By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
The dearth (seasonal nutrition scarcity) is here, or soon will be in your neighborhood.
Well-provisioned hives, hives with some pollen stored in brood frames, and some capped honey, will consume some of these stores between now and the time the rains begin this October/November.
What to do??
• Narrow entrances to discourage robbing. The guard bees need a smaller opening to patrol.
Don’t create “extra entrances”. Make sure robbers can’t get in through the top vent if you have one, or any other gaps.
• Water, water, water… Keep your bee water source full to keep the bees from foraging the leaky hose-bib next door, or the kiddie-pool, or pet-dish. Few of us live next to a creek. Don’t fret… the bees prefer ditch water to water right out of the tap. Perhaps they get trace minerals or other dietary essentials from it. Mosquito breeding is an issue too… so be prudent.
• Weak hives with no stored honey, and swarms arriving now in your bait-hives, or caught and hived in your equipment, should be offered 1-to-1 sugar syrup (pound of sugar per pound of water). If they need the syrup, they’ll take it. Consider a “pollen-patty” too… but offer it one or two square inches at a time, since small-hive-beetle larva, Australian sap beetle larva, and wax-moth larva love the free protein.
Harvest frames of capped honey… but don’t take it all (see above). How much to leave depends on forage within a mile radius of your bee yard. Your bees may survive on only the “honey-cap” in brood frames, or they may need several frames of capped honey to get through the fall/winter. Make notes and adjust next year.
Check every week or two.
If your arm is a well-calibrated scale, check by lifting the back of the hive. Feed if it’s “too light.”
If your arm isn’t well calibrated, install a hook in the back of the bottom board, and lift with a hand-held scale (like a fisherman’s scale). Keep notes and look at the trend.
Check the condition of the brood every week or two or when you suspect distress. The larva in the cells should look wet and shiny. If their appearance is “flat,” they they’re nutrition stressed, and should be fed.
Don’t harvest uncapped honey. Leave it for the bees. They may need it for food during the dearth, or they may cap it later. Check again in a month or two. Excess is a very squishy term when referring to honey stores since local forage is a big factor in late-summer/fall nutrition. Some honeys granulate more readily than others… blackberry for instance. During winter the bees can’t use granulated honey, so do harvest the excess and spin it out before it granulates. If you take too much, you can feed syrup late into the fall, or feed “drivert-sugar.” Check often. See above.
Swarm wise… we’re past the worst of it. Booming, crowded hives may still swarm. Manage open space within the hive appropriately for your goals.
Colonies won’t fill up another super between now and the “fall-flow” of nectar if we get one.
Colonies can be induced to produce swarm-cells that can be used to replace inferior queens in the yard. There will be lots of drones to mate with for the next month or so. Plan carefully. If you’ve never done it, and feel you need to, ask expert advice.
Yellow jacket colonies can be a threat to beehives… particularly the huge ground-nesting YJ colonies. YJ colonies have had all spring and summer to build up. They will continue to build up until the weather turns cold, and queens fly out to go dormant for winter. If you can find the YJ nest (in the ground), county Vector Control can be called in to take them out. Yellow jacket traps may work too. Yellow jackets flying into hives are a crisis. Robbing screens can help. Small entrances can help. Be proactive. Be preemptive.
The dearth is the time of year when robbing gets hives into trouble. Robbers can ravage a weak hive in a day.
Make entrances narrow not more than an inch or two.
If your hive does the robbing, it can get itself into trouble by bring back a lot of hitchhiker Varroa. Monitor Varroa levels once or twice a week during the dearth. The number dropping onto the counting-board under your screen bottom board is a proxy for the level of Varroa in the hive. When it jumps, do a sugar roll. Consider culling drone pupa with your “uncapping-fork.” Consider treating.
Small entrances and the type of bottom board you use:
Screen bottom boards designed to allow the free flow of air under the screen provide enough ventilation so entrances can be narrowed to an inch or two with sticks. Climate control in the hive will be relatively easy for the bees to manage.
“Migratory” or “solid” bottom boards provide no ventilation from below. So, blocking most of the entrance with a stick to suppress robbing will make climate control in the hive very difficult.
With migratory bottom boards, when narrowing entrances, use a folded piece of #8 hardware cloth in place of the stick.
Check hive temperatures on hot days, especially if the hives are painted a dark color and located in a sunny spot. Bees can overheat in the hive, and may even be induced to abscond if they can’t control the temperature and humidity. Bearding is an indication of high temperature. Morning sun, and afternoon shade is a good combination… if the site allows it. An umbrella, perhaps… or your pop-up patio cover can be used to get the hive through scorching days.
If you treat for Varroa, plan your summer survey and treatment schedule. Check often if you think your hive may be robbing.