Introduction:

BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fall Feeding Revisited

Wonalancet Mowed - A regular occurrence
This is adapted from my March 2016 article "Why Beekeepers Feed Their Bees". Photo: "Wonalancet Mowed"

Check on your hives for honey stores in this warmer than normal weather. Now is when to feed. This article is specific to NOW in New Hampshire:


FALL ~ Sigh... It is September 19, 2017 and Wonalancet is mowed. A few pockets of goldenrod and aster in the woods here and there, but the flow is over. Seven months to go to the dandelion flow.

If it were cold the bees would be conservative in eating through what they have stored to this point, but those hurricanes in the Atlantic are bringing summer weather to New England.  The girls are active and out scouting.

Open feeding is dicey but sometimes necessary...
take care with such a plan
In the cold days of fall after the nectar flow is done for the year I have not normally fed my hives of the last few years because they have been very good about putting up their own stores for winter. My harvest in August is frame by frame, from those that can spare it. Never whole supers. I use a lot of honey so thank goodness it does not go to waste. With 3 to 5 lbs per frame an August harvest in my apiary's subarctic plant hardiness zone gets us... and the bees, through the winter.

A rain gutter with capped ends makes
a great water holder or feeder
As a rule, a beekeeper feeds in the fall to insure an abundance of honey and pollen stored over the colony as they move in cluster up through the hive, November through April... sometimes into May. I may put out a thicker batch of syrup, fresh daily, at a feeding station. This is two parts sugar to one part water in the hope they will have time to evaporate the moisture off before clustering at daytime temps of 50-57F degrees in preparation for winter. Some beekeepers gradually thicken the syrup and even add a slight amount of pollen.

Don't forget the stones!
Girls can drown...
Just thinking about my girls eating sugar is hard, but at least they do put their enzymes into it as if it were nectar and does become a kind of honey. Still, I decided to add a little pollen supplement powder. I'm not used to doing this so went with the 8 cups sugar to 4 cups water and a 1/8th cup of dry powder. 

Yes, I am open feeding in my Red Path apiary! I don't recommend this. With lots of hives it is less intrusive. I put out just enough for a day and fill it in the morning. Normally, you would open feed far from the apiary but I don't have that option. On my weak hive in Center Ossipee I am using a bucket feeder above the inner cover and I have a little chicken waterer for the other girls that I take in when I go home from work.


Full on pollen supplement feeding in the fall is not recommended as it can stimulate brood production at a time of year when the colony should be shrinking in numbers in order to maximize its limited resources over the long New England winter to come.
 

In freezing weather - once the quilt box is on - I have used a variety of sugar recipes in the tops of my hives over the years. One year it was Capital Area Beekeeper's Club fondant; other years it has been a top feeding wet sugar mix, see: Karen Thurlow of New Moon Apiary in Maine. She makes up a batch of sugar with enough water to make it crumbly and inserts in into her winter top super set up. 

8 cups sugar to 4 cups water 2:1
1/8 cup of dry pollen supplement.
go light on the pollen. There are
supplements & substitutes. Original article has details.
I like slipping in this sugar mix as a precaution.  Beekeepers need to be careful and very astute when feeding any time of the year, especially syrup. The girls love to hoard, so if they max out the space in the hive with supplemental liquid feed it may not be properly evaporated before winter sets in. I have made the mistake of rearranging these uncapped frames of syrup to the top super only to have the high moisture content freeze in the cell and then, like tiny ice cubes, melt and drench my bees. This could be deadly.


Note: Except for Karen's loose sugar method, I am not a fan of what are called 'candy boards'. I have had them melt down and drown my bees or create moisture issues with my hives. This is not the usual experience. Most beekeepers love them. 
 

For the complete article see "Why Beekeepers Feed Their Bees" and for a valuable resource of feeding recipes and strategies see this Maine State Beekeeper's Association page. I welcome any feedback, especially if you see any way this article can be improved.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Treatment-Free Mite Record Keeping

Just some great links to help remind everyone to keep track of their mite numbers.
What - How - When - Why - Watch!

What - You are looking for how many mites per 100 bees. A quote from Article: "Test For Varroa" that is of interest to us northern rural farm & forest beekeepers: “Thresholds are regional since they largely depend on how long the brood rearing season is and thresholds are dependent on the type of beekeeper. The colonies of an isolated hobbyist in the north could maybe withstand a 10-12% infestation, but colonies of a migratory beekeeper in Texas may need to use the 3% infestation threshold.” Katie Lee – Bee Informed Partnership

How - I use the "sugar-shake" method to TEST. Caution: don't confuse the sugar shake method TEST with treating bees for varroa using powdered sugar in the hive. This is no longer a respected way to effectively or safely knock mite counts down in your colonies. Use powdered sugar to TEST not treat. There are too many variables using it to treat and too many risks you may actually kill your colony. I have killed two colonies as a result of treating with powdered sugar, even sugar I powdered myself that did not have corn starch in it. Search for an article about this treatment method well researched by respected scientist Jennifer Berry.

Now as for TESTING with sugar - Phil Gavin of Portland's Honey Exchange is a northern URBAN beekeeper looking to treat at lower mite counts that the rural beekeeper; but he does a great job of showing how to test for varroa with the sugar shake method in this YouTube video: Sugar Shake Test For Varroa Mite

When - Late summer, early fall is when the phoretic (mites outside capped cells, on the bees) mite count is highest. Brood rearing in the north slows down and mite populations begin to reach their peak.

Why - So you have confidence in your management practices, are not guessing about the health of your bees, and don't sound irresponsible when you talk to others about your treatment free survival colonies. Not all will survive. You may still find yourself guessing about why but records can reveal all sorts of insights about your colonies that can often seem unimportant when your bees are thriving.

Example: This is the most inspiring example of successful treatment free management and the best done report of UK beekeeper Ron Hoskins working with a scientist to discover why his bees survive their mite loads:

WATCH THIS YouTube: "Honey Bees Able To Immunize Themselves Against Varroa"

Wishing all your bees a great fall nectar & pollen flow!