Ready, Set, Go!
By: Ann Harman
During October, November and December you should have noticed that your queens are starting to take a vacation—a short rest from laying so many eggs. This is normal behavior for our bees of European origin. Does this mean you can also take a rest? Well, in a sense yes—meaning you will not be as busy with your bees as you were during the spring and summer months.
Depending on your onset of winter weather, you can consider October as the end of preparing your hives for winter. All should be well until Spring arrives. Now you have a few months to get ready for your coming Beekeeping Year. (Remember, the bees’ New Year started in August.) You have some time to review your records for this year. I hope you did keep some sort of re-cords! How satisfied were you with your bees throughout the spring and summer? Did you requeen? For what reason? If you did requeen are you satisfied with the new one? How about equipment—did you have to order something necessary in a panic? Use your records to plan your coming Beekeeping Year.
One important beekeeping activity will be a quick inspection at least once a month during the winter months in your area. You must not disturb the cluster. You can choose a day with sun, low wind and remove the covers. You need to know if the bees are alive and if they have enough food to last until early plants with nectar and pollen are available. Bees, in a Langstroth type hive, work their way up through stored food. In a top bar hive they will work back into where their food is stored. If, for some reason the colony is dead, block all entrances until you can determine they did not die from American foulbrood.
In your beekeeping library, no matter how small, you should have a collection of catalogs. If not, it’s time to start. Although it would be nice to have 2017 catalogs with their new items when January begins, you might have to do those new items search on the internet. The new printed catalogs sometimes do not arrive promptly but the 2016 catalogs will be useful. Having a library of catalogs is convenient because you can open several at once making it easy for comparisons such as price and shipping costs. Look through the equipment suppliers’ advertisements in this magazine and contact them to be put on their mailing list.
This is the time to look forward to your equipment needs for the coming bee season. Bee equipment suppliers usually have sale prices on many items in January. Since the 2017 catalogs will probably not be available, look on-line. If you have finished your first year and preparing to harvest honey next season, now is the time to order honey supers and foundation for the start of the nectar flow. Waiting to order until you suddenly need honey supers can mean you will miss your best nectar flow. In general try to buy woodenware from the same manufacturer to assure a smooth fit.
You may be tempted to buy some used equipment. Because of the possibility of American foulbrood contamination buying used boxes and comb could turn out to be very costly if you have to destroy bees and burn hives. You may have found someone nearby making beehives and the price seems cheap. Think twice—cheap could mean poor wood and slight mismeasurements. A well-made hive should last many years and be a pleasure to use.
While the weather is still warm you can give your hives a thorough check from top to bottom board. Remember to keep the bee’s organization of their home intact. Make sure the bottom is clean, even a screen one. Odd bits of wax and propolis can be scraped off and removed from the beeyard. Such debris left lying around is an attractant for small hive beetle, skunks, racoons, and even bears.
Equipment, such as empty boxes, queen excluders, frames, foundation, and drawn comb should be reviewed and cleaned up. A chilly day, about 35 to 40°F, is ideal for snapping off propolis and wax. If you live in a warm climate you may be scraping instead of snapping. If any woodenware needs repair set it aside and don’t forget about it. You may need that in a hurry next Spring.
If you used queen excluders, they may need cleaning but be careful not to damage them. You can flex the plastic ones to look for places with a small rip. To inspect metal ones, hold the short end and tip the excluder down away from you. In that way you can see if any of the rods are bent. Yes, the queen will find a damaged place in an excluder so take good care of them.
All stored equipment should be protected from mice. They can ruin a plastic queen excluder, gnaw at wooden-ware and make a fluffy nest out of your protective clothing and gloves. In addition to mice, beekeepers need to protect stored comb, especially brood comb, from wax moth. Yes, you can use the Para-Moth® from equipment suppliers. It is paradichlorobenzene.
It will be absorbed into the wax permanently even if you cannot smell it. But you must renew the treatment each year. If you purchase and use ‘moth balls’ and the container says ‘naphalene’ you will kill your bees! That equipment is ruined even if you do not smell it and must be destroyed. You cannot tell the difference in the two chemicals by the odor.
