November in the Apiary
Winters icy breath has begun to verify that the long cold battle for survival will soon begin in earnest for our local hives. Here is a list of some of the actions we can still take to assist them:
Ensure that you have some kind of moisture absorbing material or arrangement made up to keep hive condensation under control (especially on the fuller hives) as they create more heat and more vapor from both honey consumption and hot/cold condensation. A honey box filled with sawdust or chips, with a towel placed on the bottom of the plastic netting that keeps the debris from falling on the nest area works well for me. You can also use a moisture board (Mann Lake) or even just putting a towel over the frames will help. You might want to consider adding a pollen patty and/or a grease patty before the winter hits in earnest. Pollen patties absorb moisture and supply food. The grease patty is used to deter tracheal mites from finding new young bees to infest in the early spring. Also, ensure your hives are tilted slightly towards the front (where the entrance is) to help drain condensation as well as rain and melted snow out of the hive. Remember, it is not the cold that takes down a hive so much as moisture dripping onto the cluster of bees. That, and insufficient food stores along with Varroa overpopulation.
The OSBA sent out an alert notifying beekeepers that Varroa infestations are being seen with very high numbers due to the longer warm season. One mite treatment that is used at this time of year is oxalic acid, an organic acid found just about everywhere in the environment including in plants and vegetables and even honey. It is a natural plant defense against herbivores. Since it is not fat soluble (a lipid), it doesn’t build up in wax comb. It has a 95-99 percent mite kill rate.
Food stores will be on the top hive body (if you have two) and the bees will have backfilled down, eventually putting the much reduced brood nest on the bottom of the lower hive body. You can check for honey stores by hefting the back edge of the hive to estimate the weight. It should be HEAVY. The bees will have sealed up the openings between the hive bodies with propolis, so unless there is a dire need to break the seal, it should be left intact as it cannot be easily replaced at this time of year. If the hive is light, you can place a fondant or candy board in your hive to allow for emergency food. On a warm day you can add an inside frame feeder in the upper hive body without disturbing the bees in the lower body.
Restrictors should be on your entrances by now and mouse guards if you use them. If your hive is not in a spot sheltered by the wind, do what you can to provide a windbreak. You might consider wrapping your hive. Some of our members have had great success with using the silver bubble insulation used for water heaters. It is reusable and holds on with a few staples. You can provide small vent holes (drilled) in the brood boxes for air circulation that remain open for both bee traffic and air flow. Cover that with tar paper keeping the small vents open.
Do not move your hives unless there is a very important reason, and a series of warm days during which they can reorient. On colder days, if they haven’t reoriented, cleansing or foraging workers will be lost.
Now is a great time to cull/clean old equipment/deadouts before the winter really sets in. Take an inventory of the equipment you currently have and during the “dead of winter” you can work on acquiring that equipment you’ll need in the spring. Aren’t the nice pictures in the catalogs wonderful. Make sure you’ve taken into account how to avoid wax moths on honey supers as well as other stored equipment during the winter. Yu can store equipment outside during the winter which will kill the moths during the coldest months, however you can also use Para moth (not standard mothballs which are Naphthalene) per instructions.
One last word, there is still time to combine small hives with an insufficient bee population. If you don’t have enough bees to maintain a sufficient winter cluster, the bees freeze to death even if there is plenty of food. Four or five frames of bees can make it through winter if they have food and good shelter and are in good health. We had a wonderful summer and fall with our girls. Blow them a kiss, tuck them in and wish them well for the winter.
Best of luck to all!
Thanks to Kim Rivera (Backyard Bees of Bend) & Allen Engle for these November notes!