Fall bee hive update – Detailed Understanding (UPDATED)

I have three hives and as we enter Fall, each is doing a little different. This is a nerve-wracking season for me as a first-year beekeeper, trying to make sure they are as well prepared as can be because once it’s cold and they’re winterized, I won’t be able to go in and “help” them at all or (more likely needed) fix mistakes I made earlier. And my fingers will be crossed all winter. We’ll see who survives and is alive in the Spring.

fall behive update

Hive A, Langstroth, 8 frame mediums:

Hive A, east entrance. The hive top feeder is the top box.

This hive started as a package in late April of this year. Our local Spring nectar flow was really heavy this year and I didn’t recognize that the hive was becoming nectar bound. As brood was hatching out, instead of the queen laying another egg in those cells, the workers were storing nectar. They were building out comb too, but not fast enough.

And I should have realized there were maybe more queen cells than expected, that there were eggs or larvae in the cells, and I should have dropped some foundation frames down into those brood chambers. Instead, I was adding hive bodies above and I realized in late June, that there was no queen and the hive had swarmed. I waited a nail-biting, incredibly long month before I saw eggs from the new queen.

I had seen the virgin queen(s?) in the meantime, heard queens piping, and otherwise, the hive was doing fine, although the bees were really jumpy. I actually extracted some nectar from a few frames to give the queen some space to lay when she was ready and opened the brood boxes up with those foundation frames in the meantime. This hive currently has 3 medium hive bodies.

It was very light on food and I have been feeding it 2:1 sugar syrup. The food situation is getting much better. Originally I was using a pail feeder, but it was taking too long for the bees to remove the syrup (small area for them to access) and I thought they wouldn’t have enough stores by mid-October when I hear the weather in our area dictates feeding syrup must stop.

I purchased the Mann Lake 8 Frame Top Feeder ???? and they take the syrup great from it!! Originally I placed the inner cover above the feeder as they suggested, but my inner cover has an entrance and there were a lot of dead bees and wasps in the syrup. I put the inner cover under the feeder and that worked, but the guard bees had a lot of yellow jackets to contend with at that upper entrance, which would probably still have been fine.

But I borrowed a couple of upper ventilation screens from my mentor and installed them over the feeder, removing the inner cover altogether. Now, this hive has no upper entrance, but I think that’s okay while they have a top feeder on. I’ll give them back their inner cover & upper entrance when I pull the feeder off. At this point that hive has:

  • Top hive body:  heavy!!  8 frames full of food
  • Middle hive body: 4 frames food and 4 frames brood, including eggs and larvae
  • Bottom box: 8 half-full frames of food.

So this hive is being fed until the bottom box is full and they mostly fill out the brood area as it empties out. I have heard I need to leave them a little open comb for the winter where they can, I guess, huddle and keep together and keep “warm”? (Experienced folks welcome to tell me what the bees do with that open comb in the winter.)

My mentor’s take on this hive was, “Feed ’em and pray.” He thinks the population is small, but they might make it with food.

Hive B, 8 frames medium Langstroth:

Hive B, southern entrance. The hive top feeder is the top box.

This hive started just the same as Hive A. It was a package in late April, swarmed in late June, laying queen in late July. But this hive never bounced back with the same population as Hive A. Hive B is incredibly, alarmingly light on the “umph” test and has also been getting food, but just hasn’t taken the food very well. It just went today from being a 3 hive body to a 2 hive body colony.

  • Top hive body: 5 frames half full of food, 2 frames foundation, and 1 frame partially drawn comb – today I replaced the foundation and partial comb frames with fully drawn empty comb, from the bottom hive body.
  • Middle hive body: 4 mostly empty food combs and 4 combs brood with eggs, larvae, and a queen. I didn’t change anything in this box.
  • Bottom hive body: 8 empty comb frames. I removed three and moved them up into the top hive body and the rest of the box/frames I took off the hive.

This hive’s population is quite small. I can even see at the lower entrance that there are fewer bees guarding and foraging compared to Hive A. It was too much empty room for them to patrol +/- heat, so I removed the bottom box.

So now this hive has a brood box on the bottom and food and an empty comb on the top. On top of that, they also have the same hive top feeder and upper ventilation screen as the other hive. This hive didn’t have many bees up in the feeder taking syrup, which is one of the reasons I decided to reduce it, with input from my beekeeping mentor. I also smeared some syrup on the screen and dripped a few drops down into the hive to try to lure the bees up into the feeder.

Don’t know if that will help. This week is quite chilly, but next week is supposed to be warmer, so hopefully, that will help them make more syrup. Otherwise, I’m thinking of trying bee candy or dry sugar. We’ll see. I’m “feeding and praying” as my mentor suggested. This is the hive that I think won’t make it through the winter. I hope I’m wrong!

Hive C, Kenyan Top Bar Hive:

Kenyan Top Bar Hive, faces south

This hive I wasn’t going to run my first year because local beeks kept telling me they don’t overwinter well in upstate NY. So I had it set up and secretly crossed my fingers that a swarm would find its way in (encouraged by the lemongrass essential oil I put on a paper towel in a ziplock bag laying in there), but no bees moved in. But I caught a swarm (thanks dad for helping!) in mid-June and installed them.

I had to figure out how not to crush bees while putting top bars back together and I’ve had some unfortunate comb breakage issues, but really, this hive is doing great. They have a really active entrance even on cooler days, lots of bees, and they have good food stores. I was hoping they were going to rebuild more of the comb that had broken off and disposed of by this time, so they now have a little more space than I would like.

I rotated some of the smaller combs to the other side of their follower board to reduce it this week (hmmm, need to find a way to store that so wax moths don’t consume it in the hive separated from the bees, if I put it out in the barn for storage it will get robbed, not the end of the world, but the last time I pulled frames with a little food and brought them to the barn, the frames were robbed and then the hives started robbing each other. The freezer then!).

They had 20 combs started, probably 15-16 of them are fully built combs now and when I checked today back where the brood nest used to be, the frames are heavy with honey. I corked another entrance today, too. They had 3 entrance holes open earlier, but as fewer and fewer bees are at the entrance I corked one, and now 2 entrances. They just have one open now.

The days the bees started robbing each other. Wet sheets over everybody with a gap for the home bees to crawl under and up to their entrances. Sheets were removed that night & the bees resumed their good behavior.

That’s where things are at.

To do:

  • Hive A – don’t overfeed, probably remove food soon
  • Hive B – feed feed feed – check on the next possible day to see if they’re getting up into the top feeder or not – otherwise I’ll try dry sugar or bee candy
  • Hive C – get insulation for the top & tar paper & figure out how I’m going to wrap it and leave and open the entrance – also put a dog corkscrew stake under the hive before the ground starts to freeze so I can hook a strap around the hive and anchor it to the stake. Also cut a piece of hardware cloth to put over the entrance.

Here’s to hoping everyone’s honey bees in the Northern Hemisphere survive the upcoming winter months!