Keeping Bees in August
The honey flow from blackberries is over. Time to put entrance reducers on to reduce robbing. Use the three-inch opening.
Water and Ventilation
The weather is usually hot this time of year. Be sure to have a vent box of some sort on. Put it above the inner cover. You don’t want the bees to draw comb down from the vent box. The inner cover keeps that from happening. Vent boxes should be on year-round.
If you live near a river that’s great. If not, provide water for the bees to drink that doesn’t cause them to drown. If using a dish of water, put stones or straw in it for the bees to land on. Be sure it’s in the shade so you don’t have to refill it quite so often.
There’s no need for sugar water so soon after the blackberry flow. You can fill your feeder with water! The feeder goes above the inner cover and below the vent box. With regard to sugar water, you definitely don’t want to give any until after you take off your honey supers. Otherwise, your honey isn’t really pure honey.
August and September are the worst months for mite increase. You can put your bottom boards in for a few days to see the mite drop but depending on that to tell you whether you have a problem is unwise. An alcohol test is essential. See www.honeybeehealthcoalition.org for videos on how to do this. Most beekeepers dislike doing the test for several reasons. It’s a bit intimidating and, of course, killing bees on purpose is a real put-off. But if you want your bees to be alive next spring, you must test and most likely, treat. Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Use the honey bee health coalition decision guide on the website to determine what to treat with and follow the directions exactly. Formic pro is a common choice because it’s strong, can be used with honey supers on, and is the only product that kills mites inside the capped brood. But be careful not to use it if temperatures during the first week of treatment are in the eighties or higher. Also be sure to plug up the vent openings in your vent box and put a bottom board in. Formic pro will kill some bees and could even kill the queen, but the benefits outweigh the risks. For small to medium size colonies use a half dose. Also, the queen often stops laying eggs when formic pro is on. So don’t be surprised if your colony is broodless the next time you go in. It sometimes takes a week or two after the treatment is finished before she starts laying again.
Your colonies are likely to be very strong. If you have two deep boxes filled with bees, you have enough to do a split. Your main decision is what to do about the queen for the second colony.
You can buy one or let them raise one. If you have all the colonies you want, you should have no problem selling the split. Sell the half with the old queen and keep the half with the new queen.
Be sure to do a varroa test before doing a split. Kill the varroa first before splitting.
There are lots of options on how to do a split. It’s much too complicated to discuss here.
Be cautious about late splits in August. This is getting a bit late as the queen will start laying winter bee larvae by Labor Day. Installing new queens this late gives one little room for error if the replacement queen is not successful or a poor performer.
You should have at least two supers on. If both have drawn comb use a queen excluder. If one has drawn comb and one doesn’t, checkerboard the frames between the two boxes. Be sure that a drawn comb is lined up vertically with an undrawn one. Wax the undrawn ones before putting them on. Don’t use a queen excluder if there are undrawn frames.
Your only goal is to be sure you have a laying queen. Find eggs or young worker larva and you are done. Close the hive up as fast as possible to avoid inviting robbers. Be sure to smoke.
If you only have drone brood or have drone brood in worker sized cells, you have a problem. Either the queen was not properly mated or injured, or you have no queen but rather a laying worker. Dealing with a laying worker will be discussed in a separate article for that specific issue.
It’s time to get rid of moderate to large patches of drone brood. If it’s mostly of frame, remove the whole frame. Some people feed it to their chickens. If it’s only a part of a frame, scrape the caps to open the drone comb. The bees will remove the drone larva and fill the cells with honey. Put the frame near the outside of the box. A queen will never lay worker brood in a drone cell. Once the drone larva is removed, return the frame to the outer most comb in the hive box.
Update your notes. Date and record all observations, questions, etc. How many frames are covered with bees? In which boxes? Is there bee bread and nectar near the brood?