The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Beekeeping Basics

Winter in July?

- July 1, 2019 - Tina Sebestyen - (excerpt)

powdered sugar mite test

We beekeepers breathe a sigh of relief once we make it past swarm and split season. It seems like we can take a little break and not worry about the bees. However, there are still things that need to be taken care of. First, if it is your colony’s first year in a new hive, there are some management issues to take care of. Following the “8 of 10” rule, you may have already added a second or even third hive body, or you may need to do this now. “8 of 10” means that when the bees have finished drawing comb on 8 out of the 10 frames in a hive body, it is time to add another body, whether for the brood chamber or for supers. We don’t add them sooner than this, because the bees will just create a chimney of combs to live in, leaving all of the outer frames completely empty. Also, when adding the new hive body, it is important to help the bees remember to draw out the last two frames in the old one. We do this by moving them in, one space. So, the frames we call #1 and #10, the two outermost frames, get moved to the #2 and #9 positions. This is important, because if these two frames are left empty, it means fewer stores for the bees in winter, and empty foundation doesn’t help with the cold. Full honey frames from wall to wall in a hive body help hold heat absorbed during the day, helping insulate the hive a bit. We are getting ready for winter in July, which is what the bees are doing, too.

Another important winter issue to begin preparing for is the fat bees needed to survive all of that time and have good health and energy for feeding baby bees in spring. Fat bodies in bees are like livers. Fat bodies store extra energy, fat for maintaining warmth, cholesterols needed to feed the brood in spring, and they help with immunity. As we have been hearing lately, our nemesis, Varroa destructor, feeds on these fat bodies located between the segments in the under-arm area of the bees. This is important to us in July because the fat bees will begin to be raised in August in most areas of the U.S., and we must control mites before then. Varroa mites must be under control by mid-August.

If this is your first or second year of beekeeping, you may have had enough to get a grip on with learning to recognize the queen, brood, and stores; and maybe you were a bit intimidated about learning to count for mites. Now is the time. Learn to do this very important beekeeping chore and get some practice. If your first powdered sugar roll yields a zero count so that you take no action, and it is August already, then later you find out you made a mistake in the way you collected bees, it will be too late. Remember, good beekeeping is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Another good reason for doing mite counts is beekeeper experience, which is one of the leading indicators of colony survival. Handling your bees helps you gain experience, which helps the bees survive.

All of the experts tell us that the alcohol wash is the most accurate method of counting for mites, but most of us back-yarders hate to kill 300 bees, so most of us just do the powdered sugar roll. I will take you through it step-by-step. First, gather ….