By: Ann Harmon
The busy bee year is winding down for both the bees and for us. However, the bees are simply entering another phase of their New Year that began back in August. In many areas of the country the queen is taking a well-deserved rest from laying eggs. In the warmer areas she will actually not work as energetically as during the rest of the year. So in a sense she is resting also.
Now you have some time to review your bee year. First go out and clean up your beeyard. How well did it work for you? Did you consider moving one of the hives? Remember, moving an established hive is not a simple task. The bees know where their home is located in its surroundings. If you move the hive too far from its original spot you can end up with a clump of lost bees. A general rule is you can move them two feet or two miles but no distance in between those. If you live in a cold climate you really cannot move hives if the outside temperature is below clustering temperatures. If the cluster is broken during the bumps and thumps of moving and they cannot reform a cluster, then the bees will simply die.
Make certain you have not left pieces of equipment here and there in the beeyard. If something broke during bee season, either remove it for repair, discard it, or make use of it somewhere else. You need to be able to examine your hives comfortably without tripping over junk. If you live in bear country you still want to make certain your bear fence is working properly. If you neglected to cut down grass and weeds, this is the time to do that. Your bees may wish to take cleansing flights throughout the Autumn and Winter. Also you just might discover something you lost during bee season.
Now that the beeyard is ready for its rest period let’s start with your bee clothing. Check your veil for any rips or holes. Bees are really very clever! They can find that hole before you even know it’s there. Repairs can be made but if the repair interferes with your visibility put a new veil down on your Replace It List. (You are making a note of necessary items aren’t you?) Were you satisfied with your veil? If you found it was awkward or kept falling this way and that, plan to buy a different one.
Next – wash your bee jacket or coveralls! Dried bee venom in clothing can result in sting allergies. If, for some reason, your clothing received a number of stings during bee season then it should have been washed at that time. What about gloves? If they are beekeeper gloves, propolis can be removed with rubbing alcohol. This can also be used to remove propolis from clothing although it may not BEEKeeping completely remove a stain. If you use the household gloves, discard the used ones and buy several new pair for the coming year.
Now for a review of equipment. Your smoker is an important tool. Check the bellows. A leak can be very annoying. If it’s badly damaged you can buy replacement bellows. Sticky propolis can be cleaned off the bellows with some rubbing alcohol. Sometimes ashes collect under the grid and block airflow. You can use a wire brush or some plain dry steel wool to clean off the creosote buildup around the rim and the cap for smoother operation.
The smoker and hive tool are your most important pieces of equipment. Do you like your hive tool? A cruise through the equipment suppliers will give you an idea of the many styles of hive tool available. If you see one you would like to try, write it down on your New Equipment List. If you belong to your local bee club (and you should) perhaps some of the beekeepers can give you recommendations about hive tools they like. Whatever you decide, clean off your current hive tool. If it is not too gummed up, a trip through the dishwasher will clean it up nicely (caution – you might get some complaints about this).
Although it is Autumn and going into Winter it is time to consider the hive parts that you may need for next Spring and Summer. If you are just finishing your first year and your hives now have a good population of bees, you are probably looking forward to having a honey crop next year. If you did have a honey crop this year you might have needed more honey supers and found you could not get them in time. The equipment suppliers do their best but all the procrastinators are ordering honey supers at the same time. As soon as you get your 2018 calendar write down “order bee equipment” in January. That is when the equipment suppliers have sales! You’ll save money and time and be ready for that bumper crop.
Take a few minutes to think about the times you have inspected your hives. Did you start out with deeps for hive bodies? Or 10-frame mediums for hive bodies as well as honey supers? If you were surprised at the weight of these when full of bees and honey, perhaps you gave a thought about 8-frame equipment. Next year as the weather warms, the bees have moved up and it is time to reverse for swarm prevention. This time would be ideal to move from 10-frame into eight-frame by putting eight frames from the empty bottom hive body into the eight-frame hive body now on top. However, you will have to temporarily close off the gap between the two with wood or something waterproof. Since reversing time in Spring is the best time to shift to eight-frame, those boxes will have to be ordered in January.
