Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall Inspections: How to downsize your hive without inciting robbing and get your bees ready for wintering

Getting ready for wintering bees: 5 nucs and 2 singles have pink insulation put over their inner covers.
Fall is the perfect time to check your beehives and make sure your honey bees are ready for wintering. Ideally, you would do this right after the last fall flow (goldenrod and asters in mid-August through the beginning of September here in NW Ohio) as this will give you a good read on the strength and stores of the honey bee colony going in the winter. Unfortunately, while the timing is great for assessing stores, it is bad for performing thorough inspections. We all know the reason: robber bees.

Here are a few facts about robber honey bees:
  • They are opportunistic.
  • They engage in explorative foraging.
  • If they find a source of nectar or pollen, they will return to the same spot until the source is exhausted. They will also check the vicinity of the source to see if there is something else available.
  • They will stop robbing if it gets dark, if it starts raining, if it gets too cold or if there is a lot of smoke. They will resume the robbing once flying conditions improve.
  • Feeding sugar syrup, especially syrup with stimulants such as HoneyBHealthy attracts robber honey bees.
  • Weak hives and nucs are especially prone to being robbed out very quickly in the fall (or in a dearth).
  • Robbing in the fall (or in a dearth) is really easy to start and very difficult to stop.
Now, let’s go back to getting your bees ready for wintering. Unfortunately, the honey bee colonies that need the most help are the ones the robber bees are more likely to target:  nucs, weak colonies or colonies that are getting fed.

When evaluating your honey bee colonies for winter stores, you need to keep the following honey bee facts in mind:
  • It takes about 3-4 days for a small nuc to take about a quart of 5:3 sugar syrup or about 1.25 lbs. of extra stores
  • It takes about 1 week for a colony in a single deep to take about 1 gallon of 5:3 sugar syrup or about 5 lbs. of extra stores.
  • It takes about 1 week for a full sized colony in a double deep configuration to take about 5 gallons of 5:3 sugar syrup or about 25 lbs. of extra stores
Keep in mind that those time frames are for hives that are properly sized for their box as far as brood frames and cluster size are concerned (even though they might be light on stores). For more on appropriate sizes see my post Fall inspections: Finding the right size box for your bees

In addition to the above mentioned time frames, the bees need some extra time to cure the syrup to proper moisture content before cold weather sets in so that there is not a bunch of extra moisture added to the hive. Allow at least couple of weeks after you are done feeding for the bees to cure the syrup.
Depending on the time frame available until the end of the beekeeping season, downsizing may be the better choice for getting your colony through the winter.  Keep in mind that downsizing takes approximately 15 minutes while feeding can take anywhere from a week to several weeks in a row. Chances to start robbing are bigger with feeding as compared to downsizing.

After all this, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of downsizing a hive without starting a robbing frenzy.
First, start with a plan. From weighing the hive, you should have a pretty good idea about what the target size should be.  Let’s pretend that we have a colony in a double deep hive that weighed at 75 – 80 lbs. Even without opening the hive, you know that this colony will be better off in a single deep and that there is pretty much at least one box worth of empty comb. You will still need to feed this colony after downsizing it, but not as much as you will need to feed if it was still in a double deep configuration.
Once you decide on the size that you need, make a note of what frames you need. For a single deep you will need 2 brood frames, 2 pollen frames and at least 5 full honey frames.  Next, let’s talk about where you’re most likely to find those.  In an established hive, the honey frames would be in the top deep, while the pollen and the brood frames most likely are going to be in the middle of the bottom deep. In an established hive that weighs 75-80 lbs. chances are that the top deep is going to be full of empty frames and you could possibly have the 2 outside frames in the bottom deep full of capped honey. In a newly installed hive with the same weight, the top might even contain undrawn frames. You might find some honey stores in the middle of the top deep. The bottom deep is likely to have a couple of undrawn or partially drawn frames towards the outside of the box.
A robber cloth made from a receiving blanket with 2 boards on the wide side. Since the temperature outside is 40F, I am using a box with foundation for my demo picture. Note how the robber cloth allows you to expose only one or 2 frames at a time.
As a final step, get your tools and equipment together. You will need an extra hive body to sort the frames into and an inner cover. If you don’t have an extra inner cover, you can use a scrap piece of plywood of the appropriate size or make a robber cloth. You can make a robber cloth out of any piece of cloth that is big enough to cover a hive body with some overhang over the sides. Attach something to weigh the sides, so it does not get blown away while you are working. On the picture you can see a robber cloth made out of a baby receiving blanket.
Finally, get your smoker going good and don’t forget your hive tool. Remember, the goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Smoke the entrance and through the inner cover, wait a bit and then separate the 2 boxes. Put the top box off to the side on the top of the outer cover and cover the bottom brood box with the inner cover. If you have a lot of bees in the top box, you will need to shake the frames into the bottom box as you go. If you pick a cooler morning to work, the majority of the bees will be clustered on the brood nest and this will allow you to work faster. Keep your smoker hanging on the box you are working on, so the smoke blows over the top of the frames. This will also minimize the chances of starting a robbing frenzy.
Pick the 5 heaviest frames from the top brood box and set them aside in the extra box.  Cover the box with the extra inner cover and open the lower brood box. Use the inner cover to cover the top box. Start working from the outside frames. Pull an outer frame. If it is heavier than the heaviest frame in the spare box, put it back in. If not, replace it with one of the frames from the spare box. Evaluate the 3 outside frames on each side in this way. At this point you will have the 5 heaviest frames of honey plus whatever they have/had in the brood nest. This is it. You're done.
Shake the bees from the extra box and the top brood box into the lower brood box and put the covers back on. If there is syrup/nectar on the frames that did not make the cut, put them in one of the boxes and place the box upside down over the inner cover and put the telescoping/migratory cover on top. This will allow the bees to consolidate the syrup/nectar back into the brood nest. Feed to get them to proper weight and don’t forget to reduce the entrances.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to maximize your honey production while minimizing swarming (Part II)

