Tag Archives: beekeeping in late autumn

Beekeeping In The Age Of Climate Change

I’m Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Losing all six hives last winter took the wind out of my sails.  I set up three new hives in spring but the weather has been uneven through the whole season.  The cold weather had lasted much longer than usual and the temperature has been seesawing from spring into autumn.  Some days we had 40°F in summer and 70°F in late November.  Heavy rain washed out flowers when there should have been plenty of them around at the time.  All in all our honeybees couldn’t build much honey storage this year.

When I inspected them in September, they barely had a full 8 frames in the super.  My gut told me I had better start feeding them.  I fed them from early September until the end of October when the temperature started to drop.  The total amount of sugar syrup I fed the hives amounted to around 4.4 gallons each.  I hope this helps them through the winter as the last inspection before closing them up showed they have plenty of food stored now.

Fed with sugar syrup, ratio 2:1 (sugar/water), in a 800 ml bottle each time
Covered with 2 inch foam board, leaving only 3/4 inch top and bottom entrance open
Then wrapped with an industrial-grade plastic bag. Fastened the hive with bungie cords.

I closed them up just in time as the temperature dropped down to below 20°F for a couple of nights.  I thought they should be fine for the winter, but the weather wasn’t on my side.  The temperature shot up to above 50°F for many days and one day, even above 70°F .  We’re talking about late November here.  The bees came out every warm day.  They even did their flight orientation.

November 25: warm & the honeybees came out. Some even did flight orientation

Nothing out there for them to bring back home since frost had killed most of the flowers, so they have to depend on their food supply in the hive.  I cannot feed them again without opening the winter cover and the bottom entrance.  I hope the temperatures stabilize to something more seasonal so they can just ball up in there.  I also hope the winter doesn’t drag on like the last one did.  We have done so much damage to this planet that we are starting to see the effect of our self-inflicted wounds every season.  I’ll do the best I can for the bees in my care and keep my fingers crossed.

Very Warm Autumn

Feeding Honey Bees In Mid-December

Sunday was a record breaker for high temperatures in New York.  With 67º F in Central Park, it breaks a high temperature record set back in 1923.   Where we live the temperature was only slightly over 60º F and it was warm enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives, cleaning themselves and looking for food.  Daytime temperatures will stay above 50º F for the next couple of days and they will come to forage though there are hardly any flowers left for them this late in the season.

We have insulated all hives for the winter so opening the top to feed them is not an option.  We would have to remove the tape, foam, and inner insulation in order to put the feeder in.  A front feeder is not an option either because we would have to crack open the entrance to slide it in.  Anything we open forces the bees to spend more energy in sealing them again with propolis.  So I put the feeder out in the open and let them take whatever they can back to their hives.

Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn't want her work even harder by opening the top
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn’t want her work even harder by opening the top

The advantage of feeding them this way, aside from not having to open the hives, is that they tend to clean themselves carefully afterward.  The surface they are walking on is coated with sugar syrup and dry sugar particles that stick to their legs, body and wings. After taking some sugar syrup, they will land on any dry surface near by, myself included, and clean themselves before flying off to their hives.  It’s not only to get sugar off their body, also get mites, if any, off themselves as well.

Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Some line up neatly along the side
Some line up neatly along the side

The disadvantage of this ‘communal’ feeding is that if there is a disease around it would easily spread from hive to hive.  As far as I know, there is no one keeping bees within a few miles but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself

I took the opportunity to do a mite count.  There were hardly any mites on the corrugated sheet with printed grid that I inserted under the screen bottom board.  I keep the sheet on from late autumn to spring, not just for mite counting, but to keep other insects from getting in under the hive and to help keep warm air in.  I think they can use all the help they can get to keep them going through the deep freeze of winter.

Finished checking for mites, cleaned the corrugated sheet and smeared olive oil on it before inserting it back under each hive.   Cleaned birdbaths, added clean water, not just for the birds but the bees drink it too especially when the syrup turns to tiny sugar particles.

Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing
Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing

Thus ends my record breaking mid-December day chores.  After all, the bees are my family and family always looks after one another.

Last Resource

Ode to a Honeybee In Late Autumn

We are having a warm autumn this year.  The daytime temperature is still hovering above 50° F on most days but drops back to slightly above 30° F at night.  We had frost for a couple of days early on in the season which killed off most of the garden.  So there is not much left for the bees.

Honeybees being honeybees, they still come out looking for food when the temperature is above 50° F and to relieve themselves as well.  We had fed them in mid-October but now we still worry that their food storage may not be enough for a winter that has not yet come.  Since they spend more energy flying around instead of semi-hybernating in the hive during this time of year, they probably have gone through more of their storage than usual.  So we are putting sugar syrup out on warm days.   They know exactly where the feeder is and zoom right to it.   They still go for any flowers they find blooming at this time of year: Alyssum, Chinese broccoli, Broccoli raab and…Saffron.

Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.
Alyssum, despite being tiny and low to the ground, they weather a light frost quite well. They smell like honey too.
I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.
I let some broccoli raab flower and it turned out to be a good thing.
Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower
Honeybee collecting pollen from saffron flower

I should have grown more saffron but I always start small with any newbies.  If it fails I haven’t wasted much.  My fellow blogger suggested that I may be able to leave them outside since they are hardy to zone 6.  I will leave one pot out as an experiment.  If they are like other crocuses that bloom in spring (which I grow in the ground) they should be fine.  Then I can have plenty of saffron for tea and cooking, and plenty of food for honeybees in late autumn.

