Monday, August 26, 2013

Probosci in the sugar syrup, and tails in the air! It's August, time to get ready for winter! Feed feed feed those bees!

Yes, it's only August now.  But, what you do or don't do now, this month, will make the difference in whether your bees survive the winter months ahead in this area.  As stated previously, for this region of the mid-Atlantic in the US, a healthy beehive will need about 60-70 lbs of stored honey to make it through the winter months and survive, and that's for a normal winter.  If it's more severe, they will need more honey stored.

By now, you have removed all honey supers and honey from the hive that you have intended to take.  There will be changes in the hive.  The queen will start to lay brood that are winter bees, not summer bees; (more on this in another post.)  At the first hint of cold weather, the drones will all be kicked out; (more on this in another post).  It's now time to pull out your feeders. (Top feeder from Brushy Mountain shown.)

Feeders come in a variety of forms and fashions.  (I like and use top feeders with floats for the bees to stand upon while they drink.) Before putting them on, be sure they are water tight (ie. do not leak).  Keep in mind that there is a dearth of nectar out there until the fall nectar flow starts with Golden rod and asters in this area, usually mid to late September.  Until then, the bees have nothing to eat except what you feed them or they opportunistically find.

This was brought home to me when my neighbor mentioned last week that some of my bees had been at her hummingbird feeder that morning!  They are starving this time of year.  They also are not happy about the situation.  So, you don't really want them raiding bird or butterfly feeders of your neighbors!  (They can also go to corn syrup sources like recycle bins with soda left in cans, although yellow jackets are far more likely to be implicated doing this.) Keep the bees at home by feeding them.  Also, it's a good idea to wear your beesuit and use smoke this time of year!

Robbing from various insects will be an issue.  I have two hives next to each other.  In the past, if one hive was weak and the other strong, the strong one would rob the weak one of their honey stores.  To prevent this, crack the lids of both hives when working in either one. This puts the guard bees on defense in both hives and discourages robbing in either.

But, robbing can also be a problem with other hymenopterans-bees, wasps, ants, and other insect orders like butterflies, or even mammals-like field mice. Reduce your hive entrances somewhat, so that other bees and other pests cannot get into the hive to rob your bees of feed or honey stores.

Pests of the hive, such as small hive beetles, wax moths, and varroa mites all seem to sky rocket in August, too.  So, it is good to monitor for these pests.  Do a mite drop with an IPM bottom board to check on the mite thresholds in each hive.  If you count more than 20- 25 mites in a hive, begin treatment for them.  (More on this in another post.)  I saw 8 small hive beetle adults in my 2nd hive and 4 in my 1st last weekend when I looked inside. I plan to place beetle traps in both hives and also place containers of DE (diatomaceous earth below the screen bottom boards to catch any small beetle larvae that fall down; this prevents their becoming adults).  Kill any larvae or adults you do see running in the hive; the bees will be chasing them around; just take a finger and squish them! (It gives me great pleasure to do this, as they ruin the wax comb, honey and pollen, and stress the bees.

In August, Costco, and other whole sale distributors of sugar, become your best friends!  You will be buying sugar in largest quantities, usually 50 or 100 lb bags, from now until the first freeze, or whenever your bees stop taking the sugar syrup.  You will also ask all of your friends to save gallon milk jugs for you to use to mix the sugar water.  This time of year you mix your sugar to water in a 2:1 ratio.  It's thick.

Here is the recipe I use for a one gallon milk jug.

8 cups of sugar
4 cups of water
2 tbsp of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar (this facilitates the conversion of table granualated sugar to honey)

My dear Walt was at Costco the other day to buy sugar for my bees.  He was in the sugar aisle and a strange man walked over to him and said, "how many hives do you have?!"  The man was there to also buy sugar for his bees!  So, bakers, moonshiners, and beekeepers will all be in the sugar aisles of local grocery stores in the months of August and September!

When you pour the sugar mixture into the top feeders (in my case), you will see immediate results.  All the girls will line up like little piggies at a trough to feed.  Probosci in the sugar syrup and tails in the air!
My girls drain two gallons in a hive in 1.5 days.  Then it's time to resupply and so on until they stop taking it.  So, get cracking, if you want your hives to survive the winter months.

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