What can you do in fall to help your bees survive winter?
Click here for 10 tips from LCBA VP Kevin Reichert; click here for a slideshow of Kevin's method for making a moisture control box and his for candy board approaches. In the slideshow, scroll down below the "10 tips" section.
LCBA's Sept 10, 2016 Fall Management Workshop was written up on our Facebook page. Check out the narrative, below, of our 2014 Fall Management workshop:
LCBA held a Fall Management workshop on 9-6-14. About 30 beekeepers converged on our Treasurer, Rick Battin's, apiary at beautiful Grouse Hills Tree Farm in Winlock. We assessed food supplies, discussed feeding methods, how to test for mites, treatment pros/cons & methods, how to size up overall colony condition, & when to consider combining weak colonies. Below are some photos & discussion of key issues that beekeepers need to consider as they prepare their bees for winter. For some key take-home messages, please see the lower right column.
For info on Nosema ceranae, click here. If you read this & have questions, please contact us! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more fall management info, see our photo galleries about our Fall 2013 workshops in Winlock & Randle and Packwood. The Winlock 2013 workshop has more detail on treating for mites with MAQs; the Randle workshop has more on conducting hive inspections safely.
Above, LCBA Past-president Norm Switzler (foreground) answering questions about fall feeding as workshop participants suited up. To help bees shore up food supplies for winter, many feed 2:1 pure cane sugar:water solution, as the thicker syrup is easier for bees to dehydrate & cap. Bees are still bringing pollen - their protein source - but by September (in 2014, by August, after our hot weather), most nectar sources have dried up. As later photos show, our host Rick's farm has plenty of forage left thanks to intentional garden planning! For more details on feeding delivery methods, visit our "Feeding Bees" link.
After discussion of feeding & treatment methods, we went to open a colony whose health Rick had concerns about. Rick had 2 medium supers on top of a deep for this colony:
Rick has been shifting to foundationless beekeeping. Below, an outer frame in the top hive box shows some buildup and capped brood (see the closed cells on the right lobe of comb):
On the frame below, we see bees, but no stored food or brood. Ideally, a colony needs the equivalent of 2 full deep boxes of brood and food to survive winter: estimates vary, but 70 pounds of honey & pollen are considered standard for a healthy hive. One-box colonies can survive winter, but their situation isn't optimal. When you see frames with little food, that's a concern. Here, the large cells indicate drone comb (drones, the larger bees, require more space for larvae to develop - that's why Varroa mites favor drone comb to lay in):
Below, the next two frames display spotty brood pattern:
Now that's better: below, this brood frame is covered with bees, & frames pulled between this shot and the last had food supplies, though not as much as we'd hope (photos of food supplies appear later in this slideshow). Note the beekeepers in the shade: it was 90 degrees when we inspected these hives, and many opted to stand out of the sun, so those inspecting brought frames over for others to view....
Below, Norm's finger hovers over the queen - you can see her long, caramel-colored abdomen as she scurries out of the light....
Below, Center of the shot, that's one big, beautiful queen (suggested name: Xena), seeking an empty cell to lay in. This queen had a good retinue, but that's not viewable here b/c inspection disrupts the bees. Seeing the queen raised a question: why so much spotty brood earlier in the inspection if such a big, vigorous queen is present in the colony? There were areas of empty cells with chew marks around the perimeter, indicating recent hatch-outs, but no sign of swarm cells. Our conclusion: this hive had relatively recently re-queened, so Rick will feed this colony & hope that between that & the natural forage still available, they will recoup over the month to come. Another assessment will be needed toward the end of September..
Below, Rick puts the 2nd box back on this colony after removing the top, 3rd box altogether, consolidating some frames with built comb into this 2nd box. Mainly empty boxes make bees heat more space in winter:
Below, opening his 2nd "problem" colony, Rick displays the hive guard that he placed over his hive entrance to help them defend against yellowjackets and wasps (closeup below, right column):
Below, beginning the inspection. These are predominantly Carniolan bees (note darker color, grey & black striping rather than chestnut & black striping of Italian bees). Again, we see a spotty brood pattern...
