda and helped run the family auto parts business for most of his working life until it was sold 18 years ago.
Mr. Imirie resumed beekeeping on his six-acre property in Rockville. He set up the hives in a square around a gnarly old apple tree. A hedge trimmed to a height just taller than Mr. Imirie surrounded the yard so that when bees emerged from the hives in search of nectar they would fly high enough to clear the bushes and avoid bystanders.
He founded the beekeepers association in the 1980s and for many years ran it almost single-handedly. After five strokes in 1990, Mr. Imirie began using a scooter. Throat cancer further slowed him in the late 1990s.
When Maryland agreed to produce auto license plates with a beekeeping insignia, Mr. Imirie was given the prototype, BEE 001, which he affixed to his scooter.
The association named its annual award for education after him.
|Birth:||Aug. 27, 1923|
|Death:||Aug. 6, 2007|
Of all the bad things out there threatening the survival of honey bees in our brave new world, none is more lethal than the Varroa destructor mite.
The Varroa mite has done more than just imperil the future of honey bees, and with that future the very food supply we all depend on. It has pitted beekeeper against beekeeper in the endless debate on whether to treat Varroa mites in your colony, or go treatment free. Treatment lite?
Should we, as Seeley and Winston have suggested, turn our bee genome inside out in pursuit of a honey bee that might outrun Varroa but will end up being just another kind of wasp…no honey harvests, no increase? Do we even have a choice?
Read more about this interesting option here: Eradication is the Goal: Gene Silencing is the Tool — Here We Bee
Quite literally, everything starts with a tasty meal.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow wrote a psychology article proposing a human heirarchy of needs. The short and sweet of the article is: humans start with meeting their basic needs such as food and shelter and, only as those needs are secure can we move to more advanced levels of operations.
So, what does this have to do with bees or insects? Nothing except that we probably need to understand other life forms also have a hierarchy o…f needs even if limited or primitive. Instead of behaviorally based it’s totally instinctual and for most it starts with food and ends with reproduction. Small Hive Beetles, Wax Moths, Yellow Jackets, and other pests are simply trying to have a tasty meal and move on to reproduction.
Our job, as beekeepers, is to interupt their ability to progess from food acquisition to reproduction. They want food; deny them access to food and they never progress to reproduction. Let this thought occupy our minds as we contemplate how to combat these pests (after all, we’re already fed so we can operate on higher Maslovian levels).
Denying food to pests: Does our bee feeding program build up the opposing armies as well as feed our bees? Do you see SHB or yellow jackets at your feeding station? Have we provided our hives with adequate defensive tools like entrance reducers, SHB traps, and “hive right-sizing” to guard and protect food stores? Are we inadvertantly announcing food availability with fragrant oils to attract pests who are actively seeking out food sources?
Using their needs against them: Bait traps can turn the tables on the pests by tricking them into thinking a food source is available. Simple, cheap traps can be made to attract these pests while NOT attracting honey bees. Poor, poor pests; can’t we all just get a snack? If they are hungry they are more likely to try that bait trap. Be careful not to create an increase in pest pressure through careless feeding of the foes.
My point is simply, if they don’t eat they don’t reproduce.
I remember some time back being encouraged to think like a honey bee. During these times of food dearth, perhaps it also pays to start thinking like a pest.
Seemingly indestructible Varroa mites have decimated honeybee populations and are a primary cause of colony collapse disorder, or CCD. Michigan State University scientists have found genetic holes in Varroa mites’ armor that could potentially reduce or eliminate the marauding invaders. Credit: Zachary HuangMichigan State University scientists have found genetic holes in the pests’ armor that…
Read full article here: Varroa mites—bees’ archenemies—have genetic holes in their armour — BEEKeeperTom’s Blog