Keeping Bees in September
The knotweed is in full bloom. Bees are busy bringing in nectar. By the end of the month queens will begin laying eggs fat winter bees.
Labor Day through Columbus Day is the true fall season. Queens begin laying overwintering larvae. Bees in two deep hives begin the organization of filling the top box with resources and moving the brood nest down again to the lower box, while at the same time, surrounding the brood with plenty of stores. This is also when not only drone numbers are declining, but also the entire population of bees begin to reduce in preparation for winter.
By far, the most important thing you need to do this month is monitor your varroa counts. Just checking the 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 extraordinarily 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. Try your best to spot problem queens earlier than Sept. As in the August notes, replacing queens this late leaves little room for error.
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-faced 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. If you use excluders with your supers, be sure you remove them so bees and queen can have access to winter stores.
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.
Your goal is to leave about 60 pounds of honey in a double deep for the winter. Next opportunity, try to weigh a single deep frame filled with honey. Then when you go into a fall hive, just multiply that weight by the number of filled honey frames to estimate total weight. This is also a good time to educate yourself by tipping a hive and getting the idea of what “feels” good and heavy and what seems too light. Also pay attention to any pathology this time of year, especially the presence of foulbrood and Nosema. Prepare for the important fall treatments of mites which should be the most aggressive. The goal is to get mite levels as low as possible before winter sets in. This may include some mite treatments during early winter when a semi-broodless period exists.