Every month is a busy month for a beekeeper, but August is particularly important. The weather is hot and dry, maybe with the occasional thunderstorm. It feels like the peak of summer, but this critical month is when we need to start thinking towards winter. It’s time to strip the rest of your honey. Will they be heavy enough for winter or will you need to feed? Are there enough bees in the hive? Will the queen be viable until next spring? And probably most important for this month is: Are your mite levels under control?
August is the month to harvest the remainder of your honey. In many locations, even earlier. By mid-August, most marketable honey flows have tapered off. Pull your supers and start to focus on fall. There are a few notable exceptions like buckwheat and mustard. Both plants are grown as part of a crop rotation system in certain parts of the state. Be aware that if you decide to go after these potential honey crops, it may be difficult to get your mite levels under control in a timely manner. Make sure you have a plan in place. More on that later.
Queens availability will also begin to taper off at this point in the year. It is important to realize that new queens will not be available again until next spring. Are your queens laying a strong pattern? Do they have a good retinue? If the colony is weak or spotty, now is a good time to requeen. Requeening now gives you enough time so that you may be able to build up a weak colony before winter. If your queens are failing now, they will be failing in a month and failing in the spring. Failing queens are a major cause of colony loss in the spring. Replace her while you still can. It is generally easier to find queens in August than in September, and definitely easier to find queens in August than in March.
How big are your colonies? If a colony is not solidly filling a box and a half of bees, it will require some additional attention. What is the brood pattern like? If spotty or drone-y, it may need requeening. A steady diet of supplemental protein and sugar syrup may work to build up some small colonies, provided strong queens and healthy brood. Otherwise, it is a good idea to start combining weaker colonies to get them ready for winter. Be sure to ask yourself why a colony may be small before combing. Combining sick colonies with healthy ones may be detrimental to your operation. (AFB!!)
There are many opinions regarding supplemental feeding in the fall. At the minimum, it is a good idea to heft your hives to get a feel for weight. If it feels moderate or light, feed. If it hurts your fingers to heft, it might not need feeding. It’s a good idea to look at those extra heavy hives. They could be queenless or weak. Regardless of weight, you might consider supplemental syrup and/or pollen feeding in order to stimulate brood rearing and help carry brood rearing later into the fall. This can help ensure a large healthy young population headed into winter.
Lastly, and probably most importantly for August, is the ever-present issue of Varroa. August is a critical month for Varroa management. Take an alcohol wash sample. August brood will become the bees that raise your winter bees. If you have not read Randy Oliver’s series on Fat Bees, you should. If you have, great. Reread it. This series does a great job of explaining exactly why you need to have you mite levels down in August and keep them down through the remainder of the brood-rearing season. You can find the article here: http://scientificbeekeeping.com/fat-bees-part-1. There are 4 parts. Boiling it down, fat winter bees have increased vitellogenin in fat bodies to help carry them through winter and give them the energy to commence brood rearing in the early spring. The amount of vitellogenin corresponds directly to how well fed they are as larvae, which corresponds to a large healthy population of nurse bees. The health of these nurse bees depends on having low parasite levels when they were developing. That is why August is so critical. August brood raises the brood that raises winter bees.
Formic Acid, Thymol, and Amitraz are all reasonable treatments this time of year. Make sure you read and understand the label before applying. Each material—and formulation of each material—has its own requirements for maximum efficacy and beekeeper safety. THE LABEL IS THE LAW! After you treat, take another mite sample to gauge the efficacy of your treatment.
Enjoy the honey harvest. Smile at those big healthy bees. And look forward to fall and the OSBA conference. Happy Beekeeping!