If you are running your winter hive with just a regular inner cover and outer cover, consider adding a Ruhl Bee Vivaldi Board with burlap inside it as a means to wick up the moisture created by the colony and to add thermal insulation. A good alternative is to place a honey super above the inner cover and place the insulating material, such as burlap, inside it. You won't get the ventilation benefit of the Vivaldi board but you will have room to add more burlap.
Well, after a big hiatus from blogging, we return. We have recently been busy at two Northwest bee conferences, one in Washington State, and the other in Oregon. Both had great speakers over a wide range of topics. Thanks to both the Washington State Beekeepers Association and the Oregon State Beekeepers Association for putting on these richly rewarding events.
On a different topic, those of you who have not done any winter prep for your hives can still do something to help them through winter. With this cool autumn weather, we hate tearing into hives, but you can at least make sure the colony is well protected from driving wind and rain. And make sure the hive is not sitting directly on the ground. You can test the hive weight by lifting the lower box cup handle. If light, either combine it with another colony or feed. In our area, our bees are taking less sugar syrup now, but they will slowly nibble away at a candy board or Drivert sugar.
If you decide to use an entrance reducer for winter, make sure to remove it regularly to clean the bottom board of dead bees. Sometimes the winter attrition can sharply increase after a sudden temperature drop. This can block the entrance on the inside, which can cause serious problems for the colony.
If you find one of your colonies has completely died out, don't leave the boxes out all winter. Clean them thoroughly now and store them in a dry place, ready for more bees next spring.
If you have not treated your hive for varroa mites yet, you can still do it. Eliminating mites at this time of year helps the colony go into winter in the best health. Numerous treatments are available, ranging from completely natural methods to hard chemical treatments. Powdered sugar dusting helps remove phoretic mites but does nothing to brood mites. Apiguard works well and is considered on the "softer" side of the range of mite treatments. Its active ingredient is thymol, which is a component in oil of thyme. Acid based products such as formic acid are very effective but are easily incorrectly applied. Always ventilated the hive well when using this treatment. Systemic miticides such as Apivar are effective, but certainly not for the natural/organic beekeeper. Regardless of the treatment method you prefer, the most important thing is to do it right away.
Yes, bees love the herbal plants, and their general drought tolerance makes them great for summer nectar. Last posting, we talked about borage and lavender. Our bees are still working the borage in the bee garden, and while some of the lavender is finished, other varieties are still yielding nectar.
Mint is another fabulous bee plant. It grows well in the Willamette Valley, and, with a bit of watering, provides good forage well into mid-summer. Our bees are still working the mint hard (upper right), but the forage is starting to decline now.
Another excellent plant for the bee garden is oregano. This time of year, our oregano plants are humming with bees. This herb comes on just a little later than mint in our garden, so it provides forage continuity (lower right).
Keeping a sustained nectar flow after the blackberry flow is not always easy in the Willamette Valley. Another great mid-season forage plant for honeybees is the beautiful blue plant, borage (third right). Plant as much in your bee yard as you can.This Mediterranean herb, along with many others, blossoms comfortably after the blackberry nectar flow, and is a favorite in our bee yards. It is a great addition to any bee garden. And while we are talking about blue blossoms of Mediterranean plants that the bees love, we could hardly skip lavender (fourth right). This Mediterranean herb is a big hit with bees. In fact, in our bee yards, the bumblebees seem to dominate the lavender. You can get varieties that bloom at different times to stretch out the nectar flow. Ask your local nursery about this for your region.
Allium is another plant in our bee garden the bees love to frequent. Like the leek, it is part of the onion genus, and in the third week of July in the Willamette Valley, the bees are still working foraging it. The Allium comes in a wide range of colors and shapes. In our bee garden they look like the image on the right.
Now the Blackberry nectar flow is pretty much behind us, what is left for the bees to forage? We will explore this over the next few weeks. Of course, this is just a feeble excuse to take pictures of bees on flowers, but we just can't help it. Honeybees love leeks. Part of the onion and garlic family,they make a fabulous source of forage if you let them go to seed. In the Willamette Valley, they overlap with the blackberry flow but are still going strong in July when the blackberry flow is in fast decline. As you can see in the image (right), they are a beautiful addition to the garden.
Remember to keep a good source of water near your hives. The less time and energy the bees expend on gathering water, the more time they can spend on gathering nectar. Make sure the water source has a landing are for the bees. They often drown if they land directly on water. A good option is the bird bath. The bowl shape allows the bees to walk down to the water.
Willamette Valley nectar flow is still strong. We could do with a bit more sun to get the bees moving, but this moisture helps the nectar production. It is best to stay out of your hives during the main flow, so the bees can get on with their business uninterrupted. If an inspection is unavoidable, don't linger, and try to minimize the disruption. East of the Cascades, honey production is looking encouraging.
Top-bar beekeepers like the idea of letting the bees build comb cells to the size and location they want, instead of being forced to conform to a starting foundation. If you want to step into top-bar beekeeping, but are hesitating, try foundationless beekeeping. If offers a good bridge between Langstroth and top-bar beekeeping. Like a top-bar hive, the foundationless hive has no foundation, but has a starter strip of wax on the underside of the top bar to guide the bees comb building activity. However, unlike a top-bar hive, it does use a frame. As the bees draw out the comb, they inevitably attach it to parts of the frame, providing great support. The frame also "isolates" the comb from the box, so inspections are not fraught with the tedium and damage-risk of having to cut the top-barcomb away from the box.