This September has been a trying month for beekeepers. We have been inundated with wasps. They will target hives and eat the honey, eggs and larvae. The bees will try to defend themselves but once wasps gain entry they pick up the pheromone within the hive and the bees allow them to come and go at will. A strong colony can usually hold its own against these marauders but the weaker colonies struggle and eventually die out. To help the bees we reduce their hive entrance to one bee space which is 6 to 8 mm. Wasp traps are also useful. Jam in water with a small amount of washing up liquid usually does the job. I know it sounds cruel but the wasps will die out anyway as winter approaches. Not to give wasps a completely bad press they are very good in spring when they eat a lot of aphids, however by autumn they have most definitely outstayed a beekeeper’s welcome.
In autumn the female worker bees will evict the male drone bees. It is quite brutal to see the drones being dragged out of the hive by the workers and not let back in. They will die. They are now a drain on resources and it all becomes about survival of the colony. Any brood that is reared in autumn will be worker brood (female) and will live throughout the winter. As they hardly forage their life span is much longer than summer bees who only live for six weeks. The queen’s rate of lay will now be greatly reduced and the brood nest will be back filled with nectar and pollen.
Ivy will start to bloom towards the end of September and this is the last significant forage for honey bees. The pollen they collect from ivy is vital for sustaining the brood in winter. Ivy nectar has one down side in that it crystallizes very quickly in the comb and sets solid. If the weather doesn’t allow the bees out during the colder months to collect water to break down the ivy honey they can starve. To help the bees we feed them sugar syrup in the autumn before the ivy comes into full bloom.
The weight of a hive should be considerable going into winter. When the hive is hefted and you can barely lift it then you know you have enough stores. There should be about 40 lbs of honey in a hive to take a colony through to spring.
Many beekeepers say that autumn is the start of the beekeeping year. Making sure your hives are well fed, treated for varroa and that the colonies are strong will give you a much better chance of your bees making it through to spring.