By: Kim Flottum
We have our bees in Northeast Ohio, not far from Cleveland and lake Erie. Our Winters aren’t too bad because we are just south of Lake Erie’s snow belt, and Summers tend toward not too hot because we are kind of close enough to get some of the cool lake breezes. But Mother Nature bats last and some Winters are way too cold, and some Summers way too hot.
This Spring was like that – way, way too hot. And then, too much rain, with some cold mixed in, way too often. What this weather pattern did was to fast forward the bloom time of some plants, then the cool rainy slowed down others so what happened was…lots of stuff bloomed at the same time. Normally there’s a predictable sequence both I, and our bees can depend on. This year that sequence went to heck and there was way more bloom than there should be, then none, then too much.
When all this bloom is early there aren’t as many bees in a hive yet and this simple lack of a labor force means there will be less nectar gathered. Or, and sometimes this happens, the labor force is redistributed and foragers are pushed out the door earlier than usual to take advantage of this abundance, and the queen slows, maybe stops laying eggs because most of the nurse bees are now foragers. So, later, there’s a dearth of new bees coming on line so the labor force is dampened. If the nectar flow is over this isn’t a problem, but if another buster comes along, again, the colony misses some of the harvest.
Of course, if the rush is early and the colony is able to take advantage of it, a large population and lots of stored honey is the result, but if the beekeeper isn’t on top of things swarming becomes the next course of action. Providing, of course, the weather cooperates.
But this erratic weather really messes up any plans for working the bees. I’m on the road a lot so just any old time I want to check, add, split, treat, feed, doesn’t work. My windows of opportunity are not numerous, and too often too early, too late, or not enough or too much. And way too often, getting done what needs done when it needs done doesn’t happen, at all. This reflects an old friend’s Rule of Rights – Do the right thing at the right time the right way with the right number of bees. And you will do all right as a beekeeper. That is exactly true, and almost impossible to accomplish some years.
Late July, early August is when Winter prep, for both bees and beekeepers, really starts in a beehive, and the best thing a beekeeper can do is to ‘take care of the bees that take care of the bees that go into Winter’. It’s sort of like, if your grandparents aren’t healthy, they won’t be able to take care of your parents, and in turn your parents won’t be able to take care of you, so when Winter comes, you’re underfed, sick from Varroa infestations and the viruses that comes with that, living in a home just slightly tainted with pesticides from what your nest mates keep bringing back all Summer, and there’s just not quite enough food to get you and your buddies through the Winter. Somebody didn’t take care of the bees, didn’t so the right thing at the right time, that’s for sure.
So it’s not too late to do the right thing. Check for mite loads in your colony the easy way. Check out our sister pubs article at https://www.beeculture.com/easy-hive-monitoring/ for what and how and when. Once you know if your mite load is too high, you’ll have to decide on what treatment options to use. My first choice is always the organic acids, and my choice is Formic Plus, a disposable pad with formic acid soaked in that evaporates in the hive, killing any mites that are not in cells. You have to apply it for some time to make sure you get any mites that were in cells for the first application, but it is effective, safe for your bees and does not contaminate the wax. Win, Win, Win I think.
Of course there are a slew of other products that are effective and safe…oxalic acid as a spray, drizzle or gas. This last one requires the most protective gear. There a several essential oil products available that are effective and safe, too. All of these work, but you have to measure, then treat, if treating is your choice.
You have time to remove your queen and let the colony go broodless for a time, effectively eliminating any place mites can hide, making them more susceptible to any of these treatments, or just exposing them to the real world.
And then there’s feeding to make sure there is enough to make it through the Winter, making sure the queen is healthy and doing her job…you should still have several frames of open and sealed brood in the brood nest, and if not, suspect the queen of wearing out, especially if you had an overload of mites.
If you are going to add Winter protection to your hives now is the time to get it going. Not on yet, not until the second hard frost in your area, but have it ready. Ventilation is needed, too. If you have a screened bottom board close it 2/3rds and have an upper entrance, usually your inner cover slot with the outer cover pushed away from it so warm air can escape and not condense on the inner cover and drip back down.
There’s more of course. Get a book, talk to your mentor, take a class. Do the right thing, the right way, at the right time, with the right number of bees, and you’ll have bees next Spring. It all starts now.