Almost every seminar or meeting I attend has in the program “Spring Management” but I have never seen an article or presentation on “Fall Management”. While I have to agree that spring management is important, get it wrong and all you will lose is a honey crop, get fall management wrong and there is a good chance the hive will die over the winter. So I think “Fall Management” is a vital phase of beekeeping, late in the year often overlooked in the rush to take in the honey crop, this article will deal with our methods during the late summer and early fall to ensure early successful preparations for wintering.
Now is the perfect time to install new queens, this would be the first job in preparing for winter. Late summer might be an awkward time due to the size of the hives and the sheer volume of bees, but it can be done. We always recommend a two-year cycle for queen replacement, at which time queens are getting old and worn out. You are putting a young, strong queen into the winter with more chance of success, which will produce a much bigger hive in the early spring, ultimately leading to a bigger honey crop next year. Setting the hive off to one side, place a new floor and empty box on the stand and replace the frames one by one until you find the queen. Nip her hard between thumb and finger, then drop her back into the hive. This will let the bees know they are queenless, then 24 hours later add the new queen.
A major problem
with winter preparations is the late honey flow, the supers have been removed, and the hive is reduced to the minimum box configuration ready for winter. At the same time, the beekeeper will feed vast amounts of sugar syrup without checking if it’s needed, filling all available empty cells with stores. A late honey flow is also possible during an Indian Summer or even just a warm fall, left to their own devices the bees will fill the brood area with honey, cutting down on the brood area available. There is always a danger of robbing and bees will not hesitate to rob out weak hives, creating a mess of other problems, apart from clogging the brood area with honey.
This sounds like a good idea lots of stores for winter, but will lead to a loss of brood area, in practice it will drastically reduce the volume of young bees going into winter, this in effect forces the hive to winter older bees, reducing the population of young bees which will be necessary to feed brood early in the spring. So it is not a good idea to remove supers too early, better to leave one in place till, after the first frost, the bees will prefer to move stores upwards rather than fill any brood space with permanent honey.
This then is the recipe for disaster.
An ‘old’ hive going into winter with bees which will die off in great numbers, very few if any, young bees capable of feeding any replacement bees, finally a declining population, incapable, due to lack of numbers, to keep the cluster warm enough to prevent super chill and the hive death in the depth of winter.
What can be done?
Our fall management starts late summer and with the above steps is designed to ‘keep the centre open’. If on examination there is excess pollen clogging those centre frames, then they should be removed and replaced with empty drawn comb. Some hives will gather excessive amounts of pollen far in excess of their normal requirement stored in the bottom box, this in effect stops the queen from moving down into the bottom box preventing the ideal position for the brood area going into winter. It is worth wasting a few full frames from the centre of the brood area, replacing them with empties, rather than putting a ‘clogged’ hive into winter and possible a ‘dead out’. ‘Keep the centre open’ is a good mantra, to be adhered to year round.
We have used a 3 deep brood box method of beekeeping for approx 15 years and while it sounds expensive on equipment, it has other savings worth much more than a brood box. We haven’t had to feed sugar to our bees since the change over to 3 boxes, a massive saving on cost and time. It is now 12 years since our last swarm, and our honey crop each year is staggering, average last year of 215 lbs, and apart from putting three old queens into winter last year, which we shouldn’t have done but wanted to save their genetics, we haven’t lost a hive to winter kill for the last 19 years. I believe our record speaks for it’s self, our methods do work and we would recommend ‘Fall Management’ as a way to go.
The best advice we can offer. Move to 3 box brood nests, practice regular queen replacement, use frame manipulation to help the bees, and finally keep an open brood area to maintain big hives.