Standardize the equipment you’re going to use. If you’re going to use deep hive bodies for brood, only use deeps. If you’re going to use all mediums (lighter weight), only use mediums. If you’re using deeps for brood; then decide on all mediums or shallows (lighter than mediums) for honey supers. Why? If you have more than one hive and use mediums for brood in one and deeps for brood in the other, you will not be able to swap frames between hives if needed. If you’ve got both shallows and mediums for honey supers, you may have trouble balancing the load in the extractor, and the extractor with a motor will be walking across the floor with an unbalanced load. Consider using all mediums for both brood and honey supers. There are many advantages to such a choice, both in terms of weight and also in that everything is interchangeable.
While you’re assembling hive bodies and honey supers, make certain that all handholds are on the outside. While assembling frames be sure to put a nail through both of the side bars into the top bar. This is so when you attempt to pry up a heavy frame that the bees have glued in place with propolis, you get the whole frame and not just the top bar. This should also be added to pre-assembled frames that have a single staple vertically through the top bar into each side bar.
When starting a new hive on foundation, feed until all foundation in the brood nest is drawn out into comb. Stop feeding when you add honey supers and let the bees draw foundation in honey supers using nectar. Otherwise you will have sugar “honey.” If using plastic foundation, you can get the bees to draw out foundation quickly by coating it with beeswax. Never put foundation over a queen excluder; the bees will not go up through the excluder to work the foundation. When starting with foundation, push all the frames tightly together. If you space the frames out, the bees, most likely, will draw comb perpendicular to the foundation, attaching the frames to one another.
Mice love to winter over in hives, building nests, chewing foundation and eating bees. They rarely kill the hive but can do major damage to equipment. Get mouse guards on your hives before cold weather sets in or you might just be shutting a mouse in the hive! Half-inch hardware cloth cut to the length of the opening and bent lengthwise in the shape of a vee works well. The apex of the vee is pushed into the hive opening and the guard is secured to the bottom board with tacks or push pins. It can be left on year round or removed in spring.
Always have a lit smoker and use it as needed. Use a little smoke in the entrance before working the hive, a little in the inner cover hole and then a little across the frames of the top box. If the bees start coming up out of the frames, a few more puffs will send them back down. Without smoke, you run the risk of having the bees chase you from the hive and they may not differentiate between you and a neighbor. Know what you’re looking for when you go into a hive for an inspection, e.g. adequate food or stores, brood pattern, laying queen, etc. A hive should only be open for a short while during an inspection. Don’t keep a hive open for an hour while you search for a queen. If you see eggs, you have a queen. Can’t see eggs? If you see tiny, newly-hatched larvae, you know the queen was there four or five days ago. Consider getting a pair of drug store reading glasses to help you see eggs.
Once you’ve removed your honey supers from the hive, don’t leave them anywhere accessible to bees. They will find them within minutes and rob all the honey out of them and take it back to their hive. Extract your honey as soon as possible after removing the supers from the hive. Wax moth and hive beetles can destroy your crop and your frames in a fairly short time – a week if the weather is hot. The warmer the honey is (probably about 90 degrees when you remove it from the hive), the easier it will flow out of the frames. Even storing it overnight in a cool basement will make the honey thicker and hard to remove.
Don’t just take the honey supers off the hives and expect the bees to leave and fly back to their hive. Your supers will get robbed out in short order. Remove the bees first with a fume board, a blower, a bee escape board or by shaking and brushing the bees off each frame (if you only have a super or two), placing each in a spare, empty super you keep nearby and covered while you remove the frames from the hive.
It is easier to separate bees from honey when the bees are still on a honey flow. The end of June or early July works well in New Jersey. The bees will defend their honey much more vigorously during the summer nectar dearth.
To protect your hives against wax moths, after extracting honey return the “wet” supers to the hive over inner cover, with the half-moon opening in the inner cover facing down into the hive and no spacer between the top honey super and outer cover. This position will also discourage robbing by giving the hive a small opening to defend with no direct path to the supers. The hive will quickly clean all the honey out of the supers and move it down into the hive bodies. They can be left on the hive until a killing frost, then stored securely where mice cannot access them. Return the wet supers close to evening to minimize robbing, especially if you keep bees in a suburban or urban setting. To avoid getting burr comb below the inner cover, you can also leave it flat side down and plug the notch, if you have one, with a small stick or duct tape.
