by Kathy Cox
Fall is in the air. Pumpkins in the garden are turning orange. Honey is being harvested and extracted. Kids are getting ready to go back to school. What are the bees doing? On my half acre, they are trying to keep the yellow jackets and wasps out of their hives. Even with robbing screens on, the occasional wasp gets inside only to be attacked and dragged out by the girls! So, while they are protecting their resources, what can we do to help them prepare for winter?
Make sure to buy 2 moisture boards for each colony. When one gets wet, exchange it for the other one. If you don’t use moisture boards, you can use a moisture quilt or a hot box. And while you are shopping for the moisture boards, don’t forget to order winter patties. There are hive wraps that can help keep the heat in. Try them. If you have big winds, a wall of hay bales can protect the bees. Put a rock or brick on the top. If you are super concerned, use a ratchet strap.
Go through the boxes one by one to make sure all the frames are full. Rearrange them and condense them. The summer bees live 3 to 6 weeks and the population will be rapidly diminishing. They should never have extra space. It means they must heat it. They are better crowded. They need to keep the brood nest at 93.5 degrees.
By now you should have taken off the honey harvest. Have you done a mite wash and a treatment if necessary? I like Apigard. The temperature is still right, the process is easy, and you need only two applications, two weeks apart. If you miss this step, your hive is unlikely to survive the winter. But this is just the beginning of what the bees need. Check their resources and make sure the empty cells in all the boxes are being filled with nectar and bee bread. In a dearth, you should feed 2:1 syrup, sugar to water. Pollen patties should be on the colonies, too. The bees will stop taking syrup when the temperatures fall below 55. There may be a small crop of Knotweed followed by Ivy. Unfortunately, the ivy honey crystallizes in the cells and has a funky smell. The bees can’t utilize the ivy honey, because they can’t get water to reconstitute it. Freeze it and give it back to them in the spring when water is plentiful.
To prepare the boxes for winter, I buy rigid insulation and cut it with a bread knife to fit 2 sides and the back. A bungee cord will hold them in place. Most of us have a piece already in the top underneath the telescoping cover. Make sure you have removed the queen excluder. Use an upper entrance, like a shim. It helps with air circulation and makes sure the bees have an escape if it snows.
I leave the sticky board in all winter, but check it and clean it once a month. It is also good to take off the robbing screen and clean the bottom board. Lots of bees will be dying and can plug the opening. Even though we think there is nothing to do in beekeeping during the winter months, there are lots of things to keep an eye on. It is the best time to read bee books.
This is the third year I have been writing this column. Please refer to the previous columns for additional information.
Kathy Cox, Master Beekeeper U of Montana
PSBA VP, Education Chair, Neighborhood Captain