by Laura Maigatter
Fall is here! To those of you that have a dislike for the dog days of summer this is a relief, and it is welcome break for the bees, too. The dropping temps serve as a wakeup call for us all, and just like you pickling and storing the harvest of summer for the cold winter months ahead, the bees are going to notice the changes and will be prepping their hives accordingly.
There will be less time and energy spent on temperature regulation, and the bees’ winter prep will ramp up. This post covers some of the normal activities you will see in your hives. Every hive is different, and you shouldn’t be concerned if you aren’t seeing some of these behaviors, yet. Consider this a heads up for the coming months. Some of these items warrant an individual post, and those will be posted soon. Without further adieu, these are behaviors you should look out for:
Ramping up of honey stores
Bees are feeling the change in weather and will be pulling honey and storing at a faster rate. The pantry will be filling up, and they will start backfilling brood comb with nectar. This is first noticeable when the dark brood is interspersed with nectar. What you are seeing is the bees getting to the empty space before the queen can get there to lay new eggs. Don’t worry about this- it is best if the hive goes into winter with reduced numbers (less mouths to feed). Which leads me to…
Drone Ejection Day= No Boys Allowed
At some point the sweet ladies in your hive will turn into ladies that just don’t need a man and they will kick all the boys out. This can look a little gnarly- the worker bees will be guarding the entrances while the drones that had recently called that hive home have been unceremoniously kicked out and not allowed back. Drones are big, and eat a lot, and no longer serve a purpose as there will be no more breeding for the season. Additionally, the last time I witnessed a hive’s drone ejection day, there were yellow jackets feasting on the rejected drones… so, yeah, gnarly. We were literally drilling on that hive and not a guard bee in the place took notice of us. Probably a good idea to let this event play out before going back in, as opening the hive will just provide an alternate entrance for the drones to enter thus nullifying the hard work of the worker bees at the entrances.
This category deserves it’s own post to discuss how to deal with the wonky comb, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to stick to the features you will be seeing. Bees will begin pulling comb wide to accommodate the extra nectar. This is the equivalent of making a short glass a tall glass because it’s easier than making a brand new glass. This may create problems for you as the combs begin to merge together. Once there isn’t enough room for ‘bee space’ they will reduce the gap to nothing. They will also begin to attach the combs to the sides of the hive for extra structural security. Also, honey is very heavy. It is best to avoid flipping comb loaded with honey to avoid an accident. These are very normal things to see and you can choose to either shave the comb down, break the attachments, or provide a spacer bar depending on the situation. Like I said, negotiating those options is another post entirely, but please don’t be concerned if you see a…
Reduction in comb production
At some point, the bees will choose to make the best of the comb they have and will stop producing new comb. We have had hives overwinter with 10 bars of well packed comb. They will pull the comb wide, relocate honey into one area (you can help with this when the time is right) and focus their collective energies on foraging over construction. This is good thing.
Protective over honey
The bees are beginning to realize that they aren’t in Kansas (or California, or Texas, or Hawaii) anymore. Many of our bees are bred in warmer climates and may not be fully aware of the realities of their relocation. That is one of the reasons we at Beepods are committed to fostering genetic lines of bees acclimated to our climate. One of the ways you can inspire your bees to produce more honey is to remove and store the honey they’ve already produced. This can seem mean, I know. The reality is, that this will inspire a fervor in them to acquire more honey, and then won’t it be a nice surprise when you give the honey you stored for them back to them before a winter they may not have adequately prepared for. Aren’t you grand? Always keep in mind that they work very hard for their honey, so it is always advisable to wear a veil when messing with their gold. They can have a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. I love working without a veil, but there is a time and place, and honey foraging is not that time.
Variations in weather
As you may have realized by now, beekeeping can be made easier or harder depending on the weather. Too hot is bad, too cold is bad, and we live in a climate where the weather changes every time you blink. It is better for you to have discretion this time of year when entering your hive. As a general guideline, you should avoid temps under 55 and over 90 degrees. That is a wide margin, and honestly, I prefer a 60-85 degree range, just to be on the safe side. Be mindful of the vents on the underside of the hive, and the consistency of the propolis. If the propolis cracks, and I mean CRACKS, move with caution. If it is so hot that the propolis is gummy and you have trouble closing the hive, scrape off one side of the bar and save the propolis to help you with your winter cold.
Possible feeding of hive
Commercial beekeepers have production numbers they aim for, and everyone knows if it’s a good or bad year for honey. We experienced a drought this year that may not have been huge to us, but was significant to the bees as it fell in the main clover forage. At Beepods, we are not opposed to supplemental feeding when necessary, and early spring and late fall qualify as necessary. There will be a post dedicated to feeding your bees in the near future, but for now, know that it is likely that you will be providing your bees with a little help to get through winter.
As always, we thank you for your continued commitment to our forager friends, and we wish your bees the best of luck in the coming months. Bee the Change!