Prepared For Winter

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The signs of Fall are all around us.  The bees sense it, too.  The drones (male bees) are being evicted from the hives, which is a normal colony practice for winter.  I’ve finished feeding heavy sugar syrup, adding to the colony winter stores, following the driest, hottest summer on record here.  No honey this year!  It was just too hot and dry!

All three colonies appear to be healthy and have been treated with essential oils, both in sugar frosting patty form and fed in sugar syrup.  Varroa mite count is more than acceptable and I find no evidence of Small Hive Beetle, was moths nor any disease present.  I’m not sure what to expect for a winter, but I believe it may be a harsh one for us.  I’m also not familiar with overwintering bees in this part of the country.  This is all out experimentation.  The couple of beekeepers I do know about around here suffered quite a bit of colony loss over the Summer.  I did not, but I was also following different management practices than used here.

The weather is still warm enough for the bees to forage and there is a reasonable number of Fall wildflower sources around the area.  I see foragers bring back quite a bit of pollen and nectar, so they are still working well.  Now, it’s a matter of patience over the winter and see what Spring will bring.  It’s just a time of waiting and counting on the bees to follow their natural instincts.  I’ll start feeding sugar syrup and artificial pollen as soon as reasonable in the Spring.  I want to give the bees the best possible opportunity to thrive this coming season.

Pest Control Is Working!

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Well, the effort to use screened top and bottom boards for mite control, along with Spearmint oil sugar patties and my other organic methods seem to be working!  I just checked the hives and they are all doing well, with no sign of Small Hive Beetle infestation or other problems.  I put a sticky board under Colony C to check for Varroa Mites.  After 24 hours, I removed the sticky board to do a mite count.  Anything less than 100 Varroa Mites stuck to the board is considered to be an “acceptable” level of infestation.  I had a count of five Varroa Mites!  Since bees travel and forage, they contract the mites from contact with other foraging bees, or pick up mites left on nectar and pollen sources by infested bees.  As such, you cannot avoid some level of infestation, you can merely attempt to control it.

Even after this severe drought and the late start for the bees, I’m considering the summer a success.  They are healthy and are being given plenty of sugar syrup for winter food.  There is some foraging activity, so I know they are collecting nectar and pollen…all essential to overwintering.  Now, I just have to wait for Spring and hope they come through as well as it now appears they will.

Nothing But Drought

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Well in excess of 30 days with no rain and daily temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.  It’s been a difficult season for all forms of agriculture here.  Especially stressful for new package bee colonies, such as mine.  I have continued to feed sugar syrup throughout the season, since the bees were put into the hives.  Likewise, I’ve medicated using essential oils.  Colony B, started from the nuc in May is quite strong and healthy.  Colonies A and C, started from package bees, continue to hold their own, but are not as strong as I would have expected them to be under normal seasonal conditions.  I’ll feed heavy 2:1 sugar syrup to them within the next month, giving them more winter food stores.  I’m hoping for a short, mild winter, following this long and miserable Spring and Summer seasons.  No excess honey at all this year, but if I can overwinter without losses from pest, disease and Colony Collapse Disorder, I’ll consider my effort to be a success.  I have had a “perfect storm” of challenges, starting the bees this year, but as always, I’m going to be optimistic for a better year, next Spring!

Record Heat Continues – Helping The Bees

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Our record heat continues, with daytime temperatures reaching 106 degrees, while night temperatures haven’t dropped much below 78 degrees.  It’s very dry and the humidity is low, as well.  Not going to be any honey this year from the three colonies, as best as I can see.

All three colonies are growing well, as I continue feeding and medicating with essential oils.  Quite by accident, I had ordered a Varroa mite trap bottom board for one of the hives.  Rather than a solid wooden bottom, the bottom board has wire screen mesh, large enough for mites to fall out of the hive, but small enough the bees cannot use it as an entrance.  Together with the screened inner cover, I noted that the bees did little entrance fanning during this heat to cool the hive.  In fact, they seem much happier and busier.  So, I ordered two more of the same hive bottoms and changed them out.  Now, where bees would be clustered at the entrances, fanning away to cool the colony, they too are busy flying and no gathering at the entrance.  A major improvement and far less stress on the colonies!

Looking at some further research with these screened bottom boards, contrary to traditional thinking, bees winter better in temperate climates with the screened board.  They are still able to maintain hive temperature, but excess moisture can escape from the hive and the bees come into the Spring faster and healthier.  If necessary, a plastic “sticky board” can be slid into the entrance, sealing the hive bottom, allowing less heat to escape.  I don’t think that’s going to be necessary here, but at least with these bottom boards, I have an option.  So far, I’m very pleased with them and know the Varroa mite population is being lowered by this simple effort.

Hot Weather!

