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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Labor Day Duties & Haying Dates

7 pm Sleeping Rusty Back Bumble Bee
Fall inspection guidelines  - Mow wild fields after November 1st

Bumble bees do not over-winter with their queen, but their foraging options going into winter insure she does. More on our disappearing native rusty back bumble bee. If link doesn’t work go to the website.

The LAST nectar flow is on NOW (August) through mid-late September. If possible avoid haying your fields until after November 1st or stagger the mowing of your fields, especially the wild growth of goldenrod-aster blooms (honey bee winter survival essential-your local beekeeper will thank you).

Red clover is a bumble bee favorite. HAY LATE IN THE AFTERNOON, before 6pm – Bumble bees sleep on the stems and in the flowers, honey bees don’t get out of the way and are out early to mid-day.

In the spring, dandelions are essential to both and sometimes the only nectar and pollen available to insure pollinators build up their numbers for our very short season’s nectar flows.
Sticky Bees bringing in propolis.

Beekeeper Labor-Day thru Columbus Day Duties

Some winter-prep guidelines for beekeepers in our New England area.
The nectar flow is ON NOW (August) until mid-late September.
If no mite treatments will be used, harvest your last honey no later than Labor Day. Manage your hives so that a full brood box worth of honey will be on top of the brood box going into Thanksgiving weekend.

Manipulate your extracted, drawn comb to maximize their nectar dehydrating and honey consolidation efforts over the next few weeks. By October 1st, nectar flow is over for us up in Northern New England. Bees are settling in for the winter moving honey around the hive where needed.

For instance, if the lower boxes are set up by the bees for nectar hydrating into honey, imagine where that honey will be stored for the ideal set up going into winter and provide them with side & upper hive drawn comb space. I like to put a medium of wet frames, fresh from extracting, on the top of the hive in hope they will pack it.
There is a school of thought that goldenrod and aster honey are too heavy for the bees to digest while confined over winter. A practice of removing the dark honey is done out of concern it will promote diseases encouraged by confinement; but I have seen a healthy hive re-position lighter summer honey where the colony anticipates the cluster will be towards the end of cold weather. My observations have me trusting healthy honey bees that have evolved over millions of years to know how to properly manage their resources. Promoting strong, smart breeds of bees is my goal so the dark stuff stays on. However, the savvy beekeeper may choose to intervene in accordance with whatever their apiary goals may be and feed syrup to round out the hive winter stores.
Reconfiguring hives – Some detail:
·         With all the above in mind, if you need to re-configure your hive (reverse boxes so queen and brood are on the bottom, etc,) do it Labor Day weekend or sooner so the colony knows what sort of space it has to work with for over-wintering. Most colonies should go down to the bottom of the hive on their own. When temps hit the 50s bees will cluster making an assessment of their situation easier; but breaking up the hive after the cold has set in will dramatically increase chance of failure.

·         After the fall flow, reduce the entrance to the smallest space on the entrance reducer to make the hive easier to guard. Robbing and wasps attacks will begin late September, early October when wasps populations peak. Predatory wasps can fly at 45 F, while honey bees are immobile at just above 50 F. Stapling a 3/8” hardware cloth mouse guard over the entrance reducer can help. 3/8” can be hard to find. In that case go no larger than 1/2”.

  • This re-configuration may include combining two weak hives, or frames from a healthy small hive with a strong one. Two weak hives = one big weak hive. Less than six frames being used by the colony for brood MAY mean a weak hive. If you have a large Italian or Carniolin healthy population, say on ten frames, and another small healthy colony on just four to five, take two brood frames from the big hive without its adult bees and add them to the small. If you have two small colonies, each on three frames they can over-winter in a nuc box, four-five frames of bees under four-five frames of honey. If needed, research articles on “over-wintering nucleus colonies” written by New England authors.

·         Ideal set up Columbus Day through Thanksgiving: Two deeps, 8 or 10 FULL frames each: ONE box on the bottom for brood – nest in middle of the bottom deep, honey and pollen on sides - ONE box on top of the cluster for honey stores packed full. My goal is to have two deeps and a medium super of honey on top just in case.

  • Our bees up here need 90 lbs plus honey to get through our winters. Freeze or properly store some medium and shallow honey frames for spring feeding to make up the difference just in case. Warm them up before inserting to replace empties in the spring with some discernment regarding the cluster’s preferred path on whatever side of the hive you may find them in the spring. If crystallization occurs, the bees own cluster heat will help soften it up for consumption.