One of my single deep beehives, opened on Oct 20, 2013. Lots of healthy honey bees.
Last week, I summarized “A year’s work in an out-apiary; or, An average of 114 ½ pounds of honey per colony in a poor season, and how it was done” by G. M. Doolittle and promised to explain how I use his method in my apiary.

I want to point out that G. M. Doolittle ran his hives for section honey. Section honey has its own set of challenges, namely:
  • You must crowd the bees as you want each section completely drawn (front and back, top to bottom and side to side). Undrawn or partially drawn sections are not marketable. G. M. Doolittle uses them as “bait” sections in the following year.
  • You must use a queen excluder as sections with whiter cappings (and whiter honey) command a premium
The color of the cappings and partially uncapped frames (as long as the frame is about 75% capped or you have a good refractometer) are not such crucial issues anymore. However, G. M. Doolittle did not have to deal with small hive beetles (SHB) or varroa mites.

So, without any further ado, here is my schedule for year 2014. G. M. Doolittle’s flows are very similar to the flows in my area and therefore I can use the calendar dates that he provides for manipulations. Still, I will keep an eye on when a flow starts and ends and modify the schedule accordingly. For those of you further south and north, I have included the flows, so you can map them to yours. My comments are below the manipulations in italics.

Date Flow
Manipulations and Comments
April 14 Doolittle: Take hives out, clean the bottom boards

This part of Doolittle’s management part is largely obsolete with the majority of beekeepers in the USA keeping their bee hives outside all winter long. The obvious exception would be Canadian beekeepers that routinely winter their hives inside temperature controlled buildings due to the long Canadian winter. Although you might be tempted to remove the hive wrap and insulation at this point, I usually remove them in the beginning or middle of May depending on the long range weather forecast.
April 24 Elm, soft maple

Apr 28
Doolittle: Make sure each hive has at least 20 pounds in honey stores by adding 1, 2 or 3 combs of honey at 7 pounds each. The honey should be put right next to the brood nest. 

Note that this is done 26 days before fruit tree bloom and 53 days before the main flow (basswood and white clover). It takes approximately 42 days (+/-7 days) to produce a forager bee from an egg. The brood that is produced in the next 11 days is going to produce the forager bees working the main flow. Therefore, it is crucial that brood rearing goes on “swimmingly” during this period. This is one of the reasons why I don’t remove the hive wraps and insulation until later. I don’t want to chill my main flow foragers.

The elm and soft maple are primarily pollen flows that the honey bees use to rear brood. However, the honey bees may not be able to make the most of those flows due to inclement weather and cold snaps. If this is the case, you might want to add a pollen patty on the top of the brood nest to make sure that the honey bees are able to raise healthy foragers for the main flow.  

