Summer management was our focus this week.
Summer in the beeyard really means “honey season”, and when that occurs is regional. Here in the coastal Pacific Northwest, we want to be ready to catch the blackberry bloom, which in typical years is mid June. That means all hives have to be queenright and with a good laying queen for the 43 days + 2 weeks before the expected bloom date, which means at bloom date the hive will have their maximum amount of foragers to field.
Spring beekeeping is all about getting and keeping the colonies big and healthy enough to field a max forager force during the blackberry bloom.
Once the blackberries set buds, it is time to put on your honey supers. While providing drawn comb both saves the bees the task of drawing comb (specifically time and energy points) and impels them to forage more aggressively (the odour of drawn, empty comb triggers a desire to forage), the provision of new foundation brushed with beeswax is an excellent substitute.
As the bees begin to bring in the nectar, and it is amazing just how much a big hive can haul in every day, they need comb room to cure the nectar and concentrate it down into honey. You can keep an eye on how fast the honey super is filling with nectar, and ensure they always have empty comb or frames to fill.
Once they need another super, put it on under the existing, filled or filling super. This forces the bees to walk through the empty to continue work on the full super, and seems to encourage them to start using the new, empty super. I did find undersupering a lot of work…as you must lift off full or filling supers to place the empty on the stack. Next year I will experiment with putting on 3 empties all at once!
You can pull off frames as they are capped out (aiming for a 90% capped surface to ensure the water content of your honey is at that magic 18%, which prevents fermentation of the harvested honey), or leave them on for a single harvest. Just watch the hives as the flow ends to see if they begin to consume the summer honey in the late summer dearth time. Once they begin to do that, you can pull your honey off, process and begin feeding the hives for winter.
Post harvest, it is time to treat for Varroa mites. We will treat next week as the temperature is expected to fall below 20C, making the treatment (formic acid pads) easier on our queens. Adding lemongrass oil/spearmint oil prep (Honey B Healthy) is reputed to help with preventing queen loss during treatment.
From now on, we are concentrating on getting the hives sorted for winter. We want them laying healthy winter bees, so will decide whether to feed, how much to feed, and whether the addition of protein patties is called for. If the larvae look a bit dry, it is time to add some protein patties (PP’s) to the hive.
We want to see the bees go into winter in a somewhat crowded condition, preferably in two deeps, but one is fine. We’d like to see full frames of honey on the outside walls of the hive, as insulation as well as food. And shoulders of honey on most of the frames. But the bees need open cells in the middle frames for the fall brood and for winter clustering.
Over all that we want to see a shallow super full of honey. We’ll give them a supplemental brick of sugar as emergency winter feed, but their own honey is best. So we are now feeding small hives to ensure they get to healthy winter weight.
Finally, we are keeping an eagle eye out for disease. It is getting late to rescue sick hives or queenless hives, so the stakes are getting higher!
And, as our class draws to an end, you may want to inspect twice a week to get valuable hive time in. Quick inspections won’t hurt the bees.
Before I begin on our Week Six and the final topic for our course, have a peek at this lovely photo from ElkRoast’s blog:
At first capped honey and capped worker brood are hard to differentiate. But as you can see here, the brood cappings (raised drone brood here, but the colour and texture are the same as the flatter worker brood) are opaque, and have the appearance of plain cookies (think Arrowroot biscuits!). Honey cappings are more translucent and white…like old milk glass.
Week Six will focus on winter management technique. And the class for Week Seven is our last, and is exam and question class.