September in Your Apiary

Apiguard Tray on Top of Brood Frames + An Eke

Apiguard Tray on Top of Brood Frames + An Eke

This year, the extreems of hot and dry weather during July and August are still only slighly diminished as we head into meteorological Autumn. It still remains warm and certainly dry enough for late summer foraging 

Autumn may not FEEL as if it as arrived just yet, but the Beekeeper’s Summer season is nearly over and the Winter season commences this month.

The outlook for September suggests rain during the first half and generally overcast otherwise, with daytime temperatures holdng up in the high teens.

Regardless, of the weather, September is (another) one of the busier months in the beekeeping calendar!

The honey crop should now be, or being, extracted, wet supers being cleaned up and returned to storage and importantly, we should already be preparing our colonies for winter.

Specifically for September, key tasks are:

1. Check all your colonies are Queenright & viable (i.e. large enough) for over wintering.
2. Be ruthless with a small colony. Combine it with another colony.
3. Complete the feeding of your colonies by the end September
4. If not already started, commence varroa treatment in the first week of September
5. Continue Winter preparations (Yes … they should have started in August!).

1. Check All your Colonies are Queenright & Viable for Over Wintering

It’s best to over winter colonies with young healthy queens, as they are less likely to die or become drone layers. Also, the brood nest of a young healthy queen is likely to be bigger, later in the season, than that of an old queen…. helping to ensure an adequate replacement of the older worker bees. This is particularly important as the older bees may have shorter lives because of the pathogens associated with varroa infestations and other bee problems such as Nosema. Colonies which go into winter with too few young bees are likely to dwindle rapidly in the spring. To remain productive, honey-producing colonies should be headed by queens no more than two years old & preferably younger! Queens with desirable traits can be kept to a greater age for breeding purposes, and some beekeepers maintain these in nucleus colonies.

Early in September is the time to check all your colonies are queen-right – the brood nest may not be large but, there should be some eggs and larvae and mainly comprised of sealed brood as the month progresses.  The late hatching brood will join the young bees that make up your overwintering bee colony.

Occasionally in September a late queen cell may be found. It’s usually wise this late in the beekeeping year to leave it alone as the bees may be superseding an existing or, lost queen. If a queen cell is seen, make sure to do a last check on a fine day in about 3 weeks time. If the queen cell hatches, there is still some risk regarding drone availability & good weather, for mating late in September… most drones will progressively be ejected from the hive through the course of the month.

2. Combine Small or Weak Colonies with Another Colony.

If there is no queen, then you will need to unite the hive with another queen right colony as soon as possible, to create a larger and stronger colony – a bigger colony is more likely to survive the winter!

Uniting Colonies Over Paper

Uniting Colonies Over Paper

This is best performed close to dusk when most flying bees have returned to their hives.  Just remove the roof & crown board from the queenright colony (honey supers should be cleared & removed first) . Leave the queen excluder on the queen right colony & smoke the bees down into the brood box. Place a couple of sheets of newspaper (they don’t seem to mind whether it’s the Telegraph or the Guardian, but quite possibly a few overlapping smaller sheets from the local rag!) under the queen excluder to stop the paper being blown away. Use your hive tool to pierce the newspaper in 2-3 places. This will allow the odours of the 2 colonies to slowly blend and the queen pheromone from the bottom box to be assimilated by the queenless colony in the top box. This assimilation process helps to prevent fighting between the 2 colonies. Transfer the queenless colony in its brood box from its current site & place it on top of the queen excluder/newspaper (if you are uniting a colony with a drone laying queen you will first need to find & despatch this queen). Put the crown board and then the roof on top  & leave for 24-48 hours. By this time the two colonies of bees will have peacefully combined. The next step is to consolidate the colony into your normal configuration… a single brood box or, brood & a half  (brood box plus a super) or,  leave as a double brood configuration.

Remember, always finish uniting colonies before commencing any late varroa treatment and preferably before starting winter feeding.

Do make use of the Autumn Bee Health Clinic that wll be operting on Wednesday 8th during the Afternoon & Evening at Henfold. If Nosema is found in a colonly, you do not want to be uniting it with a Nosema free colony! If you do not get your colonies tested for Nosema, you will not know until the spring if you are making matters better or worse for your bees by uniting.