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Considering this is still June, it’s REALLY hot here!!  August weather, to say the least!  This morning, at 5:00 A.M., the temperature was still 87 degrees.  Yesterday, at the same time, the temperature was 77 degrees.  Way too hot to do much with the bees unless I’m out there at first full light, around 6:00 A.M.

That’s pretty much what I’m doing right now.  Yesterday morning, around 6:00 A.M., I installed a pollen trap on Colony A.  I started Colony A from a nuc just 6 weeks ago today and they are now at full strength, thanks to supplementary feeding and I believe, the use of essential oils in that feeding.  Two strong, full deep brood chambers.  Loads of pollen coming in every day, so I decided to start trapping some for my wife to try with her pollen allergies.  I’ll just trap one day out of every three days right now, so the bees can keep the majority of pollen for their needs.  Strong nectar flow still going, thanks to rather high humidity and scattered thundershowers, so I’m also taking a chance on trying to get some comb honey.  I put a queen excluder on top of the brood chambers and a shallow cut comb honey super box.  I’ll hope the thundershowers continue so the nectar flow continues as well and see if I can’t pull one shallow super of comb honey.  I’m not real sure about the success of this effort, but it’s worth a try!

Colony B and C, both started from 3 pound packages of bees are still hanging in there.  They aren’t foraging a lot, but have plenty of supplemental feeding of sugar syrup and essential oils, so they are drawing comb and look good.  I’m continuing that feeding effort and will do so as long as necessary to help them build up to overwinter.  Right now, they are about as weak as they will get, since no new bees have been emerging yet.  This Thursday will be 21 days since the bees were put into the hives and the queens were released.  So, if all has gone well, young new bees should start emerging and getting to work by Thursday.  The colony populations should begin growing with new bees to take over housekeeping chores, freeing up older bees to do more foraging.  I expect to see noticeable improvement in activity within the next 10 days.  I’ll just continue to feed and medicate as long as necessary, trying to help them overwinter successfully.  No pollen trapping nor honey collecting from them this season.  If all goes well, they should be ready to start producing next Spring!

Moving Forward

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Yesterday morning, the heat wave broke for a couple of days.  Evening thunderstorms provided more moisture for pollen and nectar production, while morning temperatures were in the low to mid-70′s.  A good time for colony inspections.

A special screened bottom board for Varroa mite control and a screened inner cover, providing more ventilation arrived, so I decided to install both on Colony C, while checking their progress.  Six full frames of drawn comb and heavy egg laying by the queen from this package of bees.  So, after installing the new hive parts, I replaced four wood/wax frames with plastic frame/foundation, which the bees had not started to build upon.  They are accepting the plastic comb very well.  At the same time, I added a second deep brood chamber…hive body…with all ten frames being plastic frame/foundation.  I also installed a Small Hive Beetle trap.  I’ll continue to supplemental feed with 1:1 sugar syrup, too.  I still have about eight more days to wait before the first new young bees begin to emerge, but the hive is ready for a big population boom when that time arrives!

I also checked on Colony B.  They are the bees started with the five frame nuc and bees I rescued from the wall of an old house.  They are very strong, building well in the second brood chamber and getting heavy with brood, pollen and honey.  The colony is doing so well, if this weather continues with heat and almost daily thunderstorm activity, I might actually get a bit of honey for our use this year!  That would be an unexpected and pleasant surprise!  I also checked the “sticky board” I had put below the screened bottom board.   It’s part of my Varroa mite trapping system and allows me to do a mite count.  Anything less than 100 trapped Varroa mites on the sticky board, after 48 hours would be an acceptable level of infestation.  After 96 hours in place, I counted about 20 Varroa mites….much better than I anticipated.

Colony B Package Bees Growing

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We’ve had extremely hot and humid weather, so I decided to check on Colony B early, before the heat became excessive.  They were busy working at 8 A.M. and the temperature was already 82 degrees, so it sounded like a good time to me.  They have been consuming a lot of sugar syrup…between one and two quarts a day, so I thought comb building must be going well.  I didn’t want to disturb them, more than necessary, but could see nearly 5 full frames of comb drawn out.  Wonderful!  Even a bit of excessive burr comb…comb in the wrong places, so removed that.  I was surprised to see that they had fully drawn comb on some of the plastic frame/foundation I put in the hive for them, even before drawing comb on wood frames with beeswax foundation!  So, I removed 4 frames of wood/wax they had not touched yet and replaced them with plastic.  I also gave them a second hive body with 10 frames of plastic foundation and installed a beetle trap to catch any Small Hive Beetles.

At the same time, I put a “sticky board” in Colony A, so I can catch Varroa Mites and get something of a count on Varroa infestation, by checking the sticky board, since the mites fall and are trapped in the mineral oil.  While I was at it, I put a medicated “frosting” in the entrance, with Spearmint oil and vegetable grease.  The bees didn’t care much for that, but within a half an hour they were back to normal, walking through the frosting, which will help with Varroa and Trachael mite problems.

Colony B Second Hive Body

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