  • If there is not enough honey on the hive near the end of the fall nectar flow, Labor Day thru Columbus Day, start feeding a 2:1 sugar mix while bees have warm enough days to evaporate and store feed for winter or if possible feed honey from that harvested earlier. Do not feed pollen patties as it will stimulate brood rearing at a time when the population should be slowing down.

    An exception to giving them pollen at this time of year may be while mixing it into syrup as a nutritional supplement in a case where the beekeeper has harvested most of the honey. Ask about using pollen in your feed of other beekeepers that follow similar practices to yours to reach similar goals. In other words, if you are a backyard beekeeper with two hives in northern Maine, take some care implementing the advice of a commercial beekeeper with a hundred hives who takes his bees south for the winter.
In regards to mites and treatments as part of this Fall Management advice:
  • Do a mite check after removing honey supers in late summer, possibly as early as late August. There are several methods for taking a mite count. The least intrusive is whereby you scoop up about 30 or so bees into a jar of powdered sugar. Just bees. No moisture. Roll it around and let them go. Count the mites left behind in the jar. Find better instructions for mite counting on the web.
    3 mites to 30 bees in a sugar roll may mean treatment is necessary. According to the 2015 EAS conference lectures the success rate for over-wintering with that percentage of mites is only 50%. If you treat in late summer your colonies have a chance to repopulate with a fresh generation of bees and few or no mites going into winter.
I've yet to treat my bees as my goal has been to start with healthy bees and use good management practices, maintaining low to no mites in my counts. I also live far from other apiaries. Breaking the brood cycle with splits is one practice to achieve success with low mite counts. I have had varied over-wintering success due to other issues, sometimes losing all hives, primarily to wasps and moisture problems, which seem to have been corrected by moving my apiary to a sunnier location and providing good ventilation; but treating in the late summer for mites is the recommended best practice and every beginner should understand the mite issue and how to deal with it. If I ever do treat my bees I'll record it on my blog.
  • Mites - Beekeepers in New Hampshire need a permit to treat their hives.
    Quote from NH Dept of Ag: "If a beekeeper is applying pesticides, including miticides, insecticides, fungicides, and antibiotics, in or around the hive to control pests, parasites, or diseases, the beekeeper is required to obtain an annual private applicator permit.pdf file For questions, please contact the Division of Pesticide Control." Current best practice advice: DO NOT USE: Chem treatments like Apistan or Fluvalinate, Checkmite or coumaphos, or natural treatments like powder sugar dusting. These treatments have proven to result in drone sterilization and over-all poor colony performance. Powdered sugar collects moisture and harms open brood when dusted over frames of bees. Powdered sugar containing corn-starch cakes-up when in contact with moisture. If using it in a jar take care not to scoop up nectar or honey with the bees. I’ve lost a big healthy hive to complications resulting from powdered sugar dusting on frames.

  • Mites – DO LOOK FOR: "Soft treatments" like ApiLife Var, an essential oil used on top of the brood nest after honey is removed; however most require warm days and are tricky and most only work on very strong, large colonies. Previously I listed here popular "soft" treatments but at the 2015 EAS Convention it was noted formic acid is still the best option for success but the delivery methods are very problematic and will kill brood as part of its effectiveness.

    A loss of brood is a given in effective treatments and the main reason for treating in time for the colony to repopulate before winter. Do some research on Oxalic Acid, newly approved in the U.S. but the delivery method also has not been perfected. Hopguard has not yet been approved for New Hampshire at this writing but is useful only to knock down mite counts outside of the brood chamber and can work well if brood rearing is over.
    Current best practice advice: If one hive needs it in the apiary, they all do, as mite loads knocked out of one hive will find the other hives.
This is not a comprehensive article but thanks for reading. Good luck with your bees. 

Addendum to Mites - August 2015 – The above advice is from my training among the teachers and members of the Maine and NH Beekeepers Associations and scientists that spoke at the 2015 EAS convention in Guelph, Ontario. I do believe in breeding for resistance. I'm not a big follower of all his techniques, but a beekeeper-author very successful with over-wintering bees, Michael Bush, explains very well the hazards of treating bees for disease and mites in The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush.

It was refreshing to hear at EAS 2015 from the scientists themselves, that the latest studies in hive management are revealing the detrimental role that coated seeds, neonicotinoids, and other modern agricultural methods are playing in bringing about the many challenges facing our colonies today. Solutions are on the way, mostly due to the effort to breed strong, disease resistant bees, but in the meantime we need to know how to promote good farming and gardening practices in our communities and hive management practices among all the many new beekeepers on the scene.