Flying into Fall: What Beekeeping Looks Like
Early fall is a busy time for beekeepers throughout the world. We are finishing our extracting of the excess honey from our hives and we’re already preparing our colonies for the colder months ahead. This article will give you an idea of what beekeeping in the fall looks like.
Creating Vibrant Colonies
In late September we inspect all our hives. The hives that do not have a queen, have a weak queen, or are too small will get joined together. Our goal is to create strong colonies that make it through the winter unharmed. We recorded a short video for you to show you what combining colonies looks like! In this video the colony on the bottom is queen-rite, while the two colonies placed on top, with newspaper between them, do not have queens. We place the newspaper between these colonies to promote a slow introduction. If the introduction happens too quickly, the colonies may not accept their new queen. The bees will slowly chew through the newspaper, get used to each other, and combine as one strong colony.
Pest Control In The Fall
Another important job while beekeeping in the autumn is getting diseases and pests under control while we can still access the hives. Once the weather gets below 10°C we wrap our hives with tar paper and try not to open them to keep the bees as warm as possible. For this reason, we perform all our hive checks in early fall. One of the main pests we have to look out for are the varroa mites. Varroa mites eat the fat from bees and transfer viruses to them. Checking the hives is an important test at this time of year because the mites will continue to develop throughout the winter. If there are too many mites our hives will eventually die. Mites are one of the main reasons for the 75-95% losses that beekeepers experienced in B.C. over the winter of 2020.
To see if our hives have mite issues we put about 300 honeybees into a special jar and pour icing sugar on top of them. The icing sugar doesn’t harm the bees but coats them and makes the varroa mites drop off into the basket below. We’re happy to say that our mite count year his was less than 0.5%. With a threshold of 3% we were very happy with the result! You can see us do a varroa mite check here.
We also treat our bees for Nosema. This fungal spore is a common issue that is difficult to detect. As the bees mostly don’t show signs of sickness when contracting this fungal spore, the losses within a colony can be great if preventative treatment isn’t performed. We feed our bees a tree bark extract by mixing it through some sugar syrup. The tree bark extract will help strengthen their gut and keep them healthy. This treatment is also performed in early fall.
Closer to the end of fall, we check the pollen and nectar supply for each colony and replenish their stock where needed. As honeybees spend the entire winter inside their hives, and don’t collect any food, their supply must last them until the spring!
Keeping The Bees Warm and Dry
With the end of fall there is another issue that pops up, the weather. We have to keep the temperature within the hive as high as possible so the bees don’t use any more energy then needed trying to keep themselves and their queen warm.
Going into the winter we wrap our hives with tar paper. This sounds strange, but there are many reasons for doing so. Not only will this keep any wind from getting in the cracks, but the hive will also absorb heat from the sun on those cold sunny days. When we get cold snaps the bees cluster together to keep warm and don’t move around within the hive. If we have too many cold days in a row and the bees can’t move inside the hive they can starve to death, even with combs of honey right beside them. The tar paper can raise the temperature enough during the day that they can move to a new area of the honey frame and allow them to cluster again on the honey. Honey is a necessity as bees use the energy they get from it to vibrate their wings and create heat, which is what keeps them alive.
If you have visited our apiary in the Field of Dreams, you might’ve noticed that all the hive boxes are slightly tilted. We make sure that the hive openings face downwards so that when the rain hits, any water that makes it into the hive drains easily. The hive boxes also have ventilation in the top so that heat and moisture can escape.
Our main goal during beekeeping in the fall is providing our colonies with a healthy, dry and comfortable environment to prepare for the cold season. Strong and healthy colonies will thrive again in the spring and will produce a great amount of delicious honey for you (and us) to enjoy.
Are you wondering what the bees are up to during the winter? We recommend reading this article.