Two other ways to protect equipment from wax moth are freezing and light. Brood combs and even hive bodies containing brood comb can be put into a freezer for a week. Wrap combs or hive bodies containing combs in heavy plastic trash bags and seal with tape. Leave sealed up after removing from freezer but protect from mice—they can easily chew through a plastic bag. If you live in a cold climate the comb can be stored in a shed or outdoors but should be protected from rain and snow. Wax moth cannot lay eggs if light is present. So hive bodies with combs can be stacked in alternate directions, each box 90° from the one below it to admit light but the light must be on 24 hours a day. It does not need to be a bright light.
Although you now have your unused equipment protected from mice, did you put mouse guards at the entrance to your hives? As the days grow shorter and nights become frosty, mice are shopping for a protected warm dry place to establish a nest. Your beehive provides that. Mice destroy comb to make their nest area and their smelly urine keeps the bees far away. You can buy mouse guards or make your own with a piece of ½ inch hardware cloth fastened firmly across the entrance.
Bees will fly on warmer days in winter so mow grass and weeds to give them free flight. (You might find that hive tool you lost back in June.) In moderate winter weather bears may not completely hibernate. If you live in bear country make certain your bear fence is working. In areas of high winter winds put a heavy weight on top of flat telescoping covers. If you live in an area that could have a snowstorm you really do not have to clear the snow away from the hive entrance unless you want to. You will soon find an opening along the entrance. Snow surrounding the hives acts as insulation so there is no need to shovel the beeyard.
Clean up your smoker. Creosote can build up and make the top difficult to open and close. Check the bellows for any damage. If so, you can buy bellows from the bee supply company you bought your smoker from. However, if you, as so many other beekeepers have done, drove over your smoker and flattened it, replace it now.
Hive tools can have a buildup of propolis and wax. Scrape any buildup off. Sticking the dirty end inside a lit smoker does a good job of cleaning it. So does a trip through the dishwasher after being scraped.
You need to wash all of your bee clothing—veil, jacket, coveralls. If bees stung the clothing the venom has dried in the cloth. A buildup of dried venom can trigger a venom allergy so plan to wash your protective clothing frequently. Cleaning your gloves can be a problem if they are leather. Propolis and wax can make then very sticky. Rubbing alcohol will dissolve most of the propolis. Using household dishwashing gloves means no stings and you can feel the bees and what you are doing in the hive. When these gloves become sticky they can be discarded for a new pair. Check your veil for any holes before the bees find them and crawl inside. Repair, or if a serious problem, replace.
If you do not belong to your local bee club you are missing a lot. Clubs will have speakers on a variety of topics. You may feel that not all of the presentations are interesting but they may give you some ideas for your future in beekeeping. State beekeeping frequently bring in bee scientists with up-to-date information on some of our beekeeping problems. So attending a state meeting is very worthwhile. If you are not aware of a local association in your area, the state association can give you that information. Here is where the internet is a big help. Just Google your state beekeeping association and take advantage of the information.
Is the internet a good source for finding answers to your bee questions? Probably not if you are just cruising around. Experienced beekeepers are able to sift the correct and useful from opinions and guesses and completely wrong information. If you wish to find accurate beekeeping information you can try these sites: http://www.eXtension.org and put beekeeping into the Search block. One site that is specialized for the Mid-Atlantic region but also has excellent general beekeeping information is the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research & Extension Consortium, MAAREC, at http://agdev.anr.udel.edu/maarec. An excellent newsletter can be found at the University of California Da-vis site: http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/apiculture_newsletter.html. Some state and local bee associations have newsletters. And check out your state University webpages for the Extension on Beekeeping. Choose club newsletters in your area because the information usually will be more pertinent. You can subscribe (free) to two interesting newsletters, one is called CATCH THE BUZZ, information available on the Bee Culture website. The other is Malcom Sanford’s APIS newsletter: http://beekeep.info/apis-newsletter.
If you are one of the lucky ones who took beginning beekeeper classes in your area, you could ask to sit in again to refresh your memory on points that you may have missed the first time. If you did not take classes then sign up for them! Some associations offer mentors to guide you through the first year or two of beekeeping.
Tell Santa that a Christmas present of a beekeeping book would be nice. Unfortunately many are on the market and some of those are rubbish. Two websites offer excellent books for all levels of beekeeping: http://beeculture.com/books and http://wicwas.com. As your beekeeping year draws to a close you can still have ‘bee time’ with a good book.