Seasonal management, Oct. 2009: Feed the bees

By Stacey Adair

I hope everyone enjoyed the fairs and farmer’s market events last month! BCBA was well represented and I appreciate all those who were able to help! As with the last few falls in east Tennessee, it seems we have not had a great fall honey flow, at least not in my part of the county. I have had hungry bees now for about a month, and if you haven’t checked your colonies, I urge you to do so. Do a thorough look through to check for honey stores, a laying queen, and for possible disease. There have been reports of increased hive beetle problems, and there have also been reports of European Foulbrood being found in our area. If you think you may have a problem, do not hesitate to call on your county inspectors, or Mike Studer. You still have time to correct some late season prob- lems before the weather turns off cold.

Seasonal management of your colonies includes getting your bees ready for winter. Most of you have already been checking on this, but if you haven’t, Larry Chadwell will be offering a few tips on things to do. The first thing to do is to make sure your bees have feed. Open the colonies and look for capped honey. Do not rely on the “weight test” because pollen loaded colonies will trick you. If you need to feed colonies in your bee yard, you should put feed on all the colonies. If you only feed the weaker colonies, or those with few stores, the stronger colonies may start robbing. There are many types of feeders available to use, but for larger volumes of feed, the hive top feeders and feed buckets are the best. Boardman feeders will work, you’ll just have to visit the apiary more often!

This is also the time to get your fumagilin fed. Nosema is one of the tough diseases to diagnose unless you have microscopic equipment, or you have such a severe problem you are seeing diarrhea on the front of the hives. BCBA promotes checking your colonies to determine when treatments are needed, but this is one of those difficult diseases to detect, and I personally feel we should treat for it. Fumagilin can be fed in a 2:1 sugar water, 1 teaspoon per gallon, and they need 2 gallons in the fall. Dale Hinkle gave a tip to add a little vanilla flavoring to help the bees take the sugar water more readily. I tried it this season and it did seem to help. One thing to remember when mixing your sugar water and medication– do not put the fumagilin into hot water. This will render the antibiotic useless.

What to do if you find a queenless colony this late in the year? Well, most of the colonies have started kicking out the drones for the winter, so allowing a colony to try to raise a queen might not work so well. It would be much easier to secure a queen in the spring, so papering the queenless colony on top of a queened right colony will save the bees. (I will add here that if there is any question as to why there is no queen, you should call an inspector to have a look. We do not want to put a diseased colony on top of a strong, healthy one!) You should check the queenless colony for queen cells, and remove them. Then place a single sheet of newspaper on top of the strong colony right on top of their food stores, cut a few slits in the paper to allow for easier removal by the bees, and place the queenless bees on top of the paper. Then put the inner cover and outer cover on top. Give the bees about 5 days, then go back and check to see if they were combined. You may then remove any excess equipment and store until spring when you can split the hive again. It is best to combine a queenless colony on top of a strong one. Putting a queenless colony on a weak col- ony in hopes of having a better colony does not work– I know from experience!

OK, so we have done our Varroa and Nosema treatments, have removed all strips if used, have fed the bees to in- crease their stores, and now we wait for cold weather. When the temperatures fall, you may want to consider adding entrance reducers to keep the pests out. If you have screened bottom boards, you may close them up with inserts, or leave them open throughout the winter. I have used both methods, successfully through even hard winters. Continue to check food stores when the weather turns cold. On days where the temperature climbs to the fifties, you can pop the top off and have a quick look at stores. If it appears the bees are going through the honey stores too quickly to get through the winter, we have some winter feeds that can be used, hard candy and a sugar “goop”. The recipes for both will be presented in the next newsletter.

And finally, keep an eye on your honey supers stored under moth crystals. It would be a good idea to check the crys- tals about every 2-3 weeks. The fumigation will slow down when the weather cools off, so they won’t need checking as often. Come to the meeting on Monday night and see what other ideas Larry will have for us! See you there.

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