Another possible sticking point when implementing this plan is that any newcomer to this management technique will lack “reserve combs” with which to supplement the honey stores in the spring. Feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to the honey bees is an alternative solution. The drawback, again, is the weather in early spring. Here in NW Ohio, the average daytime high for April is 62F with lows of 40F. The honey bees stop taking syrup when its temperature falls below 50F. To make sure the honey bees take the syrup, you might want to feed smaller amounts in a Ziploc baggie feeder (or frame feeder) positioned right above the brood nest (next to it in the case of a frame feeder).
May 20
Fruit tree bloom
Doolittle: Clip the queens. Equalize the brood, in order to make sure there are multiple strong colonies at the beginning of the clover flow.  Add a story with 2 bait combs to all the strong bee hives.
Doolittle’s reasoning for clipping the queens is that it will delay the swarm for several days until he is able to perform his “shook swarming”. I haven’t been able to find a good description on how to clip queens, so I haven’t practiced it. Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail if clip your queens or have a good source. The links for both are on the bottom of this blog post. I have also pulled the honey from the bottom chamber into the 2nd deep.
June 16
White clover:
May 23;
Black locust is done
Basswood flow begins in approx. 10 more days
Doolittle: Mow the grass in the apiary. Prepare hives for filling sections by removing the 2nd story and putting on 1 “bait” section super and one section super filled with foundation above a queen excluder. “Shake swarm” the honey colonies and take all the brood out.
While I use queen excluders in my apiary, I do not use them in my honey colonies. I do not believe them to be as critical for extracted honey production as they are for comb honey.
Doolittle also takes out all the brood when he “shake swarms” his honey bee colonies. However, the white clover and the basswood flows are usually done within a month of that manipulation. In addition, his next flow of any importance is the buckwheat flow and it does not start until middle of August. If your main flow is longer in duration or you have a mid-summer flow instead of a dearth, you might want to change this manipulation to a variation of a cut-down split where you take away the queen and all open brood. After the flow, you can re-combine the two hives if you don’t want to increase the number of colonies. In this way, you will avoid the month and a half gap in raising foragers in the middle of the summer.
June 26
July 6
Doolittle: Making increases (nucs)
For the past 4 years, I had very good results raising queens (fall queens) after the main flow. In reality, I start mine on the 4th of July as it is easy to remember. This year, I experimented with raising my own queens using the cut cell method and mating them into small nucs (in past years, I did splits and let each split raise their own queen). While I plan to make some changes in the way I set up the nucs for next year, I am going to stick to this timeline for now.
July 10
Doolittle: Make sure nucs are queen-right; add queens if necessary
July 24
Doolittle: Taking off surplus; preparing for buckwheat flow
Usually this timeline works well with my schedule, but this year was the exception. I believe the cold and wet summer caused a delay in the capping of the supers. The majority of the supers were not capped until well into September / the beginning of October. And yes, those stores were sitting uncapped since July. Did you notice if the honey bees took longer to cap? Leave me a note in the comments.

This is also the time when you want to test for varroa and treat if necessary. In this way you will reduce the varroa mite pressure on the honey bees reared in the the next couple of months. These are the so-called "winter bees" or "fat bees" and they are crucial for your colony's winter survival.

I usually don't need to treat, because I usually introduce a queen cell into my honey colonies after the main flow, causing a brood break. A brood break is an effective varroa management tool, especially for treatment-free bees.
Sept 8
Doolittle: Harvest using bee escapes / porter escapes

It is a good idea to also use this visit in order to make sure your hives have a good wintering weight. This is about a month and a half before the first hard frost in my area and after the goldenrod flow. Check out my post Fall inspections: Do I need to feed and how much? for more details.
Oct 10
Doolittle: Install winter bottom boards and mouse guards on the hives

Since I don't overwinter my hives in a cellar but outdoors, this is around the time I insulate/wrap my hives for winter.
Nov 23
Doolittle: Temperatures are around freezing, it is time to put the bees back in the cellar.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How to maximize your honey production while minimizing swarming

October is here and in McClure, OH that means that my winter preparation is winding down as my honey bees and I are enjoying our last couple weeks of nice weather. The bee hives that needed winter stores have all been fed. The honey bees have propolized the interior of the hives. They have already organized their stores and brood for best wintering. I am working on cutting insulation for the bee hives and pouring candy boards for my nucs. My honey bee season is almost over and while it is still fresh in my mind, I start penciling out my plan for next year.

My invaluable helper is Gilbert M. Doolittle and his book “A year’s work in an out-apiary; or, An average of 114 ½ pounds of honey per colony in a poor season, and how it was done”. You can find the most recent edition on Amazon by clicking here. The book was originally published in 1906. Its fifth edition (published in 1922) as “Management of out-apiaries” is available as an e-book here.