This girl didn't even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully
This girl didn’t even wait for the Chinese broccoli to open fully
They also go for the water at the heated birdbath
They also go for the water at the heated birdbath

Honeybees in Autumn

Experimental Feeding

Our honeybees are resting in the comfort of their hives now.  The recent weather is good for staying inside since it either rains or is very cold and windy.  We fed them early on using the inner hive feeder but we removed the feeders before we sealed off the hives.  There were some warm days in between which we decided to experiment with a new way of feeding. We used a bird water feeder where I had sanded the tray to provide some traction for bees.

The idea came from seeing honeybees looking for the last nectar and pollen from flowers left in the garden during days that were warm enough for them to come out.  There wasn’t much left but they found the inner feeders I left to dry outside and had gone for the residual honey in them.  I filled the adapted feeder and hung it up by the patio away from all the hives.  I knew I was taking a risk with my bees for contracting diseases from this communal feeding method but the closest apiary is around seven miles from us.  No one else keeps bees around here.  All our hives are disease free so far.  So I think the risk was minimal.  The bees seemed to enjoy it.

A bird water feeder, filled with sugar syrup, with the sanded tray to provide traction
A bird water feeder, filled with sugar syrup, with the sanded tray to provide traction
Honeybees lined up at the feeder.
Honeybees lined up at the feeder.

I have learned from this experiment that:

  • I don’t have to open the hive or use the front feeder for extra feeding in late autumn when I have already closed the hives.  I just hang a feeder filled with sugar syrup up and watch them take their food at will.  This has also minimized robbing since the feeder was far away from the hives.
  • The bees also obsessively clean themselves which helps in reducing mites, if any.  From my observation, after they have loaded up with syrup, they fly to an area close by and clean the dry syrup (fine sugar particles) off their legs and bodies before flying off to the hives.
  • There were some wasps at the feeder as well.  I got rid some of them one at a time using a plant clipper.

I will not know if this feeding has helped or hurt them until next spring.  I will try again in spring when I see them come out looking for the early spring flowers before I can open the hives and do spring feeding.

From this feeding experiment, I have also seen some darker colored honeybees.  My original bees are Italian bees that are light in color.  Some of the later generation developed slightly dark color but not this dark.  I have no idea what they were but they were friendly enough to crawl on my hand and clean themselves like the other bees.  I suspect that they were Carniolan bees since the breed is as common as the Italian whereas the German and Russian are a little less common.  But, they could also be some feral, mixed breed honeybees from the woodland nearby.  I can use all the help out there to identify them and I thank you in advance.

The dark colored unidentify bee on the left
The dark-colored unidentified bee on the left
One of the unidentify bee upclose
One of the unidentified bees up close

Talking about wintering the honeybees, one fellow blogger and a seasoned beekeeper, Emily Scott, has posted an interesting question regarding summer and winter bees on her latest blog Burdens of Bees.  Between a winter bee that has a longer lifespan with ready to eat food storage and doesn’t have much to do but coop up in a hive and a summer bee with a shorter lifespan that works itself to death but in the interim is able to enjoy the warmth of the sun and explore the world…. which one would you rather be?

 

Beekeeper’s Nightmare

Finally, A Good Sleep

I didn’t realize that keeping bees could give me nightmares.  It was fine in the first two years, we fenced in the two hives we had.  Though in the second year skunks had taken some bees from the third (un-fenced) hive as snacks in early spring but the hive still survived.

Two out of the three hives survived last winter and one of the hives swarmed several times in late spring.  We managed to catch them all and have ended up going into this winter with five hives.  Aside from the original two hives, all new hives were unfenced.  And, this was the cause of my nightmare.

Skunks and raccoons will not bother us in summer when there is plenty of food around.  Autumn, however, is another story.  They will do anything to pack it in for winter including raiding our hives.  I found skunk’s calling cards in front of two of the hives but I didn’t have time to fence them in.  I woke up in the middle of the night having a nightmare about the critters.  The image of vicious skunks devouring my bees left and right, raccoons wrecking the hive’s entrance and chewing off the supers woke me up night after night.  Though it was only a nightmare, I could hardly wait for the morning to come so I could check on the hives.

The nightmares stopped after we fenced the hives in.

This year we used different a material to insulate the hives.  In previous years we used 2” foam board wrapped around the hives and covered the tops.  It worked quite well but was very difficult to manage.  This year we wrapped the hives with reflective insulation, which is much better to maneuver and leaves a much smaller gap for cold air to get in.  We didn’t have time to cover the top but the bees should be fine in the hive for a few nights of temperatures below 20º F.  Roofing and mouse guards will be the task on my next day off from work.

Beehives last winter, with two inches of foam board insulation.  They came out of the winter well
Beehives last winter, with two inches of foam board insulation. They came out of the winter well

Though the nightmares stopped, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed with this new insulation material.  It’s the type of material contractors use to insulate a house: bubble plastic with aluminum foil on both sides and much thinner than the foam board.  Seems like it’s going to be another bad winter.  We’re debating on putting another layer on as well as wrapping industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorption.

This year's insulation using construction grade insulation wraparound
This year’s insulation using construction grade insulation wraparound

I’ll know if it worked well or not by next spring.  At this time I only know that it’s much easier to wrap a hive with this type of insulation material and the hive can be sealed off completely with just top and bottom entrances open.

One of the new hives captured from a swarm in spring
One of the new hives captured from a swarm in spring