Sunday, August 16, 2009

LESSON 62: PREPARE FOR WINTER IN AUGUST & SEPTEMBER

We're David & Sheri Burns from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois, where the weather is beautiful, the bees are working hard and we are enjoying life to the fullest!
Whenever I write a lesson/blog, I like to include some personal things to talk about. I know some people just want the nuts and bolts of the lesson. But others like the personal stories and events and not so much of the technical side of beekeeping. So I try to keep all personal information at the top of the lessons, even before the lesson. So, if you just want the lesson, you can always scroll down until you see the lesson title below. But if you find it enjoyable to hear what's going on with us (after all this is a blog) then enjoy the following.
0061j Sheri started out the year with 25 chickens, all layers. She has done great and is only down to 24. Something in the coop fell down and smashed one. They should start laying anytime, so we are looking forward to fresh farm eggs from free ranging chickens. The bees and chickens get along fine, and our two hound dogs leave the chickens alone too.
0061c Little Christian is always wanting to help his dad with the bees. He has stuck his finger into a mating nuc or two and managed to pull his finger out with a stinger but he hasn't lost his bravery. He's a typical farm boy for 2 years old (his birthday is September 13) as he always has a bug, rock, tool or a frog in his hand. As seen in the picture, he already knows what a California Mini Queen Cage is. He inspects our queens before we ship them out.
0061p Sheri really did a great job this year planting a garden and freezing and canning lots of fresh vegetables. We had good sweet corn, tons of green peppers, beans and tomatoes. She made jams and jelly, salsa, pies and she even grinds her own wheat to make bread.
We made friends with an Amish family who lives near Arthur, Illinois and while inspecting his hive he dug up a starter of mint, and I transplanted it to our garden and I've enjoyed mint tea all summer. We're just having fun in the country.
My oldest son, David, is getting married next month, so we're doing the wedding thing for the 3rd time :) That's a typical way of saying it from a man's point of view, isn't it!
My middle son, Seth, is almost 16, into drivers Ed. and has become the fastest woodworker in our shop. He is fast and very accurate at making hives.
0061q My youngest daughter is 18 and living at home helping with our bee business. She finally saved her money and bought her first car, a 1995 MX-6 Mazda sports coupe. Boy that sits low to the ground compared to my 1 ton pickup.
0061mWe love our family, home and the little bit of farming that we do with chickens, bees and our garden.
Our goal is to encourage more people to start keeping bees. It is so enjoyable, rewarding and educational. To help both the new beekeeper and the experienced beekeeper, we provide these free lessons through this blog. And, like many people, you can call us or email us too if you have beekeeping questions.
Before we get into today's lesson, let me tell you the three next lessons in the works: THAT BLAZIN' SMOKER. I'll tell you the history of the smoker, and the best ways to use it. FLORAL SOURCES THAT BEES LIKE. We'll look at some flowers that bees really gather the nectar from. CLOAKE BOARD QUEEN REARING. I've adopted the Cloake board into our queen rearing operation, and I want to explain it to you and tell you exactly how to use it, making queen rearing much more easy. So tell you friends, and pass these lessons on to others.
0061o Also, every couple of days we place a beekeeping tip on our main website: http://www.honeybeesonline.com You may have seen our recent tip saying to use grass as a bee brush instead of a real bee brush. Try it, you'll be surprised how calm the bees are toward the grass compared to the brush.
LESSON 61: PREPARE FOR WINTER IN AUGUST & SEPTEMBER
Here in Illinois, August is one of the hottest months of the year, a month when gardens are in full production, crops are solid green and grass needs mowed every few days. 0061k Here is one of Sheri's big green peppers. So it is very difficult to think "winter" while working bees. I've taught before that winter preparation begins when you first start working your bees in the spring. Everything we do to manipulate the hive is in hopes that they will build up and make it through the winter.
Now that we are in the middle of August, you really need to be seriously thinking about making winter preparations. Not so much externally but internally. It's too early to wrap a hive or to put in an entrance cleat (reducer), but it is not too early to start looking at the internal condition of your hive.
HOW A HIVE MAKES IT THROUGH THE COLD MONTHS OF WINTER
In the perfect scenario, a hive will store pollen and honey above the brood nest area. If you have two deeps on your colony, the lower should be filled with mostly brood in various stages and the upper deep should contain more honey and pollen, though there may be some brood as well.
As the colony heads into winter, they are able to slowly and gradually move upward, eating their way into the upper deep, using the consumption of honey to generate heat and honey and pollen to feed their winter brood. Finally when spring arrives, without missing a meal, they can begin foraging from the spring nectar flow. Remember, I did say this is the perfect scenario. It seldom works that way. But it can and should and perhaps you, as a beekeeper, can help that happen now that it is only August.