Even though this beekeeping book was published more than 100 years ago, the techniques described are very relevant to modern beekeeping. So let’s not delay any longer and dive right into the details.

Summary of A year’s work in an out-apiary

The book is only 60 pages long and is divided in 12 chapters (one for each visit in the out-apiary for the year):

• Chapter I: An average of 114 ½ pounds of section honey per colony in poor season, and how it was done. On April 14, 10 days before elm and maple bloom, G. M. Doolittle levels the hive stands, takes the honey bees out from their cellar (his bees are wintered indoors in a single hive body) and sets them out on a new/clean bottom board.

• Chapter II. April 24, the elm and soft maples are in bloom. G. M. Doolittle checks the available honey stores of each colony. He supplements any colony that has less than 20 lbs. of honey with capped honey frames. He adds those frames on the outside of the brood nest. His honey bees are still in a single hive body. He enlarges the entrances appropriately for the strength of each beehive and makes sure that the brood is in good condition. He supersedes his queens after the harvest, so if he finds any queens need to be replaced early in the spring, he just combines the hive with another with a good queen. How do you handle underperforming queens in the early spring? Re-queen or combine? Leave me a note in the comments below!

• Chapter III: Bloom time. The thirds visit is almost a month later on May 20th, during apple and fruit tree bloom. During this visit, G. M. Doolittle finds and clips all queens. He also equalizes the brood among his hives by taking brood off the hives with more than seven frames of brood and adding those frames to the bee hives that have 6 or less frames.  In addition, he supers all the hives that have 7 frames of brood. He takes the 2 outer honey combs from the brood nest and exchanges them with 2 empty combs from the super. The first super is all drawn, filled with more or less empty comb. He installs it above a queen excluder. The colonies that have 7 frames of brood and a super are his honey producing colonies. The weak colonies are his increase colonies. At this visit, he also fully opens the entrances on all but the weakest colonies. Do you keep any colonies back to serve as increase colonies or do you order packages? G. M. Doolittle uses 1/5 of his existing colonies as increase colonies. What percentage of your total bee hives are your increase colonies?

• Chapter IV: How to control swarms when running for comb honey. It is June 16 and the white clover has just started blooming (black locust is done). Time to mow the bee yard as tall grasses at the bee hive entrance will slow foragers down and reduce the honey crop. This is also the visit in which G. M. Doolittle treats his honey colonies with “shook swarming”. In essence, he prepares a new box for the brood nest with 1 empty comb in the middle, surrounded by the honey comb from the super. This new box is placed on the hive stand. Then he adds the queen excluder and above it he puts a super with bait (half-drawn) sections and above that a super of sections in foundation. Finally, he shakes all the bees in front of this new brood box. He puts the brood over a queen excluder on top of one of the weaker colonies. Have you tried the shook swarm method of swarm prevention? I have tried something similar, but not exactly as described by G. M. Doolittle. What is your favorite method of swarm prevention? Leave me a note in the comment section below!

• Chapter V: A simple and reliable plan for making increase. It is June 26. On the previous visit, G. M. Doolittle had found some swarm cells in a hive that he wants to breed from. He uses those cells (they are ripe) and the brood he removed on the previous visit to make nucs. He also shakes (shook swarm) the colonies that were weak on his prior visit.

• Chapter VI: How to save unnecessary lifting in taking off filled supers of honey. It is July 10. Basswood bloom has begun on July 6. G. M. Doolittle brings extra queens in case the mating failed in the increase colonies he made on the prior visit. He checks the supers and takes off the capped ones. He uses a wheelbarrow to minimize the lifting of full supers. He also adds an empty super to all colonies from which he removes one.  He puts supers on the week colonies that had brood combs added to them on the prior visits. He uses one of his queens in an introductory cage to re-queen one of the increase colonies. He also makes sure the grass and weeds are not blocking the entrances to his bee hives. He believes a tangled entrance can lead to as much as 1/3 of the possible honey crop being lost. Do you mow around your bee hives? Do you believe it is necessary?

