Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Feeding... I Hope It's Not Too Late

The seasons are definitely changing- the nights are chilly, leaves are covering the lawn, and I frequently have to scrape frost off the windshield in the morning.  It has snowed a few times up in the Bighorn and Pryor mountains, but we have stayed snow free so far down here in the valley.  In fact, my son and I were up in the Pryors a couple of days ago cutting our last load of wood for the winter as the snow was falling.  It has been a beautiful fall, though.  Without a real hard frost yet the leaves have all had a chance to turn and fall on their own.  It seems like so often we get a cold spell in October that freezes the leaves before they have a chance to turn on their own.

The bees have been getting less and less active as the temps have gotten cooler.  I'm sure they are clustering at night but do get out and about as the days warm up- we have been getting up into the 50's and 60's still here in town. 

We are down to one hive going in to the winter.  Virginia ended up with laying workers toward the end of the summer and finally died out.  Georgia recovered nicely from her swarm last spring and has been healthy and strong coming in to fall.

Last year we extracted honey at the first of September and then tried to feed sugar syrup to prepare the hives for winter, but the bees ignored the sugar syrup completely- I couldn't get them to take any of it.  There must have been plenty of nectar coming in during September and October because they had plenty of stores to get them through the winter.  So this fall I figured they would have enough and didn't try feeding them.  A while a go I hefted Georgia's hive and found that it was incredibly light.  I don't know what the difference is between this year and last, but it appears that there must not have been much of a fall nectar flow this year.

Last week I prepared 2 gallons of sugar syrup mixed 1 1/2 parts sugar to 1 part water.  I also added a little bit of Honey B Healthy.  Honey B Healthy contains some essential oils that are supposed to help honeybees remain healthy and strong.  I don't know if it really helps or not, but I have a bottle of it and figure it probably doesn't hurt.  According to all the books I have seen, sugar syrup for fall feeding should be mixed in a 2:1 ratio, but I have not had much luck keeping that in solution- it keeps crystallizing on me.  I bet the bees don't really care what the concentration is.  Anyway, it took the bees just a couple of days to consume the first two gallons.  I prepared a second batch a couple of days ago.  Here is a photo of the bees in the feeder.
Sorry the bees do not show up very clearly.  (You can see our leftover tomato plants in the background- time to get those cleaned up.)  When I first got the feeder the bees' feet couldn't cling to the smooth surface of the plastic guard and bees drowned in the syrup by the dozens.  I took a wire brush and scuffed up the inside of the guard creating tiny little grooves that the bees' feet could catch.  Now very few bees drown, but it doesn't make for great pictures of bees feeding on the syrup.

I don't know how long it will be before it gets too cold and the bees stop taking the syrup, but I will feed them as long as they do.  I hope they can get enough stored up to make it through the winter.  I am already planning on supplemental feeding in the late winter/early spring.

This winter we will be ordering a replacement colony to take Virginia's place.  I hope to get a Russian queen and compare them with the Italian mutts living in Georgia.  I don't know what we will name the new colony of Russian honeybees.  Maybe a nice Russian name like Sasha or Svetlana.  Any suggestions?

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