By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
In the fall, hives should be downsized to match the colony they contain. The very minimum amount of honey they need is all the honey on brood frames… totaling a frame or two of capped honey. In areas with sparse winter forage, and few blooming plants in winter, colonies will need more capped honey. Check the weight of hives every two weeks or a month.
In areas with abundant winter forage (red and blue gum eucalyptus, for instance) make sure hives don’t get “honey-bound”. Be prepared to either rob a frame of honey from time to time or to add a super.
The rains are coming. Let’s make sure our hives are as rain tolerant as they need to be.
Hives with solid (migratory) bottom boards should be tipped “forward” a few degrees so that any water dribbling down to the bottom board flows out the front of the hive. Water can dribble out through the screen of screen bottom-boards.
An awning of some sort above the hive entrance will save the bees from landing in a water puddle when they forage on drizzly days, or after rainstorms. Wet is bad for bees.
Water condenses under the top cover in winter because the top is colder than the dew point. Insulating above the top cover keeps the top warmer, so it reduces condensation above the bees. Air circulates in convection to the sides of the hive where the water condenses and dribbles down to the bottom board.
Coatings of propolis under the top cover and on the inside walls, will suppress the growth of fungus or mildew. If the bees don’t do it for you, you can make a do-it-yourself propolis varnish from your hive scrapings and alcohol from the hardware store. Mix to make a brown “varnish” which can be painted on the inside of hive components. Hive equipment will last longer.
In the fall our strong hives rob from weaker, smaller, poorly defended, or failing hives. Robbers can bring back hitchhiker Varroa. The influx of too many Varroa can cause a hive to fail. An OK hive can become a troubled hive in a week or two! So… especially if you believe in treating hives for Varroa, check sticky boards once or twice a week to catch the robbing events early. A non-treatment beekeeper can look for and remove any drone pupa to try to reduce Varroa reproduction in the hive. Dusting the hive with a cup of powder sugar per brood box can reduce phoretic mites for a day or two. Enthusiastic robbers can bring Varroa numbers right back… until the donor hives are gone.
Check for queen-less colonies too. There isn’t much time left to raise decent new queens. The lack of drones to mate with can result in poor egg production. New fall queens may be superseded next spring.
There are up-sides and downsides to combining weak colonies. A downside is that the weak colony may be weak due to disease.
It could be doom for the small healthy colony to combine it with the troubled colony.
Consider combines to be experiments. Take notes. Learn lessons.
Clean up and repair equipment.
Review your notes and plan for next year.
Plan to order equipment to fit with your replacement or expansion plan for next year.
If you assemble it yourself, do assemble it promptly in case we have a productive winter where they will need to be used.