Believe it or not, the beekeeping new year (August 1st) will be here soon! The condition of your colonies in the critical last months of summer will play a large part in determining their fate through winter and into next spring. A few timely actions taken now can pay dividends for the long run.
In most parts of Oregon, July brings the end of the nectar flow and the beginning of dearth. The end of the nectar flow means bees will not be drawing out wax or bringing in wet nectar to cure. It is time to start consolidating. If you have a honey super worth of empty honey frames on your colony, remove it. It’s okay to move honey frames from super to super to get your boxes as full of provisioned frames as possible.
By the end of July you should be ready to harvest honey. If this seems early, keep in mind that colonies in many parts of Oregon don’t gain much harvestable weight after the end of this month. More importantly, your bees will fare much better in the seasons to come if you complete your Varroa mite treatments before mid-August, and many treatments cannot be used with honey supers on the colony.
Your goal with Varroa treatment now is to help your bees raise a generation of well-nourished and “fat” bees that have not been compromised by mite infestations or mite treatments. If you are successful, your robust winter workers will have longer lifespans and should be more resilient to the stresses of cold and rain. They will be better equipped to raise next year’s spring brood, which will also benefit from lower mite numbers at the start of the season.
Before treating for mites, it is important to do a mite count to find your initial mite load. A powdered sugar shake or alcohol wash can both give accurate results. You can also use the sticky board method. There is an excellent video on how to sample mites posted on the Oregon State University Extension Service YouTube page. If your mite numbers are truly very low (see next paragraph), you may modify your treatment plan accordingly.
A colony going into winter with high mite numbers is unlikely to survive. Many beekeepers are opting to treat for mites in fall when they count 3–6 mites per 300 bees, or a 1–2 percent rate of infestation. Colonies with counts even a little higher than that can collapse from thriving colony in July to dead-out September or October.
Before choosing your treatment, consider factors such as temperature, time available to treat, and the use of previous treatments. Formic acid, while effective and safe to use with honey supers on, can sometimes cause queen loss and other problems when used with high temperatures. The newer formulations may cause fewer problems. Other treatments, such as synthetics and thymol/other oil-based treatments, require that honey supers be removed before use. See the documents section of the Oregon Master Beekeeper website for a handy breakdown of the pros and cons of the options. It is important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any treatment. Failure to do so could harm your bees, compromise your health, or, in some cases, risk an increase in mite resistance to the treatment method.
More Tips for July
The end of the nectar flow signals the beginning of robbing season. Vulnerable colonies can be quickly plundered and robbing also transmits Varroa and disease. To prevent problems, don’t spill honey or nectar near your colonies nor keep them open any longer than you absolutely must. Cover open boxes and frames to prevent easy access. Reduce entrances on weak colonies and keep a robbing screen handy, just in case.
Speaking of weak colonies, consider combining them with stronger colonies if you can determine they aren’t afflicted with Varroa or disease. Whenever possible, you want to “take your losses” in late summer and early fall instead of in the winter or spring.
Continue supplying water for your bees if there isn’t a dependable source available. This will keep your colonies from drawing the ire of birdbath watchers and swimming pool owners. A Honey Bee Biology article written by Dr. Wyatt Mangum and published to the American Bee Journal explains that keeping a nearby water source can also make a big difference for the hive; if a honey bee must fly a long distance to the water source, she is able to carry less water. For water carriers making an average of 50 round trips a day, this small difference can really add up over the course of the season.
Ensure your colonies are queen-right while queens are still available. Sometimes it can be hard to find queens as fall approaches, and it is best to give yourself time to amend any queen-acceptance problems before the end of the season.
Have you made arrangements to borrow a honey extractor and other equipment yet? Because harvest season is pretty fixed here, everyone needs an extractor at the same time. Reserve yours early to make sure one is available. Check with your local beekeeping association for guidance. Do yourself a favor and get a hot knife for cutting wax cappings if you can. They are much easier and faster to use than a standard cold knife.
Don’t forget to leave plenty of honey for the bees when you’re removing honey supers. As a general rule of thumb, hobbyist Oregon colonies will need 80–100 pounds of honey to get through the winter.
Finally, plant some fall flowers! Asters are a great fall food for bees.