December is a good month to look back over the past year and see if our beekeeping objectives were met. How did your bees do? Did you try something new? Did you incorporate a new piece of equipment? Did you get any harvestable surplus or were harvest expectations exceeded? Now is a good time to reflect on the year 2021.
Many beekeepers will plan on doing an oxalic acid treatment sometime this month. Both oxalic and Hopguard 3 acid treatments are designed to kill mites on the adult bees. Except for the deep south, colonies are “resting” from brood rearing this month, providing a treatment “window” while brood rearing has ceased or is drastically curtailed. Brood rearing will resume following the winter solstice (Dec 21), initially at low level.
Oxalic acid use requires expensive PPE — personal protective equipment. You should be using long pants and sleeves, eye protection, respirator with cartridges for organic acid, and gloves when doing a vaporization treatment. Use eye protection and gloves if mixing oxalic into sugar syrup for a dribble treatment. Hopguard use needs gloves and long sleeves.
Treatments might not work as well if the bees are in a tight cluster. Bees cluster as the temperature drops below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). As temperatures lower, the cluster formation becomes tighter and tighter. Oxalic acid dribbled onto a tight cluster may largely run off or at best only expose the clustering bees of the shell to the acid. For this reason, many prefer to use oxalic acid vaporization (OAV) for a December treatment.
Studies are underway to determine if the recommended one gram per box is the best rate. Studies in Florida indicated 4 gms of acid might work better. Oregon State University has a series of studies looking at rate and treatment frequency. It may be that 2 gms per box will statistically do as well as 4 gms while giving improved mite drop over 1 gm/box. Stay tuned for results.
If you use oxalic, vaporization or dribble, you should follow the label directions for proper amounts to use. Follow the evaporation device manufacturer’s recommendation on frequency of use. If after application there are crystals left in the applicator dish or a liquid has formed in the dish you likely did not get an adequate application. Check your battery to be sure it is heating the applicator wand to the proper temperature to turn the crystals into the gaseous form.
Oxalic is a good tool for mite control this month. It will help “clean” the adult bees of mites for next spring so colonies can begin to raise new adult replacements for the aging adult population and expand. Colonies also obviously need enough honey for whatever the winter weather is where you overwinter.
Is your colony at a less than ideal location in your yard or apiary? Maybe a swarm you captured and left in the box at the site has now grown into a full-sized colony? Or the bee flight path interfered with your yard/garden work or with a neighbor? Or you just need to reorganize where things are in your yard/apiary? December is a good time to rearrange the siting of colonies.
You can move your bees from one location to another when the weather forecast is for sustained cooler weather. You do not need follow the “three feet or three miles” rule. Bees probably never made that rule anyway. What you do not want to do is have adult bees from the cluster fall to the bottom board and then become too chilled to regroup as a cluster.
Prepare the new site, then move the colony/colonies near end of day on a day when there has been some light foraging (temperatures are in 50s) with forecast for cooler overnight. Try to be gentle in transport — wear a veil as you might get some bees out to investigate the disturbance.
If the forecast is for the weather to warm, put an evergreen branch so it drapes over the entrance — this will provide a new and different landmark clue for established foragers to reorient on exiting their hive. Orient the new entrance 15 degrees or more from current position if possible. This reorientation of the entrance and the overhanging flight obstruction will alert exiting bees that something is different, leading to their reorientation. (This convention will also work well when moving bees during the active season).
Once moved do not disturb the colony for the next few days. Look at the entrance and if warm enough check to confirm they are adapting. Also check to see if they have found a pollen source. New pollen will promote new brood rearing.
Bees on the snow
If you see dead/dying bees on snow in December, or other winter months, do not fret. These are bees that needed to exit due to accumulated wastes in the rectum of the hind gut. They were warm enough to fly but then they got chilled and were unable to return. You will spot most of them within the first 100 yards or so from the entrance.
If you have landscaping cloth or other surface in front of your colony, you will likely see accumulating bee bodies. Ants, flies and yellow jackets, along with other scavengers, have disappeared and so you may observe more dead bee bodies. Dead bees are normal — we just usually don’t see them during the year due to scavengers. Even if seemingly plentiful, this is not a sign of a pesticide kill.
December is a good time to check on your wax moth foiling management. A good system is to put frames, especially frames that have had any brood reared in comb cells, into a freezer to kill any wax moth eggs. Once the freezer reaches freezing temperatures (below 5 degrees F), leave the frames at least 2 hours. It is OK to leave longer — a day or a month if you have the freezer space (or only a few frames to protect). Then you can bag them or put in a plastic tote or some enclosed space. It is a good idea to look them over in December to be sure you are not accidentally rearing moths.
It is important to store dry frames — wet ones may mold on you. You can vent your stacks using a fine mesh hardware cloth taped into the plastic bags with mesh fine enough to not allow adult moth entry. Only frames that have had brood reared in them are attractive to wax moths. Super frames only used for honey can be stored to ensure light and air circulation, if you have adequate storage space. If storing wet extracted frames, you might check this month to be sure ants or roaches or mice have not entered the comb storage.
An alternative is to use wax moth chemical PDB, Paradichlorobenzene. This works well if you have dedicated space for storage of equipment in a barn, shed, garage or similar site that you will not be using on a frequent basis and which Is unheated. Stack supers 4-6 high on a closed bottom. Put the crystals (use gloves) on a piece of newspaper on top of stack (don’t permit crystals to contact frame tops directly) and then close stack. Secure any holes.
You need do this only once, unless living in the south where wax moth pressure is considerably higher. If the crystals evaporate in a month or less, and the temperature of the storage area is above 50 degrees, you may need to replenish the crystals.
Be sure to use PDB, not a similar pesticide material naphthalene (sold as moth balls). While it will also kill moths, it is absorbed into the beeswax and can subsequently kill honey bees. It is a good practice to air out ….