It’s a bit late to write a post about the fall management of beehives since it really begins in late summer. It’s during the fall when many of the problems with hives start to rear their ugly head and take many beekeepers by surprise. With a proactive approach verses reactive you can greatly improve your chances of hive winter survival.
Fall management of beehives varies greatly depending on where you keep bees. I live in northern Utah so this information is geared to beekeepers who live in the Northern half of the USA.
Fall management consists of the following tasks
- Remove Remaining Honey Supers
- Apply Treatments
- Extract, Bottle and Sell honey
- Feed Light Hives
- Move Hives
- Combine Week Hives
- Wrap Hives
Remove Remaining Honey Supers: The old-school train of thought is to leave the supers on as long as there is a honey flow. In many areas that would have meant leaving them on until late September. You do have to gauge the current nectar flow, the weight of your hives, total rain fall for the summer, current and predicted weather and mite levels to make the best decision. On an average year (haven’t had one of those in a while) I like to pull all the remaining supers off by the end of August. I start with my bee yards in the higher elevation locations in mid August and work my way down to the lower elevation apiaries. I prefer to let my hives store any honey collected in September for themselves. It’s during September and early October when the queen is laying her last eggs for the season. I don’t use queen excluders therefore I don’t want this fall brood in the honey supers.
Apply Treatments: Most years the end of August is when mite levels are at their peak. This is why it’s crucial to get mite treatments on by the end of August. By reducing the mite population early, you help reduce, not only the stress the mites cause, but the potential viruses they spread. This is also the time to treat with Terramycin or Tylan.
Extract, Bottle and Sell Honey: On top of preparing your hives for winter you are also finishing up the extracting and bottling the last of the honey for the season. Most years September is the busiest month for a beekeeper. It feels like a race against the coming of cold weather. To help ease the stress of September I check all my hives in July and remove any full supers and get a jump start on the extracting. When too much of the extracting is left for the fall the bees are often neglected until October and November which will often increase hive loss.
Feed Light Hives: I know there is a debate in the world of beekeeping about if, when and what you feed your hives. My hope each year is that most hives will store enough honey that they won’t need supplemental feeding. On a good year I only need to feed about twenty-five percent of my hives. Other years when honey flows were poor I may need to feed over fifty percent. I use in-hive feeders and have found the bees will continue to take sugar syrup until the day-time temperatures drop down into the forties. I do all my fall feeding between September and mid November. September feeding will often increase fall brooding where November feeding is only good for winter storage. If you have larger apiaries September feedings will sometimes increase robbing.
Move Hives: Fall is a great time to move beehives. I like to move all my hives to one holding yard as soon as the day-time temperatures are in the fifties. This is usually late October through early November. This makes it much easier to prepare the hives for winter.
Combine Weak Hives: Combining hives in the late fall is a guessing game. It’s a last chance effort to help two weak hives that won’t make it through on there own, survive winter. I haven’t tracked it thoroughly, but I have observed that combined hives have a higher mortality rate than average. This has to do with whatever (mites or disease) caused them to have a small cluster will spread to the other bees. I do combine some of my hives each winter, but limit it as much as possible.
Wrap Hives: I have experienced lower winter die-off (except last winter) since I started wrapping my hives. On my best year I had ninety-three percent of my hives still alive when I pulled the wrap off. If your winter temperatures don’t drop below twenty degrees then hive wraps aren’t needed. The other issue that comes up when wrapping your hives is ventilation. This is a problem in areas with high humidity. Condensation can build up on the inner cover and rain down on the cluster of bees. I personally live in a desert and haven’t had issues with condensation. I usually have all my hives wrapped by the end of November.