Late summer update


Late summer has been busy for beekeeping in the Piedmont.  It seems that the frequent rains this summer have helped with forage for the bees better than the past few years. So feeding our bees this summer has kept the hive quite full of bees, pollen, and food stores.

Because we started feeding too late in the dearth last summer, this summer we fed our bees earlier and in greater quantity.  So we have been inspecting them every ten days to 2 weeks this summer. This is working well except for the toll the heat and humidity have taken on us. It seems that most of the hives are becoming quite used to inspections and they go quickly. Also, we have been able to do better at keeping propolis build up to a minimum at the top of the hives. The canvas covers we use when we are not bucket feeding are working so well. The bees hardly notice when we open the hives.

Here in late summer during the dearth, it can be difficult to obtain a well-mated queen on short notice. So it is important to know right away if you need a queen. We were able to obtain a poorly mated queen for free from a vendor we frequently use, to help with a hive that lost the queen when no other local vendors had a well-mated queen available. The new queen has been laying well, and we hope she will get the hive through winter, and we plan to replace her next spring.

We used a small horse trough to open feed the 16 – 20 hives in our front yard. This was easy and fast. About daybreak, we pour 20-25 gallons of syrup in the trough and cover it with 4-6 inches of hay. Each hive takes up about 1 gallon before noon. Though we may be feeding some hives for our neighbors, this saves us hours of work over bucket feeding.  Also with the trough dry in the evenings and nights it does not attract other wildlife. It turns out we fed some hives too well this summer, and they started laying drone brood.  So we stopped feeding them at that point. 

We found another hive in another of our yards that also lost a queen, and that made about nine queen cells. Some of them were quite well developed. As a number of our hives had made some drone brood, we decided to split the hive and see how it turns out. We made three new hives out of the one hive. The other hives in the yard had food stores in abundance, and we moved some food frames to the new hives. So they have a good chance to do well if they can make well-mated queens.

In July we purchased Mighty Mite Killer thermal units to treat the hives for varroa mites using heat. Although we had frequent rain showers, we were able to treat about 30 hives in a few weeks. We started with one unit and quickly ordered a second unit as each treatment takes 3 hours. By the time we were finished we had purchased a third unit, and so we were able to treat three hives at one time and did so with our last three hives. At our house yard we were able to use extension cords to run the thermal units, but in our other yards, we used a new, inexpensive generator that can power three units at once. We were very pleased with the generator, but we did have it replaced one time as the first unit had a problem. The second unit ran dependably and can do so for about 10 hours on one fill up of gas.

Our mite counts were not high using the sugar roll test, but we decided to treat all the hives, as we are aware of feral bees in the area and do not know what, if any treatment our neighboring beekeepers are using. Also, we desire to get our bees to be as healthy as possible this fall. During the first few days after treatment, dead mites were seen at the bottom of the hives.  Then later, the bees began removing brood with dead mites on them. We also noticed the hive beetles had fled the hives during or shortly after the treatment, as they were gone in the week following the treatment. Beetles were seen less frequently for the month after treatment than before.  We are placing four beetle traps in each hive when we see hive beetles; we are baiting them with small pollen patty pieces, which works well. Also, we have noticed mites on the bees during visual inspections, but have not yet done a follow-up mite count test either. 

Overall the hives are looking well. One hive with a very mean demeanor which was re-queened is much easier to work now. We moved eight our hives that were predominantly in the shade, into sunnier spots. We think this, along with the heat treatment they got in late summer is helping their health and reducing hive beetles. 

Just when everything looks good, nature throws you a curve ball. Hurricane Florence has been in the Carolinas for a few days now, and we prepared as well we could. Earlier this week we strapped all the hives to the stands with thrashing straps. This took parts of two days as we did some inspections along the way, and our hives are still in five locations. We did remove two hives from an out yard that was difficult to reach.

We plan to inspect the hives next week and see how they fared through all the rain and wind. So far we have not had heavy rains or high winds. If things change, we’ll let you know in the next installment.

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