KEEPING BEES IN AUGUST
The month of August may be one of the most important months for beekeepers. It is considered by most beekeepers as the 1st month of the “beekeeping” year. What you do in the month of August will set your bees up for the next year. So here are some tips that will set your bees (and you) up for success.
To start: pull all honey August 1st. NO exceptions. In a lifetime of beekeeping, with 20+ years in Oregon, I have never found an exception to this rule. Even though you may see things blooming, any honey made after August 1 belongs to the bees for winter stores.
What are we looking for when we complete inspections at this time of year? First off, check on food stores, ALL of them: sugar and pollen. By October 1st, you want that top deep mostly full. It never hurts to feed in the fall. You want those bees that are being raised now to be healthy. They are the girls going into winter, the “fat bees”. For the most part hives can be feed 2:1 sugar/water mix till October 1st. After that date the temperature tends to drop and feeding liquid becomes impossible. Plus we want food stored in the comb, it does no good sitting in feeder.
Another note on feeding: in Oregon, we are lucky, because there are pollen sources happening most of the year round. BUT, there are great benefits to feeding pollen patties in August-September.
Also check the queen: is the laying pattern good? You don’t need to find her, but look to see what she is doing. If you don’t like what you see, you COULD replace the queen now. More and more queens are becoming available later in the year. But I won’t lie, replacing a queen in August is tricky at best. The best time to do so is in early July. So I would suggest that you plan to test out requeening in July next year and see what you think. It makes for STRONG hives the following spring that have less tendency to swarm. Plus, the quality of queens is better just after the summer solstice. Queen breeders also don’t have as much pressure to produce as many queens later. ALL this adds up to better mated queens.
Pests?? After you remove the honey by August 1, you check your mite load. But at what point do you treat for mites??? This is a loaded and complex topic. In my opinion, the more important issue now is all the viruses/diseases that mites transmit. So ANY mite is an issue. Whether you choose to treat for mites is your choice. But consider: if you don’t treat, your mite infested hive will be weaker. Other bees in the area may well rob your hive out, and this will triple the mite load of otherwise healthy bees. So if you don’t treat, you are putting pressure on the other bees in your area.
If you do choose to treat, do your mite drops now. Pick your method for mite drops; there are many on the market. Research and see what works best for you and the bees. Keep in mind weather/temperatures, as they need to be considered for some of the treatments. Remember to change it up. What worked last year may not work this year. Check your mite drop while treating to see if it is working.
Check for nosema. You can send samples into our local lab and have them checked if you like. That said, most blindly treat for it at this time of year. The data I have seen suggests that there are both advantages and disadvantages to treating. I tend to treat for it because I have seen many bees succumb to nosema during our winters, but it is ultimately your choice to treat or not.
Do you have foul brood? I think lots of people have forgotten about this pest, and it is the cause of many hive deaths. For foul brood maintenance and overall hive health, purge 25% of your older frames every year. Generally, you should do this purge in spring while bees are making lots of wax. And when you are doing inspections during the year, if you find a frame that might have signs of foul brood, pull it and replace it with a new frame. If you find foul brood in August, you have a few treatment options to choose from. Do a little research to see what you are comfortable with. And remember, these treatments only put foul brood in a dormant state—they do not kill it. The only way to kill foul brood is with a fire. The infected equipment needs to be burned.
And who can forget wasps?! Wasps can become an issue this time of year. The most effective way to control wasps starts much earlier than August. Honestly, put traps out in spring; every queen that is killed in spring means thousands of wasps that won’t be around later in the year. There are traps and poisons on the market to control wasps. A little bit of research can give you a plan you are comfortable with. If you do have wasps, the other option is to use entrance reducers so that bees do not have as much area to protect. BUT, they also hinder the bees from cooling the hive. I don’t think there is great answer for this issue, so focus on spring and early summer control. And don’t forget that a strong and healthy hive is better able to defend itself.
Last but not least: what did you plant this year that blooms later in the in summer for ALL pollinators? Everyone is losing foraging ground, help out and plant something that will feed pollinators in August and September.
Beekeeper with a lifetime of keeping bees