Claude’s Corner – October 2022

I hope you and your bees are well.

Beekeepers are and should be, weather geeks.  As I write, Hurricane Ian nears Florida landfall with 155 mph winds.  While I feel deeply about the negative impact that storm will have on the Floridians, I have our local bee weather conditions in mind and Jack Frost is at our door.  Generally, the first fall frost (36 degrees) is Oct. 20, first fall freeze (32 degrees) is Nov. 1, and the first fall hard freeze (28 degrees) is Nov. 12. So, the window for winter preparations is closing and we need to “Do what you should do when you should do it.”

Bees begin to cluster at 57 degrees.  Day time temperatures will be in the mid-60s to 70s so the bees will still be flying, but not as much as earlier in the year.  Robbing continues to be an issue, so entrance reducers (ER) are advised for that and as part of winter prep. (I use the smallest opening, but once I ran out of reducers and used a strip of half inch hardware cloth across the entire entrance and the bees did just fine, go figure.)  ERs are also helpful (but not 100 percent) in keeping mother mouse out.  (I have tried quarter inch hardware cloth but found it made it difficult for the bees to squeeze through).  I like Don’s ERs that he demonstrated at our last field day. Shame on you if you missed it, and thanks to Melissa for hosting and Jake for presenting.  

There are few rules in beekeeping that are absolute, and one is, get queen excluders (QE) off before bees begin to cluster (57 degrees).  Why? The queen can become trapped below (QE) when the bees move up and become chilled and die.  So, if you were with me on Sept. 10, you might have asked why I was putting one ON.  I like to take off empty, or nearly so, boxes as part of my winter prep.  I found a hive with mostly brood in the bottom and some brood and all the honey stores in the top.  Bees will not leave brood, so how was I to get all the bees into one box and also, make sure the queen was in the correct box?  So, I reversed the boxes, but before I put the former bottom box on top, I took as much brood out and put it into the now bottom box, put an empty box on and shook all the bees out (making sure the queen was in the bottom box), removed the empty box, put a (QE) on, and then put the former bottom box on top. NOW, I must go back, after all the brood has emerged, remove the QE and shake any bees into the bottom box, and now safely remove the empty box.  

What about partially filled frames of honey in honey supers (HS)?  I like to get all my HS off before winter.  Bees move up in winter and I don’t want brood in my HS.  So, if there is still enough time, I put HS on top of my inner cover, the bees generally, but not always, will remove the honey and take it back (inside) the hive.  A faster way is to put the HS about 100 yards away from the apiary and let the bees rob it out, but it creates a feeding frenzy and can cause apiary-wide robbing.  The best way, I suppose, is to put HS in a freezer to kill any pathogens, and then store it safely for use next season. (I don’t have a freezer that I can use and still preserve my marriage.)

I recently (Sept. 19, 2022) visited my daughter in northeast Virginia and had the pleasure of visiting a fellow beekeeper’s apiary.  I mention this because I was so impressed by what I saw.  He had an apiary that rivalled any that I have ever seen (even Don’s).  It was neat and orderly, no weeds or tall grass, well maintained wooden ware, painted different colors, entrance reducers in place, feeding where needed in progress, and on and on.  I mentioned this later at dinner and was asked if it made a difference to the bees?  Well, I guess technically, no it didn’t, after all bees have existed for millions of years just fine without our help or interference. But on the other hand, it certainly does make a difference because it is one very important aspect of good husbandry.  I knew right away that here was a beekeeper that was serious about his beekeeping.  Here was a guy who cared about his bees and when I put on my bee jacket and we opened some hives, I was treated to a wonderful experience of just plane good old beekeeping management.

Have a day filled with sunshine.