Fall chores

A good looking bee yard to start the fall. 

Fall is perhaps the most important time of the beekeeping year. While the honey flows rapidly in spring, and swarm season can overwhelm you as it did us this year, there is plenty of time for the bees to react and adjust to changes in the spring and summer. Hives split, recombine, and may be requeened. Time heals many ills. By Sept 1 the luxury of time is against you, and the oncoming winter necessitates preparations.  For all of our hives, we try to do four key things in the fall.

(1) ensure they are queen right 
(2) ensure they have enough food
(3) Treat for mites
(4) Physically prepare them for winter. 
This list is presented in roughly the order of importance although really all of the factors must be completed to have the best chance of surviving winter in Maine. Further south I imagine it’s different.  Let’s delve into more detail on these important Fall Chores
(1) ensure the hive is queen right. 
Queen right is the opposite of “queen less” and simply means the hive has a queen. The hive can loose a queen any number of ways. A swam can leave and a virgin not return. The queen can die or be squished by a careless beekeeper. We have one hive that is queen less right now, due to a swam and virgin not hatching. It was combined with the hive that got tipped over by the bears. They should make a good combo as the ‘bear hive’ had very little food and the queen less hive had a full super of honey.  Here they are in their new super-hive combination:

Bottom two boxes were one hive and top two were queen less. 
(2) ensure they have enough food.
Food is next after a queen in making it through the winter. In Maine a strong colony needs around 60lbs of honey to make it through the winter. We try to have one shallow honey super and one deep super both full.  For deep boxes I do the “ooof” test. If I can just barely lift it and say “ooof, that’s heavy” they are ready for winter. Currently only one box is that heavy although the others are catching up. There are a few ways to get enough honey. The easiest is to have your bees make it on a nice strong fall goldenrod flow.  If that isn’t enough you can feed them heavy syrup (2-1 sugar to water)  We are doing a bit of both. Here’s a bee down the road from our house enjoying some aster:

So there is an out-of-focus bee there. What can I say, 
she was too busy gathering nectar to pose for a photo!

And our yard with sugar syrup feeders in place. We feed every hive to prevent robbing. The hives that need less food will take less food but this way they are not tempted to steal from the hives that need the sugar.

(3)Treat for Mites.
You may find as many opinions about mite treatments as you will beekeepers. We treat all our hives for mites every fall. We do not do a mite count because (a) we don’t have that much time and are lazy and (b) at pretty much any mite level they need to be treated. If for some reason a hive miraculously doesn’t have mites the mite treatment won’t hurt it. I equate fall mite treatment to a flu shot. If you know you are at high risk for getting the flu, (as bees are for mites) wouldn’t you want a flu shot? We are treating with ApiLifeVar this year which is a mixture of thymol, menthol, and eucalyptus. I’ve used other thymol based products in the past and been quite happy with them. We went with ApiLifeVar because it can be broken into a variety of sizes easily and so can be used to treat both nuts and full hives.  I didn’t get any photos of the initial mite treatment – the bees don’t like the smell (although I do) so I was working as quickly as possible. Here they are hanging out outside where it doesn’t smell as much:

Lots of bees at the entrance during mite treatment.

(4) physical preparations 
Physical preparations consist of wrapping the hives in tar paper and putting on insulating inner covers to absorb moisture (contrary to the name, moisture control is more important than actual heat retention).  Finally we will strap the hives down. After the bear incident I think I will leave all our hives strapped all the time -I’m pretty sure that’s what saved us! All of this will occur much later in the fall – probably closer to November.

Here’s our yard this morning, with feeder buckets and mite treatment in place (note two of the hives have an extra deep super covering the feed bucket, while one is exposed because I didn’t have any more extra boxes). Also on the “do as I say, not as I do front” don’t keep a messy bee yard like me. There’s a great trick to getting bees off things – just leave them out until night and the bees will go back inside. This is only a good trick if you then *actually go bring the item in at 10pm* otherwise you get a messy bee yard like us!