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Fall Beekeeping Tasks

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A starter beehive from Rossman Apiaries.

A starter beehive from Rossman Apiaries.

Photo © Lauren Ware

It's important to make sure that your colony is happy, healthy and has enough honey to get through winter. Making sure everything is going well is the key to getting your beehive through the cold days and long nights of winter without dying of starvation or cold. Most important is that your hive has enough stored honey to get through the winter, but there are many other tasks that are also needed at this time of year.

  • Make sure they have enough honey. This is critical. Your hive needs at least 70 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. More is better. You can judge how much honey they have stored by trying to lift the hive to judge. Some people even weigh their hives. If they don't have enough honey, feed them a 2:1 sugar syrup (two parts sugar to one part water by weight) constantly.
  • Medicate. Now is the time to treat the hives with fumagillin for nosema, antibiotics for american foulbrood, grease patties for tracheal mites and any needed varroa mite control. These, if needed, should be applied after honey is removed in the late summer.
  • Check for queen and brood. You want to see the queen if possible, and make sure to check for brood. There may not be much brood right now but look closely for it.
  • Check food storage pattern. Make sure that the stored food is at the sides of the broodnest and above the broodnest. If your bees don't have food above them, you may need to rearrange some honey frames while you can, to ensure the configuration is more ideal.
  • Replace bottom board. Put a solid bottom board instead of screened, to keep the hive warmer.
  • Put mouse guards in place. You don't want furry critters moving into your beehive, so make sure you get a secure, metal mouseguard in place at each entrance.
  • Construct a windbreak if needed. If you don't have a windbreak in place, make one with a stack of straw bales or a temporary fence with posts and some burlap. Put heavy rocks or bricks on the top cover of each hive to ensure they don't blow off.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation. During the winter, the colony will need to maintain itself by clustering. The center of the cluster is 90 to 93 degrees F. If there is not enough ventilation, the warm air from the bee cluster rises, hitting the top of the inner cover, which is cold, and drips down onto the bees. Not good! To solve this, glue four small pieces of wood (like pieces of a popsicle stick) to the four corners of the inner cover's flat side. This gives 1/16 inch of ventilation between the top of the upper deep hive body and the inner cover. Or place the inner cover on the top deep flat side down, leaving the inner cover hole open for ventilation. Make sure that the outer cover is put on the hive in a balanced way, with an equal amount of space on all sides to ensure a good airflow that will keep the colony dry.
  • Wrap hive in black tar paper. Use black tar paper, the kind used by roofers, if you're in a climate that dips below freezing for more than several weeks. Don't cover the entrance or any ventilation holes you've made. Black helps absorb the sun's heat, and the paper acts as a windbreak as well.
  • Close everything up. You do want to leave some ventilation, but make sure you conduct your last inspection at least a full month before winter arrives according to the calendar (late November). All treatments should be complete, enough food should be stored, a new grease patty should be in place, and the hive should be tilted very slightly forward (about an inch) so that any water can run out the front of the hive.

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