You may have heard it said before that the beekeeper’s calendar begins in August, and in many ways that is true. While there are many critical months during the year, poor management in August can often doom your colonies for success over the winter. Hopefully you’ve had an enjoyable bee season so far and were able to enjoy some honey! For most locations and definitely for those who are less experienced, collecting honey should now stop and the focus should be on managing your colonies for over winter.
Because the viruses and bacteria carried by Varroa mites are the #1 reason why colonies do not survive, your initial focus should be on assessing the state of the mite load in your colonies. Even if you do not regularly do mite counts during the summer, it is good to know what the count is now, and what the count is in September–without that knowledge, you’ll have no way to know whether mites were the issue. A level that is 1-5% infestation (3-15 mites) now will continue to exponentially increase as the summer goes on, the bee population dwindles, the mite population increases, and your colonies attempt to raise healthy bees for overwinter. If you don’t own a mite check container, they are available many places, and we carry them in the farm shop.
Once you know the status of your mite loads, before selecting your choice of action for mites, the second step is to assess your queens. This is getting close to the latest you want to intentionally decide to requeen. A colony that has been very “spicey” all year will not calm down for next year. On the other hand, be careful to not blame a poor laying pattern on a queen where there is a very high mite load, as that can impact the pattern. As you think to future years and your queen selection, be aware that there are queen genetics that do a better job handling mites and mite loads than others–as one example, our VSH queens do better on fewer organic treatments for mites than other queens which tend to need more intensive mite management.
Once you assess your queen, the third step is to determine a course of action for your mite load. If it is 0-1, you may be able to wait until September, but if it is much higher, it’s usually better to address things now, and then do a “clean up” treatment in early December. Those who have spoken to us know that our personal preference is always to use organic rather than synthetic chemical mite treatments. However, that is your personal choice, and if you do not have a high mite load, something like Apivar will work well starting in early September where there tends to be more of a cluster as temperatures cool, providing you follow the directions, keep the strips in the center of the brood, and scraped free of wax and propolis. This goes without saying, but it is always best to keep your honey production (and that equipment) away from the colonies anytime when treating for mites. On the organic side, choices like Apiguard (thymol), Formic Pro (formic acid), Oxalic Acid, and Hop Guard (concentrated hops) are available options. As you make that choice, be aware that not everything is right for a particular situation and time. Time of year, mite load in the colony, and weather are all important factors. If you want to chat with us more about this, you are welcome to stop by the farm shop or send us a message. The farm shop will be closed on Friday, August 18, but usually open on Fridays from 9am-8pm or other days/times by appointment.
The fourth thing you should monitor as you head towards fall is the level of resources in the colony. The easiest way to ensure enough food for the winter is to make sure each colony has reached adequate weight before November. Now, there is always a fine line, where you have to make sure there is not too much honey/resources in the hive in late August/early September, so the queen still has plenty of space to lay. However, by late September, weight should be increasing and slowly replacing brood space with resources. Some areas of Pennsylvania that have very strong goldenrod, aster, or knotweed flows naturally take care of this, but other areas of the state do not–so, know the weight of your colonies, as you head towards fall. For small or newly started colonies that haven’t had time to reach proper weight, feeding in late September and early October is an option, and there are several places in PA that sell a product like “Pro Sweet” which is a very heavy syrup to put on weight. Again, this is a personal preference, but we moved away from selling that product last year, to instead focus on products that only contain pure sugar (sucrose) and not high fructose corn syrup or similar. This year, we are adding the Apis Biologix product as well, as we have personally seen the results of the product on small colonies. We will have that available at the farm shop by mid September for those who may need to boost small colonies. For small nucs that are going through the winter, if they haven’t reached the proper weight, something like fondant (there are many options) is always a possibility to add in January. We’ll be carrying a product this winter that is fondant with Apis Biologix and Probiotics in a fondant patty that is a matter of just placing on top of the cluster (no plastic to remove, etc.).