Tuesday, September 29, 2015

fall management of the hives

I have had kind of a funky year with my bees.  It's been a very good year for the bees, they have done well, grown their own new queens, built up with the season and are now appropriately becoming a smaller and healthy cluster.  But the honey has not been particularly flowing, shall we say.  Having made it quite well through the winter this past year, I was very excited to be growing the beeyard in the spring, without needing to replace any bees.  I entered the season with two very healthy hives and then split them into three full hives and one nucleus colony.  While we traveled this summer, and despite planning and preparations, I unfortunately lost the nucleus colony and the other new hive never became particularly robust.  I have much to learn here still, obviously.

I have been waiting to make a fall harvest of honey because the hives were a bit behind in their production.  Honey is ready to be harvested once the bees have cured it and then capped it with a layer of wax.  Each time I peeked in on their honey activities, they did not seem to be capping it, despite a good deal of beautiful dark liquid filling up the frames.

Eventually, given advice from those more knowledgeable, I decided that it was time to harvest, that the honey was in fact harvestable despite not being capped, and especially, that it was time to do so in order to be able to apply my fall treatments for mites to get the bees strong and healthy for the winter.  The window for being able to do so is temperature dependent, and with temperatures falling these days, it was definitely time to get in there.

For me at least, a visit to the hives can result in rather surprising findings.  Missing queens.  No eggs.  Swarm cells aplenty.  A nucleus hive gone empty.  Bees that can sting you right between the eyes.  Really anything.  And so, when I got all my honey harvesting equipment lined up, had rented the bee club's honey extractor, and fired up ye olde smoker, I knew that anything was possible.  But I was still excited and making big plans for the honey.  

Except, when I got down there, I found my rather measly middle hive was looking quite poorly and seemed to be attempting to make another queen, which given the rarity of drones for fertilization in the fall, did not seem like a wise venture.  They were also dangerously low on honey.  And brood.  So I considered.  Ran for my class notes up in the house, only bringing a few hitchhiking bees into the kitchen.   I decided I would need to retrieve those bees from the kitchen light fixture later.

And quickly, I paged through my notes until I found the class in which I learned how to do a dump merger.  

I emptied the bees from the weak hive, thump by thump onto a tablecloth in front of a strong hive. 

Added the little remaining brood from the weak hive to that hive.  Moved frames around that larger hive to be in a good configuration for the smaller cluster with all the supplies of pollen and honey they could need to get through the long cold winter ahead.

I placed the mite treatment.

And closed it up.  Any honey frames that were left over, I cleared of all bees, still hopeful for a honey harvest, and put them in a covered bin.  That is something easy to write, but not so easy to do.

Then I moved on to the other hive.  Which was doing pretty well, I discovered.  No need to feed it, but wanting to leave plenty, even extra honey and pollen for them this winter, after rearranging the frames and consolidating it down into a small number of boxes, there were only a few frames of extra honey there as well.  I placed their mite treatment.

I closed it all up and stood back, feeling pretty good about going into winter with two strong and well supplied hives, with no need to feed them, and already treated for mites.  And knowing that I can split them again in the spring, when resources are abundant and new queens can be reared.  Nothing lost really despite going from three hives to two in one afternoon.  Because they are more likely to survive in this new configuration.

Those bees were doing exactly what my teacher had said they would do.  They were marching right up that tablecloth into the new hive.  And settling in and calling it home.

But then, the frames of honey in the bin.  Thinking about my winter management in years past and my dependence on sugar candy to feed the hives when their honey supplies get low, I made a decision.  More than wanting a honey harvest for myself, I wanted these bees to be as healthy as possible going into next year.  

So I packaged up the extra honey frames.  

And tucked them into the freezer in the barn with the growing supply of preserved food from our garden.  

And now I have preserved their own food for them -- no need for candy boards -- should they need it during the cold winter months and the early spring ahead.

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