With the sun's rays descending into golden amber hues, the bees get a reprieve from the dearth of summer. I fed throughout August and September, while treating for Varroa with thymol. The honeybees have come out of summer doing well and looking forward to the beautiful blooms of autumn. This is my favorite season, one that offers a blast of beauty from roadside "weeds" as well as a chance for the honeybees to add to their food stores in hopes of surviving winter.
Pollen baskets are filled to the brim with golden and orange pollen coming in.
This "little" nuc has really done well. It's always wanted to beard, even when it was cool outside. So I gifted it a screened bottom board after taking this shot. Still, they continue to beard. Some bees just enjoy it, I suppose. I took up their cue and started relaxing more and just enjoying the honeybees a bit more this autumn.
I took some time off from feeding, about 6 weeks. The apiary has that wonderful sweet and sour smell of goldenrod and aster nectar. I stand in the middle of the hives and just breathe. Another one of my favorite things. I also added back in frame feeders and began feeding heavy syrup to help bump up their weights. I'll feed for another month or so. I learned a great trick from "First Lessons in Beekeeping" by Keith Delaplane, and it works great: staple a small block of wood in the middle of the feeders to keep them from bowing out. Works like a charm! Just had to cut the screens down to allow for the wood block. I also have long strips of corrugated plastic floating in the feeders to act as life rafts for any bees that get stuck in the drink.
While spending time not mowing the grass and just taking it easy, I marvel at the honeybees taking advantage of every possible bloom that autumn offers, such as this yellow clover just a few yards away from the apiary.
October mornings in the apiary ... what could be better? Olive and our other dog Honey (not pictured) have been my helpers, lately. My only problem was that when it was time to wrap up, Olive just stayed in the apiary, looked back, gave me a happy pant and kept right on protecting the sunny apiary. She was the bees' knees, for sure!
So my divided brood chamber and split nucs are working fine for this double-nuc. My only issue with it is that one nuc is stronger than the other. The chamber on the right is now in two deep levels. I gifted the left chamber some drawn, filled shallow combs. Now the levels are at different heights, so each section requires its own lid, which I didn't have ... until this morning. At the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers' meeting, my friend Andrew gave me a great idea: just use the corrugated plastic. I have lots of political signs that I pick up after each election cycle. In just a couple of minutes with a utility blade, voila I had two custom-size make-shift outer covers. I'll upgrade this further but for now it works! (Note: I added an additional strip of the plastic under one end of each lid to allow ventilation.)
I needed to get a frame feeder in this hive. It's a deep and a half. The shallow had a nice cluster of bees in it, as did the bottom chamber. The cluster is more noticeable now that the nights are getting colder. It's already plunged once into the 30s. Still, I was quite happy to see this small colony is growing and growing. The blue marks on the frames tell me all this comb was built this year (I put each year's queen colors on the end bars for dating).
I added a half gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup with Honey B Healthy added to it. The corrugated plastic strip I put in each frame feeder this year is working great! I checked the other feeders and noticed two things: 1) I could easily tell where the syrup levels were in the frame feeder by whether or not I could see the strip, and 2) no drowned bees, as the corrugated plastic strips make for excellent floating life rafts if the bees slip into the drink and need to make it to screen on the sides and climb to safety. So this colony got its feeder, only one more to go. I've found that adding between 1/2 and 3/4 gallon to the feeders at a time is plenty without the sides bowing out too much.
This is the little nuc that could. I put my one remaining white dot queen from 2014 in this for safe keeping on one frame of bees and one food frame. I never fed this colony during the summer dearth nor during the fall nectar flow. Not only is this nuc surviving, it's thriving.
These crazy little bees are drawing out foundation on the fall flow. I couldn't believe my eyes. To thank them, I gifted them a frame feeder with a 1/2 gallon of 2:1 syrup and Honey B Healthy and a second level with 4 drawn combs, two of which contained loads of pollen and nectar. When checked this morning they were buzzing along quite happily in the autumn sun. I LOVE this queen and her prodginy. I recently fortified this nuc further to ensure it survives the winter (more on that in an upcoming post), as I want to make more queens out of this wonderful, resilient, calm and methodical queen. Long live the white dot 2014 queen!
So I went back into the hive that went apparently queenless over a month ago and in which I installed two black Carniolan queens. Had to reduce space as wax moth damage was beginning in one section of the honey supers (not enough bees to patrol the space), and recombine this hive back into one unit since apparently I doomed one of the two black Carnie queens by failing to put a bottom on the divided brood chamber (stupid). The state inspector and I saw some eggs and larvae, and a group of bees huddled underneath the hive that we brushed back into the hive. So on a sunny Sunday, what I found was not a big black Carniolan queen but a gorgeous amber Italian one. She walked super fast and acted hurt on one side. I couldn't tell if it was a leg or wing, but she was laying, laying, laying all over. So I knocked down the two capped queen cells underway and put her and the hive back together into a deep and a half. I tacked on some new 9-frame spacers on each. She's a beaut, ain't she? Certainly not Carniolan that's for sure!
Good Lord, bees will just always make you feel stupid when you need it the most. Apparently she was in there the whole time, or was on a mating flight when I found a broodless, eggless hive a month ago. So my brilliant plan to turn this once large colony into two divided nucs with lots of honey just went to pot in a hurry. I took out a super's worth of honey and some brood combs that were empty and beginning to attract moths and put those in the freezer for a couple of days. Will give that honey to one of my stronger nucs. So I spent a bunch of time undoing one hive configuration into something else just to put it back again. While I was at it, I installed new 9-frame spacers on their new single brood chamber, and closed up entrance holes with some wine corks, and gave it a fresh couple coats of exterior paint.
I also installed a frame feeder in this colony, and two others before a robbing frenzy I started by removing all those frames and changing out the equipment had me r-u-n-n-o-f-t out of the apiary for a bit until tarps over the hives and time calmed everything down. Last year I had great success getting my colonies up to weight quickly by using the frame feeders. So I'm going back to them. Last year I installed V-shaped window screen that went to the bottom of each frame. You can pour through it, but it also provides a ladder for the bees so they don't drown. Well, most didn't, but there was still some drowning ... not too bad, but with tiny colonies I don't want to lose any bees at this point. So I cut up some corrugated plastic to run the width of the frame and float atop the syrup to use as a quick visual level reference when I'm checking in, and to give the bees a perch or life raft if they need it and are struggling to reach the side screen.
If for nothing else I must continue drinking wine to get corks to plug up all the entrance and vent holes I often drill and use in my equipment ... and to help me take in all the stupid things I've done and are yet to do that the bees will show me. Somehow, despite all my worst efforts, I'm going into winter with 7 laying colonies. Not bad for having started with 2. Here's the latest one again. I guess it's good to feel stupid. Me? I'm a glutton for punishment I suppose.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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