Keeping Bees in September
Let’s hope that September will not be as hot temperature wise as July and August have been. There are conflicting forecasts for weather going into fall, Farmers’ Almanac says it will be cooler than normal with more precipitation than normal, US Farm Report says just the opposite, warmer temperatures and less precipitation. In just a few weeks, it will be fall by the calendar, but as beekeepers and the bees fall management is well underway. Queens have been reducing egg laying since summer solstice, bees have been be storing winter food in the brood area as new bees hatch, winter fat bees are being produced and will be for several more weeks. That is assuming your colonies are healthy and Varroa are well below threshold level.
Keep your hive inspections to a minimum. Swarming should not be a concern anymore this season. Learn to listen to your bees. Healthy colonies have a low humming sound. When a colony is stressed for any number of reasons—queen problems, robbing, yellowjackets, Varroa pressure, etc.—you will hear an ever-increasing buzzing sound.
Varroa mite populations should be peaking soon, so just because you may have treated do not stop your monitoring. In the past several years, I have noticed mite levels skyrocketing in late September to early October.
There are several things that you should be doing at least once a week from now on until bees are clustering and not flying daily. (1) Check early in the day for yellowjackets trying or entering your hives. Entrance reducers will help. Try and find ground nests and destroy if possible. (2) Look for signs of robbing: bees hovering 2–3 feet in front of your hive, bees around back and sides of your hives, large wax pieces on the bottom board or sample board. The UC-Davis robber screens are a good defense.Worst case, relocate the hive. (3) Heft with one hand the back of your hive. If you can lift with little effort, your bees need food stores. If temperatures are above 50oF feed a heavy syrup, 2 parts sugar: 1 part water, in an in-hive or hive top feeder. If temps are below 50oF, then feed fondant or sugar cakes. (4) Monitor for mites. I use my sample board, and I am looking for counts increasing between each sample. I am not trying to determine threshold levels, just increasing numbers of natural drop. (5) Keep a water source available for bees.
If your plan is to leave full supers of honey on your hives and you have used a queen excluder, be sure to remove the excluder. Do not leave an excluder on your hive.
During the hot weather of July something came up that reminds me that we need to be thinking Smoker Safety year around. Smokers contain a fire inside of a metal container, but they do radiate heat. Setting a lit smoker on or near combustible material can and has caused fires. So, treat that smoker with respect and be sure it is out before putting it away.
Last year at this time trees were losing leaves, but not so far this year. If you have the room on your property, two good late-season nectar source plants are buckwheat and borage. Both of these are blooming right now. Honey bees and bumble bees love them both, and if you have bees you will only need to plant them once. Borage starts in spring and continues to produce new plants until we get a hard freeze.
The first-ever effort to collect Varroa mite load percentages across North America will be happening the second week of September. I hope all beekeepers will participate. The backyard beekeeper is a very important component to getting broad spectrum data across many regions. It is something you should be doing anyway, so plan on doing a mite sample, either powdered sugar or alcohol wash, between September 9 and 16; then just upload your results to mitecheck.com.