Honey Bees know that winter is coming and I see them all over my flowers that are blooming now in my gardens. Yes, I still have plants blooming for my bees. You can see what plants would still be blooming in many of my earlier blogs.
The Honey Bee actually starts preparing for winter immediately after the Summer Solstice. On June 21st the days begin to get shorter at the rate of approx. a minute a day. Bees are very sensitive to sunlight and length of days and is very aware that the days are getting shorter and shorter. Prior to the Summer Solstice, the bees are happily gathering the abundance of nectar that mother earth provides for them in the form of nectar from flowering trees and plants. The Honey Bee's source of nectar is greatly acquired from flowering trees. So when there is no more nectar from the trees, they begin to look for other sources. If there are no other sources available, it is referred to as "Summer Dearth" and the bees must live on the honey stores from the spring.
At times, there will be Honey Bees that do not have any spring stores of honey. This may be because there was too much or too little rain in the spring, and the nectar sources were not available, or more times it is because a beekeeper took too much of the honey stores and did not leave ample amounts for the bees to live on.
This is a sad situation that could be detrimental to the hive.
If only the beekeeper were more aware of what the honey bee needed and not just looking at what they could harvest. Some honey bee hives starve due to lack of food supply. A beekeeper that is concerned about the welfare of their bees would always leave enough honey for the bees to survive. Some years that may mean, taking NO honey at all!!
If there is a good nectar flow in Spring, I take a little honey in July.
But I do not take any from that point on, all the nectar and honey that they gather is for the bees to survive winter. Even the amount of honey that I might take, I sometimes wonder if I should have left it for them because you never know what year might be a lean year for honey production.
I am blessed to live in an area that has quite a bit of nectar & pollen forage in the spring and then again in the fall. There is only a small amount of commercial agriculture and a lot of hard wood forest that surrounds my property for miles. This provides nectar from trees such as Tulip Poplar, Sour wood and Basswood. In the fall it is not usual to see Golden Rod starting to bloom at the end of July or early August, with many different types of Aster blooming late into October. In between the Spring and Fall months, I supplement my bees with many different annuals and perennials to keep them busy and keep the hives full of the nectar and pollen to assist in their survival.
So if you grow or have this type of forage growing within 2-3 miles of your bees, the need to feed your bees is much less. The bees do best with nectar and pollen that they have gathered, rather that a substitution of sugar syrup or pollen patties. A hive that has foraged all Spring, Summer & Fall is already ahead of the game in preparing for winter. It is difficult to prepare an already wimpy bee hive for winter. One fed sugar syrup all summer is not as healthy. So much depends on food!!
I also make sure that there is a mouse guard on the hive. This can either be the wooden one that reduces the entrance to about 1/2 a inch or a metal guard.
Some people in colder climates will wrap the hives with an insulation. This can be done many different ways. Their are specific wraps made for bee hives that fit over top of the hive and secure with bungee cords or you can make your own wrap with Insulfoam that can be purchased at a big box store. These need to be cut to fit the hive and still leave the entrance open. I attach mine with duct tape and cut the tape off each spring, making it usable the next winter.
Closing up the bottom of the hive with a screened bottom board is also necessary. Cold winds coming up from the bottom of the hive will force the cluster to eat more of the honey stores. I use an IPMs board and slide it into slots made under the screened bottom board. This also still allows air circulation thru the hive and discourages condensation. The temperature in the cluster and the cold winds of winter can cause water to form at the top of the hive. Cold water that drips on your bees will kill them. A good air flow will prevent the condensation from happening.
Once all these steps are complete, your bees are ready to brave the winter. These creatures are made to withstand these temps, but because we are beekeepers, a little help to keep them warm through the winter can assure you of a healthy hive when the Spring flowers come around again.