Winter Candy

During the fall and winter, our main focus is on monitoring our bee’s health and food supply. We do this by tracking weather patterns, testing for pests and inspecting the apiary. We have stopped weekly hive inspections and have replace them with limited observations when weather permits.

The unusually warm and dry fall has set up a potential food shortage for our bees in late winter. Earlier this fall, we fed our bees to make up for the sparse fall flower bloom because of the dry weather and got our hives well set for fall. Because the weather has continued to be warmer than usual our bees have keep making brood and foraged for resources much more than they otherwise might have. Checking on our hives last week, we found that they have used up more of their food resources than we expected for this time of year and we are now concerned about them having enough food to make it through the winter. To address this, we made up candy boards this week and will place them in the coming days on the hives.

Candy boards are frames filled with a block of sugar. We set them on top of the hives below the outer cover. They provide needed carbohydrates the bees use to keep warm through the winter and adsorb excess moisture inside.

Fall Chores

Fall is in full swing with ragweed, fall aster and goldenrod in bloom.  October 25 is the average date of first frost.  The bees are raising the last brood they will until after the winter solstice in late December.  The bees being born now have special larger fat reserves and will live 4 – 6 months or more rather than bees born in the summer, who live for about 45 days.

Our bees are healthy. We have been sucessful in reducing pest loads to low levels and the colony sizes are large. While the queens have been laying less through out the fall, we still have a good quantity of brood. All our hives have 60 -80 pounds or more of honey and bee bread.

To get our bees ready for the cold weather to come, we fed them what we hope is the last syrup on October 4. We also leveled the hives to ensure that they are leaning slightly forward to help condensation drain from the hives. In late December, when the last of the brood hatches out, we will treat again with oxalic acid vaporization to reduce mite levels to the lowest possible levels. 

This coming week, we will remove the hive top feeders, and install inner covers with insulation board on top. Other fall chores that remain include installing mouse excluders on the entrances, and cleaning up the garden around the apiary.

Persistent Pests

For the past three weeks we have been treating our hives for Varroa Mites with Oxalic Acid vaporization.  We have also been using “Swiffer” sheets to entrap and remove small hive beetles that have exploded on population.  For our efforts so far, we have managed to stabilize and make small gains against the Varroa and Small Hive Beetle infestations.  We were hoping for better management of these pests, so we have now pivoted to a strategy that adds additional treatment to our hives.

For small hive beetles, we have deployed additional “Swiffer” strips in each hive and added more “beetle blaster” style traps.

For Varroa, we are going to add Formic Pro strips to hives that have more than 3 mites per 250 bees as determined by alcohol wash assay. 

Lastly, with our help, the bees have managed to put enough resources on the hives to over winter.  We are going to leave the hive top feeders on but not feed for the next week and then decide if we are going to remove them for the season or if we are going to give the bees on last feeding before winter.


During this week’s inspection we discovered an upturn in the number of Pests in our hives. After enjoying very low numbers of Varroa mites all year, we saw that we have reached about a 1% infection rate in two of our hives (our threshold for beginning treatment). We will apply oxallic acid vapor to the hives at 3 day intervals for two weeks and will retest after we are done to measure the effectiveness.

Also on our pest list are small hive beetles. These pests are managed using capture and removal methods including “Beetle Blaster” style vegetable oil traps and sections of “Swiffer” sheets laid on top of the frames. The oil traps work by drowning the beetles in oil. The beetles are chased by the bees into the narrow opening in the top of the trap when they fall into the oil. The Swiffer sheets work by ensnaring the beetles’ legs in the fibers of the swiffer sheets where they are held fast until we remove them.

Spicy Girls

For the past month, the bees have been experiencing a “dearth” of nectar because of a seasonal lack of flowers that accompanies the heat of summer.  All bees during this time become more aggressive and will steal resources from weaker colonies.  To ward off these attacks, bees also become more defensive.  This combination makes the beekeeper’s job more challenging.  To prevent robbing, we need to work more quickly to prevent robbing, and we need to smoke more and move deliberately, to prevent antagonizing the bees.  It can be a delicate balance and no matter what, by the time we are in the last hive doing inspections, there are just a lot of “spicy” bees swirling around the apiary!

This week we continued to feed the bees.  We changed out three jar feeders for three new hive top pan feeders from Mann Lake Beekeeping Supplies, Inc.  These feeders allow us to place more feed at once on the hives and only go out once per week to feed and inspect.  We also reduced hive 2 down to one deep and two medium boxes.  This hive is bulging with bees such that we will likely take some more out and place them in hives 3 and 4 to equalize the numbers of bees in all our hives later in the season.

Preparing for Fall

This week we continue preparing our bees for Fall. Activities include reconfiguring our hives into their winter configuration. We do this by reducing the size of the hives, moving bees and resources from one hive to another to balence their size, feeding the bees sugar syrup and pollen if needed, and treating for pests if need. Our current plan is to work to bring all six through the winter. An old bee keeping adage says “take your losses early” which means it is better to accept that a colony is not strong enough to survive and take the weak colonies resources and use them to strengthen another struggling hive, rather than letting both fail. For all our hives, the queens are all laying well and the numbers of bees in each is good.

Of the six colonies we have, hive #4 (the bees we removed from the church eave) is the weakest. Last week we moved this colony to the apiary and added two frames of brood that was ready to emerge (from Hive #2) and have continued to feed it. We are hoping to see good numbers of bees when whe check next time.

This past week was vacation bible school. We had about 20 childern ranging from pre-K to 3rd grade out at the apiary getting a chance to see adn learn about our bees.

Equalizing Hives

This week we moved hive 4 back to the apiary.  The hive successfully created a new queen after their queen was lost when we cut out the colony from the eve of the church.  To help it build up and be ready for winter we took some resources and brood from hive two and added it to hive 4.  With a laying queen and plenty of resources this hive should thrive.

We entered our summer harvest honey into the judged competition at the Fairfax 4-H fair.  We took first place in our class and are co-champions in the strained honey division.  Congratulations to everyone who helped work the bees and make this award possible.

Splits are back at the Apairy

After spending two weeks acclimating to being a separate colony, our two splits have been returned to the Apiary.  For simplicity and convenience, we have designated them hive 5 and 6.  Hive 5 is the stronger of the two, but both are doing well and should be ready to over winter come fall.

The bees from the cut out have been designated hive 4.  The queen was damaged and did not survive the transfer into the hive.  They have been allowed to create supersedure cells which hatched July 23. We are now awaiting the virgin queen to mate and start laying some time around August 2. If She des not return or start laying, we will probably combine them with the bees from Hive 6.

Cut Out

Some time ago, we noticed that a colony of bees had taken up residence in the soffit of the sanctuary. Yesterday, as part of our irregularly scheduled volunteer property clean up events, we removed the bees from the church and moved them to a remote location in Arlington. We will return them to the church property in our apiary in a couple of weeks.