As always, all beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of August:
Plan on checks twice this month but be brief when opening hive to prevent triggering robbing. This month you should focus on mite control, other pest control such as Small Hive Beetles and yellow jackets, and feeding as needed. Unfortunately, controlling pests is not a great deal of fun.
It is now critical that the beekeeper assess varroa levels (sugar roll method or alcohol wash) and treat this month as needed. (If you have not treated yet, most likely you will need to treat.) Varroa mites are now outbreeding your bees. Fewer drone cells means the mites will start entering more worker cells. Additionally, while your bees are reducing their populations as a result of a decrease in their food supply, the mites are continuing to multiple exponentially. It is critical that you determine the effectiveness of your treatments by measuring varroa levels post treatment. Do not assume that a treatment was effective. Establishing a healthy population of bees now will be reflected in your fall bees and ultimately in your winter bees. Allowing your bees to maintain a high mite load now will result in weak fall bees and sickly winter bees later. Depending on your current mite level your bees may not get to winter if this is left unaddressed. If you are seeing deformed wing virus you likely have a serious case of mites, a high virus load, and need to take immediate action.
Dearth continues this month. Even if you left the bees plenty of honey consider feeding a thin 1:1 syrup to provide hydration and calories. Syrup is quick and ready for the bees to utilize helping them keep the brood fed, cool the hive, and keep the hive at 50% – 60% humidity. Additionally, if the population is dropping or brood is looking poorly fed, i.e. no brood food in larval cells, offering syrup will increase the population. You’ll also notice an increase in colony activity (who doesn’t enjoy a refreshing drink in this heat?). It’s also a good time to start monitoring honey stores by hefting the back of the hive, comparing the felt weight to the stores found inside on inspection. The bees are not bringing in much nectar now (if any) and will consume what is currently stored as we continue through dearth.
August will be your last opportunity to obtain local Midland’s queens. Early contact with your local supplier is suggested. If you need a queen after this month you will probably have to order online from out of state.
1) Treatment options for varroa control are now limited due to the extreme Midlands heat in August. Options for August include oxalic acid vaporization, Hopguard III, Apivar, and other hard chemicals. If using oxalic acid vaporization, a series of treatments is suggested (Rusty Burlew covers various treatment schedules here as does Randy Oliver here.) Remember to harvest any honey for human consumption prior to treating if indicated.
3) Monitor and reduce entrances to assist the bees with guarding. This can be helpful to avoid robbing from other colonies as well as pests. Spilled syrup or honey can start a robbing frenzy. Be exceptionally careful when working your colonies to not spill syrup or drip honey when working colonies.
4) Re-queen as necessary – a weak or failing queen will not improve over the fall. The stressors of winter will need a healthy colony – now is the time to strengthen weak colonies if you suspect a failing queen.
5) Unite weak (but otherwise healthy) colonies with stronger colonies if no disease is present. If a colony is weak and not showing promise of strengthening, rather than allowing it to dwindle and fail, combine it with a strong colony. Consider that combining two weak colonies does not improve either and results in a colony that continues to weaken.
6) A small upper entrance may be beneficial with venting excess heat. Depending on your colony strength, staple a screen to prevent unwanted visitors yet allow ventilation. Or another idea is to use popsicle sticks, or pennies, between the inner and telescoping covers to allow heat to escape.
7) Remove colonies from mountains and extract Sourwood honey.
8) Cotton bloom has typically already started but you still have time to place colonies on upcoming soybeans.
9) If not already accomplished, continue to reduce hive size (internal volume). If you have not been feeding syrup, and still have honey on any remaining colonies you may harvest for human consumption. If you have been feeding, some beekeepers place excess frames of stores in the freezer for feeding, if needed, during winter. Always leave at least one hive body, often referred to as the feed chamber, of honey for bees.
10) Monitor pollen supply coming into hive. We occasionally see a late summer pollen dearth that lasts a couple weeks depending on weather. Some locations produce more pollen than others. Bees must have pollen just as they must have nectar or syrup in order to create brood food and to maintain a healthy immune system. Monitor pollen stores by observing the presence of pollen on brood frames especially the frames on the edges of the brood nest. If your colony needs supplemental pollen consider feeding dry pollen or substitute in open pollen feeders. Do not use pollen patties inside the hive as they create Small Hive Beetle problems here in the Midlands. More information here: Pros and Cons of Feeding Dry Pollen Substitute.
11) Starting the last week of August begin to increase your syrup feeding using a 1:1 mix and provide enough to stimulate brood production. Do not use essential oils this time of year as it may incite robbing. Monitor honey stores as well. The goal is to start raising the nurses that will raise the nurses that will ultimately raise your winter bees. It is important that you begin to raise well fed, healthy bees free of mite loads, and viruses in late summer. Do not let sick or compromised bees do the job of raising your fall nurse bees or winter bees.
12) It’s also time to start monitoring stores to ensure you will reach the goal of one full super (the feed chamber hive body directly above your brood nest) for winter.
13) Keep water available at all times for your bees. If you don’t provide water they will gather water elsewhere such as your neighbor’s swimming pool.
14) The South Carolina State Fair will be hosting competitive events this year. Registration is now open. You can register online in the Agriculture Section HERE. Registration is free until September 1st. Start preparing your entries!
15) Attend your local monthly meeting. Volunteer to educate the public on the importance of honey bees.
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.