Below, the full frame. There are some bees here keeping the brood warm, but not much brood (for more robust patterns, see photos in column at right from a different colony). Note the queen cups at the lower right sector of the frame: these are not swarm or supersedure cells in which the colony will raise a new queen. Healthy hives normally have these "play cups" that can be converted to queen cells if the colony does decide to swarm or to replace their existing queen.
Below, in Rick's 2nd colony, we find the queen - you can see her with the long abdomen toward the top of this grouping of bees. Note the bees pointing toward her, despite the disruption we're causing them by inspecting - a strong retinue suggests a well-mated, strong queen:
Below, can you spot the queen on this frame? Hint - middle sector.....Meanwhile, see the diverse colors of pollen at the lower right - this shows diverse nutrition, important for honey bees to activate their detoxification genes. Honey bees have about one-third as many detox genes as other insects (see our website, newsletter link, September 2014 newsletter for our August speaker, master beekeeper Franclyn Heinecke's, discussion of weeds as key bee forage).
Below, lower center, the queen - you can see her abdomen protruding down below her wings. At the center of this shot, you can see one of the things we want to see when we inspect: the small white curled larvae in their cells. This shows that the queen has been laying recently. After the queen lays an egg, it takes 3 days to hatch, then enters the larva stage for 6 days before being capped over, then, after about 12 more days, will hatch (this is the brood cycle for a female, worker bee).
Gottfried Fritz, left, answers a question from Taylor Mizar (right), as others talk on the background. With the heat today, we had knots of beekeepers all over Rick's apiary discussing different fall management questions:
Below, refreshments & discussion followed the workshop:
Below, note the little hole at the center of this comb: that's a communication hole. Bees make these in their own natural comb, & in winter, bees use them to travel between frames. Sometimes, when bees are in their winter cluster around their queen, they will not go up and over a frame, so they can starve even if there is food in the hive. Communication holes - whether made naturally by the bees or drilled into foundation by the beekeeper - can make a real difference.
Below, after 90 degree temperatures, cool water would have been great in any form, but we got it from this jug shaped like a skep & topped with a glass bee :) Rick comments: "And our lady scarecrow seated in the background. She is wearing a purple shirt to try to make her look more like my mom, but that just seems to make the deer like her more."
Below, the orchard lady scarecrow, closeup:
Below, in Rick's main apiary, hives facing the forest. Bees derive propolis, their "bee glue," from tree resins, as well as plenty of nutrition. Rick's bees have no shortage of resin sources!
Rick has been experimenting with various wood stains in making his boxes. He showed us one inner cover that he had coated with a propolis-vinegar solution, leaving a lovely red stain that protects wood effectively: "It was actually propolis with 91% isopropyl alcohol," Rick notes. "Norm mentioned that there is 99% as well, and I found some at a drugstore today. But it is significantly more expensive, and my current formula works pretty good. I put the propolis and alcohol in a jar and shake it around, leaving it for a few days and shaking periodically. At the bottom of the jar small chunks of pure white wax are all that remains, so I think the alcohol is doing an efficient job of liquefying all the propolis." Below, Rick's beautiful hive boxes:
Below, Kent in discussion with Mason Gaul, his Youth Scholarship Program mentee. Mason and Joevanie Montalvo of Toledo High School are LCBA's first youth scholarship students. They applied and were outfitted with equipment and bees and given a mentor. For more information about LCBA's Youth Scholarship Program, click here.
Below, look closely and you can spot several girls foraging on Rick's borage plants. Bees love borage. For more about what to plant for bees, visit our Plant For Bees page.