Bees do best in locations that are very sunny, well drained, and protected to the north and west from chilling winter winds. Placing your bees on the north side of a building or in deep shade, or in a low spot where cold, damp air collects will most likely doom you to failure. A rule of thumb is to place your hives where the snow melts first.
Only feed your bees when they need it! Use a feeder that is the right size. One gallon of heavy syrup (2:1) will provide about seven pounds of winter stores. Hive in New Jersey need 50 to 60 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. A single deep frame full of capped stores weighs approximately seven pounds; a medium frame about four pounds. Obviously, not only will a quart mason jar on a boardman feeder at the front of the hive provide inadequate feed if your hive is light, it can encourage robbing and the bees will not go down to it on cool or cold nights.
Don’t feed liquid feed once the temperatures go below 50 and stay there. The bees will not be able to invert the sugars and evaporate the excess moisture. Excess moisture in a hive in the winter will kill bees faster than cold weather alone.
Feed light syrup (1:1) in the spring to stimulate brood production (it mimics a nectar flow), but only if the bees need it! If you overfeed in the spring, you’ll encourage swarming.
Don’t feed your bees while you have honey supers on the hive! Unless, of course, you want sugar syrup honey. One member was very proud of her “water white” honey.
Heavily parasitized bees cannot produce healthy, “fat” bees to winter over, and you’ll most likely lose your hive. State Apiarist Tim Schuler warns that researchers cite not treating for mites as the single biggest reason for losing hives. Treat for mites in July or August, in the spring if needed, and in mid to late September into October to guard against reinfestation. Recommended treatments are ApiGuard or Mite Away Quick Strips (both are temperature dependent, so read the label directions carefully), Apivar, and Api-Life VAR. Don’t use ApiGuard or Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) with open screened bottom boards because the fumes will just settle and exit through the screen greatly lessening the effectiveness of the treatment. MAQS and the newer formic acid treatment, Formic Pro, are the only effective treatments that can be used with honey supers on the hives. Only apply formic acid when high temperatures for the first three days of treatment are below 85ºF.
There are two strips stuck together in a MAQS sleeve. These need to be separated to use. Don’t use two sleeves as this is twice the dosage! While MAQS is placed between brood chambers on top of the frames, ApiGuard is placed on the top brood chamber and requires a shim between the frames and the inner cover.
Treating for varroa mites effectively is critical to your bees’ survival. An integral part of treatment is to verify that the treatment was effective. Experienced beekeepers routinely do alcohol wash testing both before and after mite treatments and at monthly intervals during the growing season to monitor mite populations.
Honey bees are excellent temperature regulators. Health, populous hives will “beard” on the front of the hives during excessively hot or humid weather. They can cover the front of the hive, wrapping around the sides as well as hanging in a cluster from the bottom board. This is normal behavior and nothing to be alarmed about. Think of it as you would leaving a crowded, hot room full of people to go outside and get some fresh air. Bearding can also occur when you first apply MAQS, Formic Pro, or ApiGuard.
