September Beekeeping Tips

Here are a few September beekeeping tips:

Fall Honey

In East Texas we can have a short nectar flow in September. How good that nectar flow is depends on whether or not we get some good rainfall. With a little rain your bees will be happily collecting nectar from goldenrod and asters. Add a second deep box for honey storage if you don’t already have a second deep box on your hive. With a really good honey flow, you may need to add a honey super as well.

Should you harvest fall honey? That will depend on how much honey your bees have stored for winter and how much you are willing to supplement their stores with sugar syrup. In Northeast Texas a general rule of thumb is that a strong colony of bees needs a deep brood box filled with honey to make it through the winter or about 40 to 60 pounds. That means one box for brood and bees and one box filled with honey.

Do you smell dirty socks when you open your hive? If so, don’t worry. Your bees have been working goldenrod. Goldenrod makes a strong smelling and tasting honey. Most people don’t like it but your bees will be happy to have it during the winter months. Usually honey harvested in the fall is from a variety of nectar sources but it is generally a darker, stronger honey compared to the sweet, light spring honey. Fall honey is actually my personal favorite.

Winter Bees

September is when your bees begin raising their winter bees. Do the math. Work backwards from the first freeze which, in East Texas, is about November 15th. A worker bee takes 21 days to develop from egg to adult. That means the bees produced in September and October will become your winter bees. Winter bees must be healthy because they have to live for several months instead of the usual six weeks. They are the bees that will rear your new bees in the spring. You want them to be strong and healthy.

One of the most important September beekeeping tips is to test and treat for varroa! If you haven’t already tested and treated for varroa, it’s imperative that you do it now. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have healthy winter bees.

Sampling for varroa

Feed pollen patties to aid bees that will go through the winter. Do not allow unused pollen patties to remain in a hive for longer than a week. Small hive beetles (SHB) love to lay their eggs in them. If you forget to remove an unused pollen patty, you’ll find it filled with SHB larvae. Ugh!

If necessary, supplement your bees with a 2:1 sugar syrup. A higher concentration of sugar in the fall feedings is important because the bees won’t have as long to reduce the water content in their honey before winter sets in. Remember, your hive will need a deep box filled with honey to feed the colony over the winter months. Consider adding a supplement like Honey Bee Healthy or Pro Health to your syrup.

Manipulating Smaller, Weaker Hives:

Some of your hives may be too small to make a large enough cluster to make it through the winter. Consider combining small, healthy hives using the newspaper method. Find and kill queen in the weakest or smallest colony. Put a single sheet of newspaper on top of the top brood box of the strongest colony. Make a few slits in the newspaper with your hive tool. Add the queenless hive to the top of the stronger colony. In about a week the bees will have eaten their way through the newspaper and both colonies will be combined without any fighting. Because you are moving a hive within your apiary the foragers from the weaker hive will return home to find their hive missing. Don’t worry too much about this. They will be assimilated by nearby hives.

It is never a good idea to combine a sick hive with a healthy one. If you have a hive that is suffering, now is the time to put it out of its misery. It most likely won’t survive the winter and, as it collapses, bees from the diseased hive will infect your healthy colonies. Sometimes being a beekeeper means making tough choices.

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