Above, LCBA former President Norm Switzler led a small group of beekeepers at our September 12, 2015 fall management issues workshop. We had over 30 participants and 8 mentors on hand. Below, looking at the damage wax moths have done to comb:
Above, LCBA members at our Sept 2014 fall management workshop. Below, LCBA Treasurer Rick Battin explaining how he uses Hop Guard, cardboard strips coated with beta hop acid, to knock down Varroa mites in his hives:
Varroa mites are parasites that suck the hemolymph of bees; they lay their eggs in drone larvae (see photo below), then, as bees hatch out, weaken the bees, creating vectors for infections like Deformed Wing Virus. Shriveled wings on bees can be another clue that a Varroa infestation is underway.
"2 mites Varroa destructor on a drone of the western honey bee recently hatched," by Waugsberg. (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)
Below, those are Hop Guard strips draped over the tops of two inner frames near where the brood chamber would be; on top of the hive, a used strip shows how bees chew up the strips. The theory behind Hop Guard is to "knock down" phoretic mites, the so-called "hitchhiker mites" that infest adult bees (see photo above). When Hop Guard is applied per package directions in fall, ideally, it will help control the mite population in the hive as the queen is laying less brood and the bee population is dwindling - this is when a rising mite population can seriously harm a colony of bees. Other treatments penetrate brood, like Mite Away Quick Strips (demonstrated later on this page).
Before treating, it's important to know whether or not one's bees need treatment at all. If you can see mites on your bees when you inspect, as in the photo above, then you know you've got an issue. A beginning or low level infestation is less easily detected. Below, Rick displays a "slider board," used to measure the natural mite drop as adult mites die and fall through the screen. The slider slots in beneath the screened bottom board: spray a clean slider with olive oil (some rub on Vaseline) to help catch mites that fall naturally from bees. The board pictured below shows heaps of brown dust - chewed up Hop Guard detritus that fell through the screen as the bees chewed up the strips:
(Photo above by Rick Battin)
If you pull out the slider and count many mites - say, 24 or more after 24 hours - you have a significant infestation & may want to consider treating. The photo below, if enlarged, shows some mites:
This slider board was inserted by Rick after an earlier assessment and treatment with HopGuard. Since few mites were visible, Hop Guard was not immediately re-applied to this hive. Mites can be hard to see - a magnifying glass is an essential when inspecting a slider board. Below, magnified image of adult Varroa mites:
Below, LCBA mentor Kent Yates (left in photo) holds a Mite-Away Quick Strip: a formic acid preparation that smells rather foul but will kill mites in the brood. There is question about whether it harms developing brood. However, killing mites in the brood is one way to interrupt the mites' reproduction cycle. Kent and Gary Stelzner, our mentorship coordinator, have had good success with MAQS; Rick prefers a more organic approach and uses Hop Guard; Norm does not treat at all, under the philosophy that he wants the strongest bees to survive to breed. Also, there are concerns with any treatment that mites may develop resistance. The to treat or not to treat debate continues, and each beekeeper must make his/her own decisions.
Below, Kent uses his hive tool to slide the MAQS between the boxes, spanning frames in the lower box. It is important to follow package directions in applying MAQS or any medication, and to take note of when they say it is too hot to apply the treatment. When it is too hot, the released chemical fumes can be toxic to bees. Today was too hot, and Rick doesn't treat with MAQs, so this was an informational demonstration only.
Below, opening Rick's 2nd "problem child" colony:
Closeup of the hive guard - note metal sliders that let Rick open or close entries for the bees. The less entry space guard bees must defend, the better they can fend off wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and other bees trying to "rob" food supplies. Rick comments: "I got a bit caught up in explaining & talking about how they work. I'm not sure if I totally explained why some had these and some did not. I started feeding my weakest hives first, and so I put one of these screens on each one as they got sugar water feeders on top. That's also when I tried to either close off or choke down top entrances, to prevent wasps, Yellowjackets, or even other honeybees from getting the scent and robbing the hive."
What DO you want to see when you look into a colony?
