September is the time of year when we really start focusing on making sure the hives are ready for winter. Here are some of the things we have been working on!
September is when we remove honey supers for the final time this season. This batch of honey tends to be a darker, sometimes mahogany color. We don’t get a lot of it, but it is nice to have some for our customers who prefer a darker honey.
However, we need to be careful not to remove too much honey from each hive. The bees will need sufficient honey stores to make it through the winter ahead. So, we went through and removed the top one or two honey supers from each hive that produced honey this year. We then sort the frames. Any that are not capped, or are partially capped, we will put back on any hives that seem to be “light” on honey. The frames that are completely capped we will extract for ourselves.
You may now be asking, how do you know if a hive seems light on honey? There are a few ways.
The first is to visually take a peek — does the hive body below the supers you removed have capped honey? That’s a good sign. We like to overwinter our hives with at least 1 deep and 2 medium boxes, or the equivalent.
The second is to check the weight of the hive by gently lifting the back of the hive so it “hinges”. My husband is pretty good at estimating the weight of the hive this way. We like to have about 100 pounds. of honey left on each hive. My general rule of thumb is that if I can’t lift the hive, they are in great shape. If I can lift it with difficulty, they probably have enough, but I should keep an eye on them and possibly feed them. If I can lift a hive easily, they definitely do not have enough food, and I should feed and add frames of honey instead of extracting it. Again, this is based on my strength, but it seems to work well.
It isn’t a good idea to store honey supers when they are still wet with traces of honey left over from extracting. his can lead to moldy frames come spring. Here is how we store our honey supers.
After we have extracted the honey, we place the super of empty combs above the inner cover of a hive, with the outer cover on top. We leave it there for one full day, and then remove it. The bees in the hive clean out the cells, and we are left with nice dry frames.
It is important not to leave the super over the inner cover for too long, as they may begin to store honey it in! We then take the super of dry frames, and put it in a large, sealed garbage bag. We freeze it for at least 24 hours, and then stack it in our honey house for the winter. We have never had a problem with moldy frames using this method!
One word of caution: When removing supers or checking hives this time of year, it is important to not do anything to encourage robbing. Hives should not be kept open any longer than necessary. As you remove honey supers, it is important to keep them covered – both tops and bottoms.
It is also not a bad idea to reduce the entrances of all of the hives in the beeyard when working on them in the fall – again, it helps to discourage robbing. If robbing does begin, it is important to take steps to put a stop to it quickly. My previous post, Honeybees and Robbing, has some tips on how to prevent, and put a stop to, robbing.
Finally, this is a good time to check on the supplies you will need for winterizing your hives. Make sure you have enough functional mouse guards – mice can wreck havoc on an unprotected hive. If you wrap your hives, it is a good idea to make sure you have everything you need ahead of time, especially if you have added hives this year!
Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York. Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at www.BeesOfTheWoods.com or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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