What to do with the now-unwanted 10-frame boxes? If your bees are disease-free certainly someone in your local club would be happy to purchase them. Or you could keep them for storing frames with comb or as a useful frame-holder when inspecting your hives. But you might prefer a frame holder that hooks onto the side of a hive body. The equipment suppliers all carry them. This type of frame holder helps you keep the frames, especially brood frames, in order and safe. And it does prevent you from stepping right in the middle of a frame of brood or food that fell over when you thought you propped it against a hive.
For those who had a honey crop this year, did you use queen excluders? After you have cleaned them check for any damage, whether plastic or metal. You can put the plastic ones in a plastic trash bag and put in freezer. The cold wax will snap off when you take it from the freezer and wobble it. The metal ones can be frozen and then immediately scraped when taken out of the freezer. If you see any damage you will need to replace it. The queen will always find the bent wire or the rip in plastic. Again, now is the time to put them on your list for January purchase.
One very important item is a feeder for sugar syrup. The equipment catalogs show many different types. Which type did you buy? How well is it working for you? For the bees? You may now be feeding syrup for Winter stores. If you are satisfied with your syrup feeders, that’s good. But if you are not, then why not order the kind you want right now? It’s an item you will use again and again.
Hives have bottom boards. In the past there was basically only one type. Today, with varroa and small hive beetle, bottom boards come in different designs to help with pest control. Were you satisfied with the ones you are using? If not, then you need another tour of the equipment suppliers to find one more useful. Oh yes – if you are changing over to eight-frame you will need a whole new set of bottom boards.
Many beekeepers use cement blocks for hive stands. Although an assortment of hive stands are being sold, just remember that they might not be a suitable height for you to work comfortably. Some are metal and some are a durable heavy-duty plastic. If you are using cement blocks then you probably have your “stand” at the height you want.
Today our bees have to cope with Varroa mites and in some areas the small hive beetle (shb). The equipment catalogs show a number of ways to monitor and cope with these. Think back through this year. How successful were you at keeping these pests under control? Is there something else you would like to try? See what is available that is compatible with your style of beekeeping and make your plans for the coming year.
Now that the basic shopping list has been made for next year, perhaps it is time to consider some other pieces of equipment. Yes, beekeepers are always looking for better ways to make beekeeping easier and more fun.
Did any of your colonies swarm this year? Were you able to capture them or did they fly up, up and away? This coming Spring perhaps you can capture them. Swarm traps and lures are very popular. Why not try to recapture your swarm – or another beekeeper’s who lives somewhere in the distance.
Did you have any problems with robbing during a dearth of suitable plants this year? Robbing screens are available and can be very handy in some areas and some conditions. The one made by Country Rubes (www. countryrubes.com) is a very nice one
Another piece of equipment, useful during potential robbing times and also for colonies that are especially agitated upon opening, is the manipulating cloth sold by Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. It is a canvas cloth with an opening in the middle. This opening allows you to remove one frame for inspection and replace it without disturbing any of the other frames. The bees stay quietly inside their hive body. You can move the cloth’s opening over any frame you wish to remove. This cloth could be especially useful in urban or suburban environments where you may not wish to have a number of bees in the air.
When you have a few minutes, go back and review your records (Oh! You are keeping records aren’t you?). Do you see any time when you thought “there must be a piece of equipment for that?” If so, search for it now to put it on your New Equipment List. Otherwise you will forget about it until you really need it again – naturally during a hive inspection.
Bees store food for the Winter so they can raise bees to be ready when Spring arrives. You need to follow the bee’s plan – get your bee gear in shape and equipment bought. Don’t let those clever bees get ahead of you!
Leave your list out on Christmas Eve just in case Santa drops by and wants to know what you need for your next year of beekeeping.