NJ Plants from Which Bees Gather Pollen
Skunk Cabbage — February - March
Spice Bush — March - April
Maples — March - Mid April
Hazel — Late March - Early April
Elms Late — March - Early April
Willows — Late April
Dogwood — May
Dandelion — May
Ash — May 1 - 15
Horse Chestnut — May - June
Birch — May 15 -30
Hickory — May
Oaks — May
Locust — Late May - Early June
Crimson Clover — May
Tulip Whitewood — Late May - Early June
Wild Cherry — Late May - Early June
Mountain Laurel — June
Sheep Laurel — June
Black Alder — Mid June - Late June
Oxeye Daisy — Mid June
Indian Corn — July - August
Cucumber — August
Melons — August
Sunflower — Mid August - Mid September
Wild Turnip — August
Ragweed — August
Touch-me-not — August - September
White Aster, Heath Aster, St. Micahelemas Daisy — August - Mid October
Goldenrod — Late Aug - Early October
NJ Less Than Surplus Nectar Plants
Maples — Mid March - Early April
Peach — Early April
Pear — Mid April
Apple — Late April - Early May
Willows — Late April
Dandelion — Early May
Wild Strawberry — May
Lupine — May
Raspberry — May
Grape — Late May - Early June
Persimmon — Mid June - Late June
Vervain — Late June - Early September
Virginia Creeper — Late June - Early July
Milkweed, Silkweed — July
False Indigo — July
Buttonbush — July
Tree of Heaven — July
Pride of China tree — July
Catnip — July
Motherwort — August
Horsemint — August - September
Boneset — Mid August - September
Poison Ivy — Mid May - Late June
Holly Late — May - Late June
Mountain Laurel — Late May - Late June
Sheep Laurel — Late May - Late June
Burdock — July - November
NJ Surplus Honey Plants
Crimson Clover — Mid May
Locust — May 20 - June 1
Tulip Tree — May 20 - June 10
Swedish Clover — June 1 - July 10
Alsika Clover — June 1 - July 10
White Clover — Early June - Mid July
Dogbane — Early June - Late August
Indian Hemp — Early June - Late August
Basewood — Late June - Early July
Linden — Late June - Early July
Huckleberry — Late May - Late June
Blueberry — Late May - Late June
California Privet — Mid July - Late July
Sumac — Mid June - Late July
White Sweet Clover — June - November
Yellow Sweet Clover — May 20- June 15
Cranberry — June 15- August 15
August Flower — Late July - Late August
Soap Bush — Late July - Late August
Sweet Pepper Bush — Late July - Late August
Rose Mallow — Late July - Early September
Swamp Mallow — Late July - Early September
Spanish Needle — Mid August into October
Heartweed — Late August - Mid October
Smartweed — Late August - Mid October
Blackheart — Late August - Mid October
Heath Aster — Late August - Mid October
White Aster — Late August - Mid October
St. MIchaelemas Daisy — Late August - Mid October
Goldenrod — Late August - Mid October
Buckwheat — Early August - Late August
Most of us in the northern half of the state have enjoyed extraordinary nectar flows this year, with some record-breaking honey crops. The black locust flows were very strong and subsequent spring wildflower and tree nectars followed suit. The icing on the cake was that mite counts were low as well. The result? Some very happy, very healthy bees….
But before you decide that your bees are in perfect shape and ready for winter, the dearth that followed our spring flows was, in at least some areas, pretty severe. Hives in the “lowlands” experienced very little dearth, continuing with light flows over much of the summer. However, apiaries in more upland ecologies – Boonton Township, for instance – were pretty dry for a good bit of July and all of August, and needed supplemental feeding. Some colonies had gone through all their spring stores and were on the verge of starvation. And I noticed mite levels creeping up so I followed my normal protocol and treated all my colonies in July and early August, which is when mite populations peak. I plan to continue alcohol washes and will treat again in mid-September to avoid the possibility of fall “mite bombs” and their tragic outcome.
I’ve received several concerned calls from club members thinking their bees may have been hit by pesticides. They observed hundreds of dead bees lying in front of one of their hives. A few questions and detective work revealed the truth: the bees had likely been robbed and were starving. How to tell the difference between starvation and pesticide poisoning?
Not all colonies in the apiary are affected.
No food at all in the hive.
If robbing occurred, you’ll see honey cells with ragged edges that have been torn open by robbers. This is absent if the bees simply ran out of food.
Queen has shut down and is not laying.
Brood is absent. The bees have cannibalized it because they do not have the resources to feed brood. Any brood remaining may look diseased due to lack of care.
Population will be greatly reduced.
On a brighter note, we’ve had so much rain and heat this summer that I think it very likely we will have a nice fall flow, so feed your bees if they need feeding, treat for mites, take the feeders off and get those honey supers back on there!
Bee well, all!