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Bee-Ginner's Guide
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Bee-Ginner's Guide

Autumn this year has been an interesting one weather wise. Different parts of America have seen extreme weather conditions. I know here in North Carolina we would have alternating long spans of dry weather and then long spans of rain (especially end of September, first of October). In the end all the yearly rainfall totals may have evened out, but the irregular weather patterns caused issues with the flora and bees foraging. Now where you live you may not have had as extreme a fall as others, but if you have had irregular inclement weather that would have kept your bees hunkered down in their hives or damaged the flora you may want to check their stored food rations while you still can.

Even though it is important to make sure your hive is ready for winter, you DO NOT WANT TO OPEN UP YOUR HIVE UNLESS THE TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE HAS BEEN A FAIRLY CONSTANT 55 DEGREES FARENHEIT OR ABOVE. A good rule is if your bees are not flying itis too cold to go into the hive. The bees work together to keep the internal temperature at a comfortable 98 degrees (well, comfortable for them) bu clustering together to keep them and the growing brood comfortable. Opening the hive up when the temperatures are colder can cause them to break the cluster and chill the brood. You may not be able to get into your hive today but there may be days during the winter where it might get warm enough for a quick check if needed.

If the weather permits, it would be beneficial to make one last hive inspection to check the honey supers and condense the hive down. You may need to condensse the hive down to a NUC box if it appears to be weak. That or combine with another hive using newspaper (to do that, first kill off the weaker queen and then place a couple pieces of newspaper between the hives). Be cautious as weaker hives experience higher levels of disease and pests.

Over the summer you may have seen your bees store several frames, possibly even several supers, full of honey, but with inclement weather keeping bees from leaving their hives to forage for long stretches of time, they may have already gone through most of their stores and have been unable to replenish. As mentioned in our previous post, you are looking to have 60-80lbs of stored honey (roughly one medium super full with the addition of outside honey frames in brood chamber) for the winter.

If you do notice that they are low, there are two different ways you can help them:

1) If the weather will be warm and above 55 F for several days you can still feed them a 2:1 ratio of sugar water from an in hive feeder like an Hive Top Feeder, pail feeder, or Internal Feeder. Even if rain keeps them from leaving the hive, they can still take the sugar water you feed them and store it into the available frames to save for the winter. Liquid feed, however, is rendered useless if temperatures dip below freezing. It solidifies and your bees will be unable to feed off it.

2) If the temperature is going to start getting constantly below 55 F and you will be unable to provide liquid feed, then you will want to feed your bees fondant. Fondant is a sugar paste similar to the kind used by bakers to decorate cakes but has a stronger concentration of sugar and the baker's fondant contains starches. You can take a slab of fondant and lay it on top of the frames so the bees can crawl on the fondant and feed while still being able to keep warm.

You can learn more about winter feed from our October blog post.

Not everybody will need to or even have the chance to check their hive. If you are unable to don't worry; it's not the end of the world. As long as your bees have been working normally during the summer and fall, it will be better to just trust that they are well prepared than try to open up the hive when the temperature is not suitable. As you go through winter just keep listening to the hives. See if you can hear buzzing and, if it is warm enough, you might want to take a quick look to see how they are doing and if you need to quickly throw in a slab of fondant.