Keeping Bees in September
By far, the most important thing you need to do this month is monitor your varroa counts. Just checking a white board is not good enough. Alcohol tests are a must. Watch the Honey Bee Health Coalition video on how to do an alcohol wash. Your colony may be so very, very strong but it will NOT make it through winter if varroa mites are sucking the immune system out of your winter bees. The likelihood of a colony making it through the winter without having been adequately treated is slim. This usually means multiple treatments over a period of time.
Even if you treated a month ago, you MUST retest regularly. September is the worst time for varroa build-up. On the home page of the website is a link to help you decide what treatment to use. It’s important to use the best treatment and to use it properly.
No matter what the month, access to water where they won’t drown is important. Be especially vigilant on hot days.
It’s not necessary or wise to do brood box inspections unless you suspect a problem. Most hives are still very strong. If you have a colony that’s weak or even only moderately strong, then that’s a different story. If you have two deeps on and only four or five frames of bees in each box, that’s weak.
You definitely need to go in:
1. Be sure you have a queen. You don’t need to find her. Just find larva and especially young larva.
2. Excess drone comb at this time of the year is a bad sign. All drone comb means either the queen can no longer lay fertilized eggs, or you have a laying worker. See directions for dealing with that below.
3. Is the brood pattern spotty? If so, kill the queen, give the colony a few hours of being queenless and replace her.
4. Consider merging weaker colonies with stronger colonies using the newspaper method. Merging two weak colonies rarely works.
When the colony has been without a queen or any way to make a queen for a long enough period (about four weeks), some of the workers will start laying eggs. Because these workers never mated, all of the bees will be drones. Unfortunately, the colony thinks they have a queen even though they don’t. It’s impossible to figure out which workers are doing the laying and it’s impossible to get the colony to accept a new queen.
The one method that works to correct the situation is to put the laying worker colony on top of a double screen divider board which is on top of strong colony. Each colony has their own entrance. The scent of a real queen permeates through the screens and the laying workers stop laying. It works whether the strong colony is on top or on the bottom. It can take as little as a week but usually several weeks. To check, go into the laying worker colony and look for eggs or young larva that are not dried out. There should be none.
Even though the knotweed is in bloom, September is the month when serious robbing begins. It’s not just other honey bees. Yellow jackets and bald face hornets can be a serious problem especially to colonies that are not very strong. Reduce the entrances to be open no more than three inches. If that doesn’t work, go to a one-inch opening. Robbing screens are also an option.
Robbing is another reason to limit the time spent with your hive open.
If you take honey, be sure to leave the colony an ample amount. They will be moving honey from supers down to the brood boxes. A deep brood box mostly filled with honey should be enough but leaving an additional super is best. Anything beyond one super should be safe to take.
The spring of 2022 started a month late due to frequent, heavy rains. Food storage ran out and many colonies died. Better to leave more honey than you think they need. You can always use any honey left in the spring to feed Nucs and splits.
Put the extracted combs back in the hive until they are completely dry. Then store them in a bright airy place to avoid losing all that comb to wax moths. There are differing opinions on how to store comb over winter. Do your own research.