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Fall Notes

For East of Richmond, Va: September 1 to Nov 1.

Fall is probably the most important time for the Beekeeper in my neck of the woods (central Virginia), and maybe everywhere. The hive needs to be ready to go into Winter by the middle of October. To really be ready, it needs a few main things:

  1. Enough honey to make it through the Winter
  2. Some pollen stores
  3. A good pile of bees to keep a strong cluster through the cold Winter until the queen starts laying again

Honey

When Winter sets in, there is no place to get any nectar. This is pretty bad, as they consume the nectar to generate the heat that keeps them alive in the hive. So, it is critical that the bees have stored enough honey for the Winter (and that the beekeeper didn’t take it all.)

The State Apiarist recommends 60 lbs of honey for the Winter. I am not sure if we have had easy Winters since 2009 or not, but my bees seem to only need a bit over 40 lbs of honey to make it through the Winter. This equates to one Medium super that is pretty much 80% full of capped honey. By the end of Fall (or by the first frost, when nearly all blooming things stop producing nectar), I want 40 lbs of honey stored above my brood nest. Ideally, this is the Medium super above my Deep super (I should have a couple of Deep frames of capped honey too – they have around 7 lbs of honey each!)

I like to start checking honey stores in mid-August and keep an eye on them through mid-October. If things look slim, it’s time to put 2:1 or higher syrup out for the bees – 16+ pounds of sugar per gallon of water. I have heard folks talk about a ‘Fall flow’, but I have never seen much of one. So, I like to leave a good amount of honey on the gals when I am taking some for me. I do not believe that it is a good idea to take all of their honey in the Summer and then have to feed them syrup for their Winter stores. Winter is the toughest time on the bees and they should be eating the good stuff (I do not consider sugar syrup the good stuff, but it will suffice if nothing else is available).

Pollen

It’s pretty hard (for me) to judge how much pollen is in my hives. If I see a frame or two of mostly pollen, I am good. If I end up with a late swarm or some hive that I know is lacking pollen, I feed them pollen patties (or protein patties, as they really should be called) starting in January.

The Bees

As to the bees, it’s time to put on our hats and do a little bee math. It takes a worker around 30 days to be born and become productive. Ideally, you’ll have a bunch of eggs laid in early September. These will be your Winter warriors, come early October. They need to be healthy and there needs to be a bunch of them. I have found that bees typically manage this aspect on their own, but it is important to keep in mind how important this time is. You must have a queen during this period, so make sure you see eggs on every visit in late August and early September. It’s also a great reason to have a spare queen or two on hand, in case of emergencies.

If, for some reason, you are dealt a tough hand and lose a queen during this period (late-August to early-September), you may need to reduce your hive to a Nuc-over-Nuc set-up. This is especially the case if you end up having a hive swarm in September. By the time the new queen gets going (and you have to be really careful in making sure that she does, without harming her), she may not get eggs in until early October, which means the first bees may be born after our first frost – that’s a lot of time without getting new bees for your Winter population. The bees may have a hard time covering the entire hive with this reduced population, so I will frequently drop them into a double Nuc setup. But, it’s a case-by-case decision with a lot of variables (as with all things bee related!)

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