Charlie's monthly beekeeping calendar

Your monthly guide of beekeeping tips for you and your hives

September 7, 2021

To all SBA members,

August was hot and humid for both the bees and the beekeepers. My hives had little or no nector or honey stores in the combs, so I had to feed 1 to1sugar water to keep the hives from starving. Feeding at this time of year is not surprising due to the nector dearth. I have had to feed for the past 2 years.

September is here and winter is just around the corner. We are going to have to continue treating for Varroa mites and start to feed the hives 2 to 1 sugar water to put weight on the hives for winter.

On a side note, as I was working my hives, I noticed that there were a lot of worker bees that had their pollen baskets full of bright yellow pollen. When I looked around the farm, I saw that the goldenrod is beginning to bloom, signaling the start of the fall nector flow.

Varroa Mite Treatment

August 30th was the end of my first six week Varroa mite treatment period using Apivar. I have removed all the strips from my hives and I have started my second Varroa mite treatment period using Formic Pro for two weeks.

Starting on September 2, the weather gave me a window of opportunity to apply Formic Pro safely for the next five days. Day time temperatures were expected to be in the high seventies with no humidity and the night time temperatures in the mid sixties. This is important because the off-gassing of formic acid is at its strongest in the first three to four days when first applied. Although the package directions state that it is safe to use Formic Pro when the temperature is up to 85 degrees, I have heard from experienced beekeepers that there is a high risk of killing the queen or having the hive abscond if it is used when the temperature is above 80 degrees.

I will be treating twice a month with oxalic acid vapor (OAV) in November and December if the weather and temperatures are right while the hives are broodless to get the highest kill percentage rate that I can.

I will be trying this new treatment strategy to see if I have a better over winter survival rate than I did last year. I have been checking my mite levels before and after treatments using alcohol washes.

Remember!
- Read the directions for your Varroa mite treatment of choice very carefully or look at a YouTube video on how to apply the treatment.
- Be sure you treat in the correct temperature range for your Varroa mite treatment of choice.

Preparing Colonies for the Winter

I prepare my hives for winter by first going through the colony and finding the location of the brood nest. If it is in the top box, I reverse the brood boxes: put the top box with the queen and brood on the bottom board and the brood box with all the empty frames on top. Then I put on a top hive feeder and begin feeding the week after Labor Day with 2-to-1 sugar water until the bees slow or stop taking it. I have found that by feeding the bees this way, I do not have the problem of my hives running out of food in the early spring.

My formula for mixing 2 to 1 sugar water:
I heat the water on the stove when I mix in the sugar.
- 2-to-1 sugar water = 3 qt of water and 10 lbs of sugar = about 2 gal.

Feeding Your Bees
The Top Hive Feeder

You should understand the principle of the top hive feeder in relationship to the bees. If you feed with a quart jar with holes in the lid, the bees will get a restricted amount of sugar water. The sugar water comes into the hive at such a rate that the bees utilize all of it in raising brood and feeding the colony. Little to none will be stored for the winter. When you use a top hive feeder, there is a deluge of sugar water coming into the hive. A thousand bees are bringing it in so fast that the only option is to store it for future use as honey.

A lot of beekeepers feed fondant instead of sugar water. They put fondant on top of the frames in the hive so the bees can eat it throughout the winter. Some beekeepers replace the inner cover with a candy board. This is a shim filled with a hard compacted piece of sugar mixed with vinegar and water. The late Billy Davis, EAS Master Beekeeper and friend, will show you how to make candy for a candy board at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9piSQlWhgI

Some Common Mistakes

I have found that most new beekeepers feeding sugar water start too late in the year because they do not understand the honey bees time line. The colony has to prepare months in advance for the winter.

The most important fact that you must understand is the bees have to have warm weather and enough time to dry down the sugar water into honey before they cap it for the winter. If you begin feeding sugar water in October and the day time weather turns cold, fifty degrees or less the bees won't be able to process it into honey and the hive will run out of food before spring. If this happens then the only thing that you can do is to feed your bees fondant or sugar bricks.

What are you going to do for September?
1. If you applied your Apivar mite treatment around the end of July, you’re very close (if not past) the six week treatment time line when you must remove the Apivar strips.
2. Confirm you have a laying queen.
3. Go through your hives and reverse the brood boxes if needed. 4. Start feeding 2-to-1 sugar water around the 15th of September.
5. Start your second treatment program for Varroa mites early September into October, using your treatment of choice

Hive Ventilation

After you have finished feeding your hive for the winter, take off the top hive feeder and put the inner cover back on. I put two wooden blocks (about 5/8 thick,1 1⁄4 wide and 2 inches long) at the two front corners of the inner cover to raise the telescoping cover up to let the heat and humidity out of the hive through the winter. When the weather turns cold (40 degrees or less), I close up my screen bottom boards with corrugated sign board material.

I hope this information helps you prepare your bee colonies for the coming winter.
Happy Beekeeping!
Charlie Thomas
SBA President