JULY IN THE APIARY
July is a month of transition. Swarming should be over and done with, the explosive brood-rearing of spring is slowing down.
Hot summer temperatures have the potential to shut down certain nectar flows and improve others. Regardless, the colony needs access to water and plenty of ventilation in order to cool the brood-nest. Ventilation can be improved by opening entrances, cracking the lid off a little bit, or placing boxes slightly askew. The best sources of water include leaky faucets and mud puddles. Make sure to provide a consistent water source to keep the bees out of the neighbors pool.
Much will vary between locations, even just a couple miles apart. At the beginning of the month, many locations will be wrapping up the strong initial honey flow. By mid July, most places will be struggling with a midsummer dearth. Possible floral sources to look for include knapweed, alfalfa, white sweet clover, carrot, and mint. This is one of those periods where hives in urban locations with access to landscaped yards can outperform more rural hives. If you are in a location with a good strong midsummer honeyflow, make sure to provide the bees plenty of space to store their surplus.
During a dearth period, it is important to monitor the condition of your hives stores. Big broody Italian type colonies can starve themselves very fast, effectively eating themselves out of house and home. Conversely, some of the darker lineages may shut their queens down completely. In this situation, you may see a drastic reduction in her egg laying rate or no eggs at all (even with a nice fat queen walking around on your frame). Ideally you want a queen who walks the middle path, responding to the dearth without shutting down completely. Equalizing brood and honey between heavy and light hives may help. As always, nothing in beekeeping is cut and dry. Signs of a death may include the eviction of drones. This is especially important to pay attention to if you are trying to raise any late season queens.
Robbing can be a major issue midsummer and into the fall. Preventative rather than re-active management is paramount. Keep colonies well balanced. A small hive in a yard of giants is a target for robbing. While working, try to open your hives for as little time as possible. If you separate the hive bodies, keep a lid on one half and set the other half on a drip tray. Keep the bee-yard clean and tidy. Keep any drawn comb covered, avoid dripping honey on the ground. If you are scraping any wax, do not leave it on the ground in your bee-yard. Robbing frequently starts on the ground and moves to the hives. A frenzy can decimate a bee yard very quickly. Consider using robbing screens to protect your entrances. A robbed out hive will need feed. Consider giving it several frames of honey from heavier hives. If you need to feed syrup, do it quickly in the evening and do not spill.
The end of July transitions into the beekeepers fall. You need to start thinking about winter, particularly in regards to Varroa. At this point, the relative proportion of mites to brood starts to climb. An alcohol wash is one of the more accurate ways to asses your mite levels. It does involve killing the bees in your sample. If your hive is too small to spare 100 bees for a sample, it is too small to survive. If you're mite levels are high now (>2-4 per 100 bees), they will only get higher towards late fall. Late July is also a great time to replace any week or failing queens.
Thanks to Matt Allen for these notes!!