So to fully inform you on what to do about helping your bees survive winter, I need to give you some important pointers. First, let me give them to you as bullet points, then I will elaborate.
AUGUST & SEPTEMBER WINTER PREPARATION PROCEDURE
* Get Rid of Tracheal and Varroa Mites
* Get Rid of Nosema
* Evaluate Pollen & Honey Stores &
Strategically Configure Frames
* Feed as Necessary both Pollen & Syrup
* Configure frames Strategically
* Protect Hive from Harsh Wind
* Provide Adequate Ventilation
* Protect from Mice
* Requeen between June 21 - September 21
Obviously, most beekeepers do not do all of the above. I would say that most beekeepers only do one or two of the above. It's a gamble to do nothing. It might work. Many of us do have hives that we do absolutely nothing to and they do fine. I have two survival yards that get no attention and they do fine. But they are survival stock bees. Some people even believe hives that cannot survive on their own need to perish to be removed from the gene pool. There is some degree of truth to that too, unless that hive is your only hive.
Listen, I'm healthy, but I'm not going to do well stuck outside in a brutal winter. You can have all the right genetics you want, but if there is no honey available to keep the bees alive, they will perish. So let me talk more about the bullet points above.

GET RID OF TRACHEAL & VARROA MITES
TRACHEAL MITES (Acarapis woodi)
It is easy for us to assume tracheal mites are no longer a problem because you can't see them with the naked eye. They reproduce in the tracheae (breathing tubes) of the thorax in the bee. The mites feed on bee blood and damage the tracheae making it difficult for bees to breathe. Prior to 1980 there were no tracheal mites in the USA. Between 1980-1984 the tracheal mites moved in from Mexico and devastated hives throughout America.
A common sign that tracheal mites might be a problem is when a colony dies during the winter. Bees might be found crawling around instead of flying during early spring. Winter clusters may perish even with large supplies of honey. Another symptom is "K-wing" which is when the two wings can no longer be hooked, due to damage to the flight muscle. Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be unrelated to tracheal mites, and may be caused from another problem. So it is impossible to find one single symptom or sign short of putting the bee's trachea under a scope and seeing what's in there. Most beekeepers can't do that and don't want to do that.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT TRACHEAL MITES
1. Use Resistant Stock. Beekeepers do have a better line of defense against tracheal mites, such as using queens that have proven to be resistant toward tracheal mites. These lines include Buckfast, Russian and Carniolans.
2. If you are not oppose to medicating your colony, you can use many of the products on the market today such as Apiguard and Miteaway. Grease patties mixed with thymol proves effective as well.
VARROA MITES (Varroa destructor)
This mite was originally named Varroa jacobsoni but now more specifically it has been identified as Varroa destructor. It became a threat in the USA in the late 1980s. As an external parasite they feed on the blood of all stages and caste of bees. They reproduce in the sealed brood cell.
Because this mites reproduces in sealed brood, the emerging bee can be weakened or sick and have a shortened life. Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a result of high varroa destructor infestation. In the developing stage the mites feed upon the wing buds of the bees and the result is a deformed wing, appearing like it has been burned or shriveled up. Hives will not over winter well with high v. mite counts and may even perish during the winter. Get mites out of your hives before winter.
What To Do About Varroa Mites
1. Use a queen that shows mite resistance, such as VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic). Buckfast, Russian and Carniolans show greater mite resistance.
2. Continue a IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach by using:
a) Drone Comb. Freeze it after it is sealed, killing all the
mites that prefer the longer cycle of a sealed drone
cell. You can purchase "Green Drone Comb."
b) Powdered Sugar Treatment. Put 1-2 cups of
powdered sugar between the frames of each brood
box, once a week for 3-6 weeks after supers are off.
c) Use Screen Bottom Boards. Mites fall through and
cannot return easily.
3. If you use medication, Miteaway and formic acid pads
work well. When using any medication, follow the
directions especially getting honey off during treatment
and sealing up hive as stated and following temperature
requirements as well.
