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Jobs for the Month  

  • Estimate winter food stores by weighing /  hefting hives and/or inspecting each frame.
  • Top up the stores to at least 20kg by feeding heavy syrup (2:1 mix sugar to water).
  • Be alert to wasp activity in and around your hives – reduce entrances and set up traps – and to robbing by other colonies.
  • Monitor for varroa and treat as appropriate. Monitor again after treatment to ensure it has been successful.
  • Unite small colonies or ensure that the hive or nuc is well-insulated
  • If leaving a super on, remove the queen excluder towards the end of the month.
  • Remain alert for the presence of Asian hornets, either hawking around your hives or feeding on ivy or fallen fruit. Use sweet baits in any traps and monitor daily.

**Check out the Tip of the Month**

Suggested frequency of visits – weekly

September is the month when the beekeeping year really begins – the honey crop has been removed and our actions now will determine how well our colonies will fare in the winter months ahead.

This month we need to focus on the amount of stores in the hives and whether our colonies are big enough and healthy enough to overwinter successfully. It’s time to perhaps unite small colonies, treat for varroa and to start autumn feeding if we find colonies are light on stores. If you do decide to treat for varroa, you must keep records for at least five years. A record card can be downloaded from BeeBase.

Bees will still be bringing in stores of nectar and pollen from phacelia, rosebay willowherb, bramble, Himalayan balsam and ivy, and these they will keep for the winter. Wasps may well be becoming a nuisance in the apiary, trying to sneak into the hives to get at the colonies hard-won stores and (in a strong hive) being rebuffed by the guard bees. Consider reducing hive entrances and put foam strips in the gaps between varroa floor and brood box. Be mindful that wasps can wipe out a small colony in a matter of days. This is also the peak time for Asian hornet activity so stay alert for them hawking around your hives or feeding on ivy and fallen fruit.

Now that you have taken your last honey crop you will need to make sure that your colonies are sufficiently well-provisioned to get through the winter. Each full-sized colony will need around 20kg (44lbs) of stores as a minimum (more if the winter is mild). Consider leaving each hive with a full super of honey and always do a visual inspections of each hive to be sure that there are good stores in the brood box.  You may also want to rearrange frames of stores to ensure optimum accessibility then use the weight of the hive as guide as the season progresses.

How do we measure the weight of a hive? Various scales and spring balances can be used but an easier, if less scientific way, is to lift one side of the hive about half an inch. This is known as hefting.. If it feels so heavy you have trouble (or can’t) lift it, then the stores are likely to be adequate. For autumn feeding, use a syrup made up to the ratio of 2:1, sugar to water. Use white granulated sugar dissolved into hot water and allow it to cool before putting it on the hive – never heat the syrup nor give them hot syrup. There are a variety of feeders available – contact feeders (bucket feeders), rapid feeders (these have a central, covered, cone-shaped access) or large capacity feeders such as Miller or Ashworth. Consider how you are going to refill the feeders in the future (should the need arise) without disturbing the bees too much. Feed early in the month to give the bees time to process the syrup sufficiently; too diluted and the syrup will ferment, causing dysentery amongst the colony.

When feeding take care not to promote robbing in your apiary. Don’t spill any syrup, check that the box surrounding the feeder has no gaps which could allow wasps or robber bees to enter, and feed only in the evenings. If you haven’t already done so, reduce entrances and set up wasp traps.

Small colonies – of 5 frames of brood or fewer – have difficulty maintaining an adequate temperature in the cluster during the colder months and so have a lower chance of survival than larger ones. If you do decide to overwinter them you will need to give them extra protection, perhaps in a polystyrene nucleus box or by adding extra insulation around the sides of the hive. Don’t forget that heat rises and so the roof will also want some insulation as well.

You may also wish to consider uniting small colonies. This provides an opportunity to help to ensure your best queens make it through the cold winter months as the stronger the colony, the more the bees can control temperature within the hive. You will find tips on how to unite colonies in beekeeping books and magazines, online. Why not just ask a fellow beekeeper?