Below, I've inserted some photos from one of my own colonies to show different brood patterns, as catching Rick's stronger frames amid the workshop action & play of light/shadow was hard. Beneath the bees, here you can see a central oval of orangey-brown capped cells: that's the kind of brood cluster one wants to see at the center of a frame. The yellow arch that runs from the left, over the top, and down the right is capped honey, the so called "honey arch" that bees can break into to feed larvae and themselves in winter:
Below, another frame with a smaller brood cluster. At the middle left, see the reddish and other filled cells - that's pollen, infused with enzymes by the bees to form "bee bread," bees' protein source. That's capped honey at the top and right. This frame has a lo of empty space that the bees need to fill in to shore up their supplies. At the lower left and right, you can see cells that look shiny - bees have placed nectar in them, which they will fan down and cap to make more honey supplies:
Last shot from my hives: see how different capped honey looks from the capped brood cells in the previous 2 slides. This marbled, translucent look characterizes capped honey in the hive:
Below, beekeepers looking at the slider board from the 2nd hive:
Below, beekeepers head for the other section of Rick's apiary for the next leg of the workshop as Michaela, our youngest beekeeper, carefully adjusts frames while Norm and Rick discuss the inspection further:
Below, Norm & Michaela holding up frames as Rick looks on:
After the inspections, we retired to Rick and his mom's lovely orchard for discussion over cookies, banana bread, water, & sodas. The main take-homes:
(1) Though we don't like feeding empty calories, bees need carbohydrates, so supplementing scanty fall forage with sugar syrup is necessary for most beekeepers to support their hives going into winter. Pollen patties, too, are useful nutrition supplements.
(2) Test your bees for mites - then, you can decide the level of infestation, if there is one, and choose to treat or not to treat. If you have questions about the different treatments, contact LCBA to be connected with a mentor.
(3) Inspect carefully and assess colony readiness for winter. Consider combining smaller hives, even if it means losing a queen it's best to kill the queen of the weaker hive so there is no risk of the queens fighting it out and the survivor being damaged in the process). If you want to combine two hives that you know have queens and would like to give one to a beekeeper who needs one, contact LCBA.
To combine, the "newspaper method" works pretty well, slowing down the integration of the bees to give the queenless colony time to adjust to the pheromones of the new queen in the top box. Here's how the newspaper method works:
(a) put a newspaper on top of the frames of the weaker hive, & cut slits in the paper;
(b) put the stronger, queened hive on top;
(c) put inner cover & telescoping cover on top of that;
(d) deploy whatever feeding method you have chosen;
(e) the bees below will chew through the paper and come up to the queen;
(f) in a week, remove the newspaper.
Below, LCBA members engaged in post-workshop discussion:
Moisture is a major challenge for Pacific Northwest bees. Moisture solutions?
Many use screened bottom boards to help ventilate hives & avoid moisture buildup in winter - heat will rise in the hive, warming the cluster, & moisture will vent out the hole in the inner cover.
One additional tip urged by many when fall and winter rains come: put a shelter over your hives to help keep moisture from seeping into the hives. Some use corrugated plastic political signs, placing them on top of the telescoping cover and weighting them down. This dry space beneath an overhang enables bees to do "cleansing flights" to poop even in the rain if the temperature gets up high enough for them to break winter cluster. Below, bees under shelter:
Below, at Grouse Hills Farm, the forest beyond the garden - Rick has planted loads of sunflowers, with poppies, borage, and other forage interspersed between them - giving his bees natural food at a time when much forage has dried up:
Below, our workshop host, Rick Battin, with a sunflower almost red in color:
Below, Rick's whimsical hive décor. By the way, bees can and do distinguish colors and shapes, so decorations like this help bees find their way home.
Rick invited us to pick apples to take home. Below, Michaela took a more active approach to picking apples than the rest of us!
Below, beautiful poppies growing up amid the tall sunflower stalks in Rick's garden:
Below, two of Rick's bees foraging on sunflowers. If I were a bee, I'd live here ;)