3. Complete the Feeding of Your Colonies

The weather in late September to early October can be highly unpredictable. So, ideally it’s best to be well organised in August for feeding to be completed by mid September. If you haven’t followed last months advice on treating your colonies for varroa you are going to have to add Apiguard & feed at the same time (which means lots of sugar  syrup filled brace comb inside your chosen eke!).

The feed amount required for each colony can vary widely so, it’s best just to keep feeding until the colony ceases taking the feed or, the rate of consumption visibly slows

Making Sugar Syrup

Making Sugar Syrup

To make a thick sugar syrup:

a) Empty a 2kg or, 5 Kg bag of sugar (only use white granulated beet sugar or, pure cane sugar (never brown sugars, as some contain impurities which are toxic to bees) into your largest pan & add hot water to the same level as the sugar. Then heat & stir until all the sugar is dissolved to make a  clear “thick syrup”. Leave to cool or, for more rapid cooling, put the pan into a sink filled with cold water. When cooled, transfer the sugar syrup into a sealable  plastic container. (Both Thornes & Paynes sell plastic, sealable “honey buckets”  which I use for syrup storage & transportation… for each hive). The sealed container prevents contamination, by airborn yeasts, which could cause fermentation of the syrup. Alternatively, you can purchase commercially produced feeds such as “Ambrosia”. This has a sugar concentration of 70% and the sugar is partially inverted by enzymes which means the bees have less work to do converting the sugars to invert sugar for storing. Another advantage of this product is that the inversion processing by the bees can be performed at lower temperatures than processing sugar syrup.

Note: Many beekeepers add thymol to the syrup feed. This was a technique propagated by R.O.B Manley  to prevent fermentation and the growth of mould in the sugar syrup. You can view the recipe on Dave Cushman’s site. Although I use it myself, it’s an optional rather than essential ingredient in syrup feed.

Depending on the weather there is usually a late flow from ivy, to supplement feeding. This year’s ivy flow looks like it will start in the first half of September . However, it is unpredictable due to weather fluctuations so, don’t rely on it … treat it as a bonus!

Warning! When you first add a syrup feed  to a hive it’s best to do this at dusk, to avoid robbing, as bees go looking for the source of this new bounty. It’s also essential to avoid spillage of syrup in the apiary. Spilled syrup also prompts bees to go “robbing” nearby hives & invites wasps into the apiary in large numbers. If you do spill syrup, immediately close up hive entrances to a very small gap, to enable the bees to defend their entrance and try to sluice the spilled syrup away with water.

4. Varroa Treatment

There are an increasing number of treatment options available but, most beekeepers still use the tried & proven Apiguard (thymol) treatment. Click APIGUARD FAQ for more information. In order to get acceptable concentrations of thymol vapour circulating the brood area it is recommended to insert a varroa monitoring board under the brood box  (below the brood box & above a mesh floor). This step isn’t necessary if you use a solid floor. A shallow eke, on top of the brood configuration, will be required (See featured image at top of this post) to place over the top of the brood box, otherwise the varroa tray will stop the crown board from sealing tightly over the brood box. Ideally you will have started this around mid August so, you will be adding your 2nd tray early this month.

5. Other Winter Preparations

Mouse Guard

Mouse Guard

Please remember that September is also the month to ensure your hives are secure. if you didn’t do this at the end of August, make sure that you guard against robbing by other bees, wasps and the ingress of mice by restricting the hive entrance to 8 mm height by 20mm wide or by using a proprietary galvanised metal mouse guard (see image). Also seal any bee sized gaps between boxes/crown board or, floor due to ageing/ill fitting equipment.

In September many beekeepers prepare to overwinter newly queened 5 frame nucs. This provides the insurance of a spare colony if another is “lost” over winter. These nucs need a good start into winter, so feed them 1:1 sugar syrup (in its own feeder) right until the end of November. If you have two nucs to overwinter, try putting both of these side by side under one normal size roof. Make sure their entrances are facing 180 degrees away from each other to stop “drifting”. This side by side configuration reduces the number of hive walls exposed to any bad weather.

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