NOSEMA DISEASE
Nosema is a big concern for beekeepers. It is a disease that spreads in the midgut of the adult honey bee. It has been identified as a protozoan but now is being reclassified as a fungus. Beekeepers quickly became familiar with Nosema apis, usually watching for excessive bee feces on the outside of the hive, though bees can have Nosema apis without outward signs. Nosema spores are transmitted through bee feces when young bees clean contaminated comb. More noticeable symptoms are crawling bees with distended abdomens and dislocated wings. The disease weakens a colony and is all but certain death as the hive goes through winter. Fumagillin is an effective treatment especially as a fall treatment in sugar syrup. It is best to send samples into the Beltsville lab to determine if your bees are infested with Nosema. If not, no need to treat. CLICK HERE ON INFO ABOUT SENDING IN A SAMPLE OF BEES TO THE BELTSVILLE LAB. IT'S FREE
Nosema ceranae has recently been identified in the USA. The two Nosema diseases are similar except with N. ceranae a colony can perish within a week. Unlike with N. apis, there may be no diarrhea on the outside of the hive and few to no symptoms other than foraging bees seem to die outside the hive and the population dwindles. N. ceranae has, by some, been associated with CCD. Again, fumagillin seems to be the suggested treatment. Colonies with N. ceranae can function entirely normal without any signs of concern, until additional stressors are placed on the hive. Again, it is best to send samples into the Beltsville lab to determine if your bees are infested and if not, no need to treat.
EVALUATE YOUR HONEY AND POLLEN STORES
0061e Time should be taken to review the content of the hive, not just honey stores, but pollen stores as well. Many beekeepers find their hives pollen bound in the spring, due to the enormous amount of pollen available. Beekeepers finding their hives "pollen bound" are forced to remove and disregard the pollen to make room for brood and honey. However, in the fall and winter, colonies suffer from not having enough pollen.
CONFIGURE FRAMES STRATEGICALLY
Now is a good time to begin reviewing your pollen and honey stores in the hive and positioning them for best winter survival. All food stores must be above the bees, not below them. If pollen is low, feed them pollen patties or dry pollen outside the hive on dry days. If honey stores are low, feed 2 parts sugar and 1 part water to increase the honey stores.
PROTECT HIVE FROM HARSH WINTER WINDS
Beekeepers in the north need to provide some protection around the hive to block harsh winter winds. Keep in mind that the bees do not heat the total inside of their hives like we heat our homes. Instead, they only heat the cluster. Temperatures around the outside of the cluster can be very much the same as on the outside of the hive. Obviously, the bees do have to keep their cluster warm and if harsh winter winds blast the hive, the bees will have to consume more honey to generate heat, which means they could starve out.
Wrapping the hive with roofing paper has been shown to help, or building a berm around the hive or some sort of fence to block the wind can help as well.
PROVIDE ADEQUATE VENTILATION
You need to also provide top ventilation. DO NOT wrap your hive air tight. Moisture will develop on the inside of the hive top and rain down on the bees.
I usually wait until the coldest day of winter to put up my Christmas lights. Then, I wonder why I didn't put them up a week ago when it was warm! Same with wrapping your hive. Don't do it in the summer, but don't wait until it is so cold that you decide not to do it at all. But if you wrap or not, you need to allow for some top ventilation. Otherwise, excess moisture will develop in the hive as condensation on the inside of the top cover and rain down on the bees. I place a 1/2" thick stick under the telescoping top cover to allow for ventilation in the summer.
PROTECT FROM MICE
Mice like to use beehives as their winter home. Mice can destroy a healthy hive during the winter by eating through the comb and eating bees and honey. You must block them out! Usually the wooden entrance reducer is enough when set to the smallest opening. You can also purchase various styles of mouse guards, some are made from metal. If you have a left over queen excluder, you can put it between your bottom board and your deep hive body. But you must keep the mice out. Again, do not wait until the mice are in the hive and then seal them inside the hive. My rule of thumb is to place mouse guards on the hive a couple of weeks before the fields are harvested.
0061d Finally, requeen your hive between June 21 and September 21. The new queen will lay like it is spring, giving you lots of new "winter" bees, those that can live through the winter. A new queen also has strong pheromones which can reduce swarming in the spring. And a new queen will build the hive up faster in the spring as well. Do not think that this year's queen was so good, that she'll pull her hive through the winter and be great again next year. She can only lay so many eggs, then she will cause your hive to perish. Requeen!
0061a I hope today's lesson will help you get your hive through the winter.With the information I have given you, please do not become too overly concerned and worried about the health of your hive. But do be proactive, and make sure your hive is as healthy and as protected as they can be going into winter.
My next lesson will be on the smoker. I've had fun, researching and writing this lesson on the smoker, so watch for it soon.
Remember to contact us as we sell all beekeeping equipment include woodenware, protective clothing, packages, queens and nucs. We sure would appreciate our business. Thank you.
CONTACT US AT:
217-427-2678
www.honeybeesonline.com
EMAIL: david@honeybeesonline.com
Until next time remember to BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
Central Illinois

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