It may look like summer to us — warm and dry, days still longish and the hills a sunny gold — but from the honeybee point of view we’re well into fall. And that can only mean one thing: The Dearth, and the widespread robbery this hungry season brings on.
But not to worry — there are plenty of ways to help hives through fall, Phil Stob told members of Fremont Beeks at the group’s August meeting and potluck, which was held at Stone Garden at the invitation of LEAF beekeepers Syndee and Elaine.
Phil has been a Fremont beekeeper for six years or so. He formed the Beeks, a loose-knit organization of local beekeepers, a few years ago as beekeepers in the area started coming out of the woodwork and the flower gardens and finding each other at LEAF and other local events. The group has about 65 members now, and while meetings are mostly social, centered around good food and good conversation, the primary objective is to make everyone better beekeepers through camaraderie and support. Members present work that they have done at meetings that mostly take place in backyards, but Stone Garden is also a great place to meet up, Phil says.
Gardeners have lists of chores to perform at each turn of the season, and beekeepers do, too. On the happy side, this is a good time to harvest honey, Phil said. On the don’t-ask-for-trouble side, it’s time to reduce the size of the hive entrance to make it easier for resident bees to protect their honey from robbers.
Robbery is a natural part of bee behavior, Phil said. In fall the flow of nectar takes a sharp drop, especially in areas close to wild lands where there aren’t a lot of ornamental flowers and trees in bloom. Desperate bees go out looking for food, and when they find a weak hive they go after its honey stores. This has the unfortunate side effect of spreading varroa mites — a major cause of bee death and hive failure.
Meanwhile, varroa mite populations soar in the fall, making this an important time to test for mites and treat infested hives. Phil demonstrated the two main test methods — one using powdered sugar, the other alcohol — and noted that Sept. 7-21 was the 2019 North American Mite-A-Thon, where beekeepers across the continent assess and report mite levels in their hives.
Looking ahead to the wet months, Phil said, beekkeepers should think about increasing air flow through their hives so chalk brood, a fungal disease that kills larvae, can’t get a foothold. Part of the fun of beekeeping is improvising equipment, and Phil showed the group both store-bought paraphernalia and clever hacks — some of them involving coroplast, a lightweight corrugated plastic that’s used in yard signs like the ones for political campaigns. Recycling old campaign signs for bee health and comfort could be one more cause to rejoice when election season is over!
At their October meeting, also at Stone Garden, the Beeks discussed the use of oxalic acid for controlling mites and how to prepare hives for winter by removing boxes that don’t contain brood or food to reduce the size of the hive. No date has been set for a November meeting, but if you have a good-sized shed or barn, the Beeks would like to hold an equipment work day to prepare equipment for next year.