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Fall And Winter Management FAQ

  1. Why do I need to feed pollen substitute patties to my bees in September?  Pollen is much needed protein for the bees. In September there is typically a dearth from the time when Snow on the Mountain/Prairie stops blooming until the beginning of October when Asters, Ragweed and Broomweed are in full bloom. 
  2. Can I use dry pollen substitute instead of patties in SeptemberWe do not recommend this. The bees desperately need protein (pollen or pollen substitute) at this time of year.  Putting the patty inside the hive assures us that the bees will benefit from it by eating it, and we need them to eat protein in the fall. In winter months, we do recommend dry pollen substitute but not as part of Winter Prep in September. 
  3. Where do I put the patty? It is placed in the busiest part of the hive – typically in the bottom brood box on top of the frames right in the middle of the most activity. An interesting fact: the bees generally do not eat the pollen patty because they like it or need it. They eat it because it is in their way and they want it cleaned out! We beekeepers take advantage of their passion for cleanliness and trick them into eating what they need to raise fat baby bees to survive the winter! 
  4. Why is pollen, or protein, so important? First, bees only store pollen brought in from outside their hives. They will eat protein/pollen patties placed inside their hives rather than storing the patty in cells. Thus, by “force-feeding” them with the patties, we are making them fatten up and boosting their internal systems to a healthier state to get ready for winter. Secondly, baby bees born in the fall will be the bees to last the entire winter. The adult bees present in the hive in the fall will die before winter sets in. The hive must raise high quality bees in the fall in order for them to live months, rather than weeks, as spring and summer bees do. An excellent diet – full of protein – is needed for this to occur. Thirdly, protein raises the amount and quality of royal jelly being produced. This will do at least 2 important things: 1) it will make better quality babies, and 2) it will stimulate the queen to lay more eggs, thus upping your hive’s capacity to rear brood in the fall when this process typically slows down.
  5. Should I be feeding my bees sugar syrup in September? Yes. Absolutely. September is a crucial month for heavy feeding – both syrup and pollen substitute should always be available to your bees this month.
  6. I’ve heard different ratios for sugar syrup. What do you recommend? We suggest 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. The bees can easily store this syrup ratio instantly rather than expending time and effort evaporating a 1:1 ratio down to the 2:1 ratio they like to store.
  7. What’s ProHealth and why do I need it? ProHealth is an essential oil blend that is having some amazing effects on the health of bees. It is composed of lemongrass and spearmint oils and designed to blend well with your syrup. It guards against Nosema, protects bees against at least 8 different viruses transmitted from varroa mites to bees, boosts the bees’ immune systems, stimulates their feeding habits and helps inhibit fermentation of sugar syrup. It is very important to add to your syrup as you prep your bees for winter. 
  8. Someone told me to switch from an external (Boardman) feeder to an internal one in the fall. Why? This is correct. Robbing gets to be a big problem in the fall. We don’t want our bees’ food stores to be robbed, nor do we want them spending too much of their energy and time defending their hive when they need to be raising healthy babies and storing the last bit of pollen and nectar they will need to live through the winter. We use internal division board feeders in the fall. To do this, simply remove the least filled frame from your bottom box and replace it with a feeder. Put the feeder in the middle of the most activity. Put the frame outside the hive for the bees to rob or place it in the second box of your hive. Do not remove a frame filled with brood. Choose one that is full of honey instead.
  9. How much honey do my bees need to live through the winter? The general rule is this: ignore the bottom brood box stores and make sure a medium super is completely full of honey or if you have a deep box as a super, it is 2/3 full. 
  10. Should I add my entrance reducer to my hive in September? No. It is still too warm for them to have their entrance blocked. Wait until it cools down significantly, like in November, then add it.
  11. When do I take my queen excluder off? September. The bees will cluster together to stay warm at night as it cools down. If the bees cluster in your top box and the excluder is still in your hive, the queen cannot get to the bees and may die due to lack of warmth.
  12. How many boxes should be on my hives for the winter? We recommend 2. The bottom box is the brood chamber and the second box holds the stores of food for the winter. Never leave empty boxes on your hive for the winter. Only keep the ones that are full of bees on your hive. 
  13. I treated for mites in July. Is that all I do about mites until Spring? It would be great if you could re-test for mites in September to see if your mite levels have dropped. Hopefully, there won’t be any mites present, but if you still have them, re-treat this month. Many people lose their hives to mites over the winter because they didn’t recheck them and retreat in September.
  14. I extracted honey from my supers. Now what do I do with those frames that I didn’t put back in the hive to keep them from getting wax moths? Store them in a freezer or put them in a trash bag with some Para Moth crystals.
  15. Should I block all wind from getting to my hive for the winter months? Yes, preferably in November. This is tricky because many people recommend putting the drawer back in the varroa screened bottom board to accomplish this. This works except mites now have the ability to reattach to your bees once they fall off, whereas if the screen is still open, they fall to the ground and die. But, most mites may die anyway when they fall off your bees, so it’s a toss up. You can block the wind from getting under your hive in any variety of effective ways while leaving your screened bottom board open. Hay bales, temporary boards around the bottom of the hive and dozens of other creative ways exist to block wind. You can also put your entrance reducer on to block wind from the hive opening, but never completely block the hive opening. 
  16. Does the queen keep laying all winter? No. In the fall, she is typically down to keeping 4 frames filled with brood compared to her maximum laying days when she can keep 8 frames filled. The colder it gets, the less she will lay until she basically stops for the winter.
  17. Can I join 2 weak hives to make 1 strong one for overwintering? Yes. Please do! Joining hives in late September or early October is optimal. What you have in your hives as far as the number of bees and food stores in October is what you will have for the winter. Nothing significant will be added after this. So, if you have 2 weak hives, joining them gives them the best chance of survival.
  18. I need to requeen. Can I do this in the fall? Yes, but it does come with risks. If you must requeen, know that abundant, over-the-top feeding of syrup and pollen substitute to your bees about 1 week before and 2 weeks after requeening will increase the odds of your hive accepting a new queen in the fall. 
  19. If we have a hot November, can I keep heavily feeding my bees then? Yes. And in Texas, that is entirely possible! 
  20. Do bees ever freeze to death in the winter? Yes, if the hive is weak. Strong hives should not have a problem with this regardless of the temperature. Remember that bees in Canada survive the winter every year! The key is developing a strong hive in the fall.