Submitted by J. Morgan
September is a critical month for bees. Forage and weather will vary based on where you are. Remember, robbing is a threat while nectar is in demand. Reduce entrances and don't keep your hives open too long. Additionally, remember, every time you crack the hive open and pull frames apart, you may be releasing hive beetles from their propolis jails that the bees worked so hard to contain them. SHB appears to be more of a problem for hives that are in the shade but we do see them in the full-sun hives too.
Some of the things we do in September;
- Monitor colony health. A colony that is not performing like others should be inspected to be sure its's queenright and not diseased or mite-laden.
- Monitor extraneous space in supers. Supers on hives that are light with nectar and not likely to be filled, should be removed. They are more of a liability now. We remove them not only because we want the bees to put the honey in the deeps for winter stores, but also to avoid extra space for wax moth and hive beetle to invade. I pull mine off and set them up as a community feeder FAR away from the hives. Or, freeze the frames to feed them back when needed. If the hive is weaker, consider combining or collapsing. Take those resources and bolster another more viable colony.
- Check hive weight. Check for adequate food stores. They should not be too light. If light, those who feed should feed for weight. Others may consider a plan to combine or collapse that colony.
- Monitor for laying workers! Back in 2016, I blamed the robber flies for possibly eating queens while out on mating flights, but there can be a number of reasons. Laying worker hives at this time will not make it through the winter if not corrected. If you do not have access to a mated queen to introduce, combine or collapse the colony. There are many options to do either. Search this site, or ask us at a meeting. It's questionable to supersede and get a new queen mated in time.
Other September tasks;
- If you are harvesting honey, extract your supers as soon as possible to avoid wax moth and SHB larva. Getting them extracted also lets you set them up back outside as a community feeder to both let bees build their stores, and get your combs cleaned out for winter storage.
- While the temps cool, don't forget about water. The bees still need water so make sure they have access to some.
- Work to position your hives into their winter configuration. I have done this in September and October, but this year, I'm working earlier to get my hives down to the number of deeps they will winter in (based on the number of bees, for most of us, two deeps) so they adjust and get those deeps filled with winter stores.
- Those who feed should be feeding if hive bodies are light. Many of us run candy boards. Shop for the cheapest sugar and have it ready to make the boards... and to do any weight feeding.
- Consider reducing entrances to the small hole, especially for weaker hives.
- Get your mouse guards ready. The cooler weather is a signal for mice to find a warmer winter den and a beehive is perfect. I have used 3/8" hardware mesh as mouse guards and putting that on will not reduce any productivity by the bees, but you can rest assured that you will keep the mice out.
- Consider combining hives earlier to allow hives to adjust to the new space and resources. Before combining, it would still be a good idea to do a mite wash to see if you are contaminating a healthy hive with a mite-ladden hive.
- Consider your winter wind-breaks. Whether it's bales of straw or hay or something you build. Now is the time to get it together and ready for the winter.
- Swapping out equipment for repair. As we consolidate and combine, you can rotate out hive bodies that need repair... bringing in shabby equipment that needs paint or repair over the winter.
Note: Many people in our organization use little to no chemical treatments in our hives. As such, the tips above don't mention the use of treatments. But by all means, if it means life or death for your hives, use a chemical treatment, even if only for now while you learn more about the mite/bee life cycles.
For those who do use treatments, I just want to mention;
Hives with high varroa at this time have a high mortality rate if left unchecked. It's too late to do a brood-break and rear a new queen. Your options are limited to a mite treatment. Some would argue it's better to pray and let the hive die if it's going to die, while others will suggest treating. For the beekeeper just getting started, and having only one or two hives, dead bees in the spring are the "real" buzz-kill... pardon my pun. We've found that Oxalic Acid vaporization treatments right now do not do much... since the brood is still growing... and so are the mites.
If you are going to treat, then treat. Retest for Varroa to ensure the efficacy of treatments. You should always be watchful for American Foulbrood (AFB).
We all strive to keep healthy bees and do natural manipulations to outbreed mites, but if you are monitoring your mite counts and know that yours are high, now is the time to consider what you will do. Come to a meeting and talk about it with others. The saddest thing is where a new beekeeper hears about how tough it is to keep bees, then loses their bees over the winter only to lose interest the next year. We seek to retain beekeepers and keep newbies interested in the hobby by helping them understand the lifecycle of the mite as related to the lifecycle of the bee. This is nearly impossible to do in a single year. Let's build on the first years knowledge into the next year.
There's a lot more we can be thinking about and I hope the above gets you started.