• Chapter VII: Taking off the surplus, what to do with the unfinished sections, preparation for the buckwheat flow. It is now July 24 and the basswood bloom is all done. G. M. Doolittle brings another load of supers to the apiary in preparation for the buckwheat flow. Again, he takes any completed or more than 2/3 completed section honey supers and replaces them with empty ones. His philosophy is to always have an empty super available at all times for the bees. On this visit, he also replaces any queen that hasn’t been performing up to par with a ripe queen cell that he brought with him. He also replaces any queen that is 2 years old. When do you replace your queens? I usually replace mine after the main flow with a ripe queen cell. This gives my colonies a much needed brood break which helps control varroa buildup.

• Chapter VIII: Progress in the supers. It is August 18 and the buckwheat is in full bloom. G. M. Doolittle uses this visit to check progress in the supers from the buckwheat flow.

• Chapter IX: A simple way to put on escapes without lifting. It is September 8 and the end of G. M. Doolittle’s bee season. The goal of this visit is to put bee escapes on all the colonies in order to be able to remove the supers. He uses a wooden wedge to lift the supers and slide the escape board beneath them without ever having to remove them from the hives.

• Chapter X: Taking off the honey and storing it at the out-yard. Two to four days later, on a cool day (to prevent robbing) G. M. Doolittle retrieves the supers. He always keeps them covered with a robber cloth in order to prevent robbing. He weighs the hives and makes sure they have a minimum of 25 pounds of stores. He adds full combs to those bee hives that have less. Remember, he overwinters his hives in a basement is single hive configuration.

• Chapter XI. October 10. He installs the winter bottom boards and mouse guards on his hives.

• Chapter XII: Closing words, further suggestions to the plans given in the preceding chapters. It is November 23 and with temperatures just above freezing, it is time to set the bees back in the cellar.

The above summary does a very poor job of describing what a treasure G. M. Doolittle's book is. Every time I re-read this book, I find new ideas to implement in my apiary. I believe every serious beekeeper should become familiar with this work!

So how does this tie into increasing your honey production today? G. M. Doolittle gives you a pretty good plan to manage hives at the serious sideliner or even the smaller commercial level. His plan is a good blueprint to follow if you want to learn how to manage your bees by the yard and not by the hive. He manages to accomplish all his buildup, swarm control and winter prep in just 12 separate visits.

Do you use a system that is similar to G. M. Doolittle’s method? Do you use a completely different method? Please leave me note in the comments section about which method you’ve been using so far.

This blog post is getting quite long, so I will continue next week with some pointers on how to use G. M. Doolittle’s management principles in your own bee yard. I will also publish my management schedule, which is based on G. M. Doolittle’s plan. I will post the second part of this post on Sunday, October 20, 2013. Check back on Monday to read it or click here to get it delivered directly to your inbox! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fall inspections: Do I need to feed and how much?

In my previous posts, I have often mentioned or advocated feeding in the fall. Reading those posts, one may come to the conclusion that I am feeding sugar syrup to my bees quite often, which of course is quite different from the reality. I would like to take the time to explain how I determine if the bees need feeding, how much and how often.

Determining whether I need to feed

I will definitely feed:
  • New packages
  • Nucs babysitting a queen cell
  • Cell starters and cell finishers
  • Colonies that are going into winter and are weighing in under the recommended weight by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA). Those are:
    • 135 lbs. for a standard 10 frame double deep with stores taking up 70 lbs. Alternative configurations for this setup are the 10 frame 3 medium or the 10 frame 4 shallow configuration. This is approximately 10 deep honey frames, 15 medium honey frames or 18 shallow honey frames.
    • 95 lbs. for singles with stores taking up 55 lbs. Alternative configurations for this setup are 2 medium boxes or a shallow and a medium. This is approximately 5 and a half deep honey frames, almost 12 medium frames in an all-medium setup, or 10 full shallow frames and 3 and a half mediums.
  • Nucs that are going into winter (mine are 4 frame deeps) that have less than 14 lbs or 2 deep frames of stores
I don't have any personal experience with the following, but I have seen it recommended from several reliable sources, including Brother Adam in Beekeeping At Buckfast Abbey. You can find the book on Amazon: Beekeeping At Buckfast Abbey with a section on mead making
  • Feed immediately after the bees have been working a quickly crystallizing honey crop such as canola, oilseed rape or heather. Here is a link for a more comprehensive list of quickly crystallizing honeys.
In those cases, Brother Adam cautions against trying to overwinter on such stores as he believes they cause dysentery. He recommends extracting all available honey and feeding the bees thin syrup to replace their stores.

