October – will it be warm and sunny or cold and rainy? Will the bees find enough nectar and pollen to replace what they are eating or will the hives lose weight this month? We beekeepers keep watch to help if needed. Bees will gather whatever nectar they can find. They will also be packing the lower boxes with pollen to prepare for brood rearing next spring. Hives kept on a scale will reveal some very interesting ups and downs during this month.
The beekeeper is looking at hives and determining which ones he will feed, which he will combine, and which have a problem that needs to be eliminated. We are also condensing hives to a winter configuration and moving all the surplus equipment into storage.
Strong hives don't get fed. They have proven that they can take care of themselves and feeding them will cause them to pack the brood nest too full and they will throw off a fall swarm – a swarm that has no chance of survival.
Moderate hives may be fed, or we may combine them. Don't bother feeding weak hives. They are weak for a reason and feeding them won't change that reason. If the problem is not a disease or something else that can be transferred, it is best to combine these hives. Most of the time, these weak hives are products of poor genetics or poor forage conditions. Remember, small hive beetles and wax moths do not cause a hive to decline, they simply take advantage of a hive that is too weak to defend itself anymore. If there are problems with SHB or wax moths now, there was a greater problem that was missed 6-8 weeks ago.
Mistakes I've made in October:
- Condensing hives too soon. We are pretty far south here in Southwest Missouri. Condensing hives too soon in the fall crowds them too much and they swarm. I've found I can wait much longer and let it get much cooler than I ever realized before condensing. After harvesting honey, I leave an empty box of harvested combs on top of the hive until late October or even mid-November (depending on the weather). Don't condense based on a calendar date, condense based on the weather pattern of that particular year.
- Not checking actual honey stores because the hive “looked strong”. Just because a hive has a lot of bees does not mean it has enough stores for the winter. Check its weight and actual number of frames of honey. An average hive will need 8-10 frames of honey and 2-4 frames of pollen to winter well.
- Not culling out the weak hives. These weak hives are not going to survive no matter how much we feed them or “hope” they will make it. To repeat: feeding will not cure the problem that made this hive weak. All I did was lose money feeding it and it died anyway. Better to combine the bees from the weak hive into a stronger hive and give it a better chance to make it.
- Combining the bees from weak hives into stronger hives but not giving those stronger hives any more stores. Adding bees to a strong hive means they have to feed those bees. It draws down the reserves of the strong hive unless we also add frames of pollen/honey when we add the extra bees.
- Closing the entrance too soon. We can get some very warm days in late November and early December. The bees do not need the entrance closed at all. So I' ve learned to curb my desire to “help” them and try to make it warm for them (because it actually ends up hurting them). Now I don't worry about the entrance reductions until it is honestly staying cold all day – usually not until late December or early January.
- I hope that sharing the mistakes I’ve made, and some of the common mistakes I see, will help you avoid them!
Something else I've noticed, we talk about having a hive ready for the winter, but we rarely see any real measure of what that should look like. So I am including the diagram below of how I want a hive to look like going into winter. Whether the hive set up as 2 deeps, or 4 mediums, or a deep and a medium, the diagram below looks the same. Envision your hive, no matter what size of boxes you are using, as a tall rectangle organized as you see below. Heavy layer of honey above and to the sides, a brood nest centered a little below the center, and pollen and some honey below the brood nest. Hope this helps clarify things a bit further.