March Beekeeping on the Front Range
While the weather is warming up, March is also the snowiest month of the year in this area, making March beekeeping challenging. This time of year always reminds me of the signs on the way down from I-70. “Truckers you are not down yet. Another 1 1/2 miles of steep grades and sharp curves to go.” (more…)
The month of February brings many changes to our bees, making February Beekeeping more exciting than January. Believe it or not, pollen will start coming in this month. (more…)
August is a month where a lot is happening for beekeepers in this area. Often times, during the summer months things are on coast. Checking to see if additional supers are needed and monitoring mite levels and general hive inspections become a comfortable routine. This changes in August.
Hot and dry weather causes flowers to stop producing nectar. A lot of the nectar abundant spring and early summer flowers such as sweet yellow clover are done blooming, or will be shortly. This period of minimal nectar flow is also known to beekeepers as a dearth. Some people who have stopped feeding first year colonies may need to start feeding again to get comb drawn. There’s still plenty of time to get stores, naturally through nectar collection or artificially through feeding, into comb, but getting comb drawn becomes tougher and tougher as the summer progresses. We recommend feeding first year colonies at least until all the comb is drawn in the brood chamber and overwintering area. Traditionally, in this area, this means two deep boxes of comb.
The dearth can cause also hives to become more defensive. New beekeepers who have been dealing with calm, gentle bees are often taken by surprise the first time their bees seem a little more grumpy. Additionally, colony numbers are up so, there are more guard bees increasing the likeliness of stings. We recommend always having your smoker lit, even if you don’t plan on using it. It’s a lot easier to put it out with extra fuel still in it, than to light it with a defensive colony open and needing smoke. Additionally, we recommend always wearing at least a veil. Getting stung in the face isn’t very fun.
This is also the critical time period to make sure that your varroa mite levels are under control. As the brood area has expanded through the year, so have the number of places for varroa to breed. As the brood area contracts in the fall, the mites become concentrated in fewer and fewer brood cells quickly overrunning a colony with viruses. Also because you want the bees that raise your winter bees to be healthy, now is the time to do final mite counts and treatments. The CSU extension office says in it’s IHM (integrated hive management) publication that “Harvest time is a critical time to check and treat for Varroa mites. (It is critical to monitor and treat, if necessary, before the end of August in Colorado. The most damage from Varroa usually occurs in late summer and is the primary reason colonies don’t overwinter successfully).”
Mite treatment often means supers need to be harvested. Many of the varroa treatments are not approved for use when honey is being collected for human consumption. With the dearth upon us, or quickly approaching, the benefits of leaving honey supers on versus removing them in a timely enough fashion to treat for varroa mites are easily weighed for most of us. Additionally, leaving what fall flow there may be for the bees is probably a more healthy choice for the bees as nectar is nutritionally diverse in a way that sugar syrup is not.
Now is also the time to make sure that you are happy with the queens that you have going into winter. Queen availability is coming to an end. Decisions should be made soon about combing or requeening colonies.
Good off season preparation starts this month with harvesting, mite treatments, and checking stores.
Winter is coming
During times with the weather is cold enough that your bees must cluster, colder than approximately 55f, they are unable to travel anywhere to get food. This includes the floor of the top-bar hive.
In order for them to access food, it has to be essentially in contact with the cluster (1/4 inch away or less!). If you feel your bees need resources for cold weather, you must hang any resources, such as fondant or pollen, for your top-bar hive right next to the cluster.
You can use cheese cloth, or another porous sack, like an onion bag to hang your feed. Form the fondant into a thin sheet resembling the shape of a comb, and staple the bag to a top-bar. You then insert your feed bar right next to the cluster, so they can come in contact with the cluster if they need to.
For short cold periods, if your hive is established and there are stores present, this may not be necessary. For newly installed packages, or swarms with no resources, it becomes more important.
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