Determining when to feed

Start feeding new packages, nucs, cell starters and cell finishers as soon as you establish them. Check the weight on your hives going into winter when your fall flow is done. In this way the bees will have the chance to make the most of the naturally available pollen and nectar and you will still have the time to replenish their reserves before the cold weather hits. Please note that the majority of the hives should not need feeding at this point. The bees should have their brood nest and stores organized for winter. Having light hives going into winter should be the exception, not the rule.

Determining how much or how long to feed

Usually, the bees are pretty good at letting us know when to stop feeding. In the spring, newly established packages will stop taking syrup altogether or significantly reduce their syrup consumption when they find a good alternative source of nectar. If you are first year beekeeper when this happens and you are not sure when your local flow is, take note! Your flow is on. Sometimes, the bees will keep taking syrup all along, especially if it is mixed with feeding stimulants such as HoneyBeeHealthy, essential oils or certain herbal teas such as mint or peppermint. In such cases, they will still give you additional indication that they have plenty of nectar available. For example:
  • Your new package has drawn out the brood nest boxes. They have plenty of brood and at least 28 lbs of stores. It's time to let them go and see how they do (keep an eye on their stores in case they get caught in a dearth). Incidentally, this is the same amount of stores G. M. Doolittle likes to see in his book: A year's work in an out-apiary; or, An average of 114 1/2 pounds of honey per colony in a poor season, and how it was done
  • All the frames are wet looking or have nectar in them. The bees have stored nectar in all of the frames and did not leave any space for the queen to lay in. Give them some space and lay off the syrup.
  • The bees are building new wax on top of the frames and storing syrup/nectar there. This is one of the signs of a strong flow. Give them some space and lay off the syrup.
  • When fall feeding, your hives have reached your desired target hive weight or the bees have filled and capped the recommended amount of honey frames.
Before you start feeding, it is good to figure out a clear goal and how you are going to accomplish it. This is especially important when you are feeding during the fall, as overfeeding can cause a late swarm (a most unfortunate event in late fall).

Start by estimating your hive weight. A word of caution: most beekeepers overestimate their hives weights when lifting the back of the hive. If this is your first time weighing a hive, here are some tips to help you get an accurate measure:
  • Use a scale. You don't need to use a fancy hive scale and you don't need to lift the whole hive. Any hanging scale similar to this deer hanging scale will suffice ($13). Make sure your hive is level. Attach the scale to the back of the hive and lift, then repeat at the front. The front and the back weights, when added together will approximate closely the total weight of your hive.
  • Try to do a frame count. You can see the approximate frame counts in the section called "Determining whether I need to feed" above. Ideally, when doing a frame count, you should also keep an eye on the amount of brood and pollen stores in the hive.
  • If you don't have a scale, and you are not able to do a frame count, try to "calibrate" yourself. Stack weight similar to your hive's target weight to a spare telescoping cover or bottom board and try to lift it. Dog food bags work good for this. You want your hive to be heavier than that. Try to do the "calibration" as close as possible to the actual hive weigh-in.
If your bee hive weighs more than your target, then congratulations! You don't need to feed. This should be the case in the majority of bee hives. Otherwise, determine the difference between you bee hive's current weight and target weight. This is the amount of sugar, not syrup, that you need to feed. Please note that if you need to add more than half a box weight worth of sugar, you might want to rethink your bee hive's current configuration. Check out my post "Fall inspections: Finding the right size box for your bees" for more details on how to possibly downsize your hive.

For fall feeding, due to the short time period, I prefer feeding 5:3 sugar syrup. Since the concentration of the sugar syrup is close to that of 2:1 sugar syrup, the bees tend to store it rather than to raise brood on it. In addition, I don't have as much trouble getting sugar to dissolve completely in the 5:3 syrup as I have when making 2:1 syrup.

Some handy tips and tricks that I've learned through the years:

  • In the fall, it's easier to get bees to fill out a frame than to draw out a frame. If my nucs are not making good progress on drawing out their frames, I will replace the undrawn frames with extracted "super" frames to help them out. I use the same size -- deeps -- everywhere.
  • If I need to feed a bunch of smaller colonies, I sometimes add a drawn super to a stronger colony and feed. The stronger colony will fill it and cap it faster than the smaller ones. Then I redistribute the capped combs among the smaller colonies as needed. In this way, you can save some effort and reduce the robbing pressure on the smaller colonies.
  • When feeding, especially in the fall, always reduce the entrances and install robbing screens to reduce the chance of starting robbing. Keep in mind that it is very easy to start robbing and very difficult to stop it.
I welcome all questions and comments, so please don't hesitate to leave me a note in the comments section below!