It gets wet, cold, and windy here in the winter. We can have these weather conditions in combination, in pairs, or singularly. I always hope for calm, clear, cold winter days, but this is the northwest corner of Washington and we are known for rain and snow. I usually do not see my bees for 6 months: from mid-October to mid-March. If a warm spell hits in February, I might get a look at the top bars. If a cold/wet spell hits I may not see the girls until April. So winter preparation is important to me.
A bit of background: I have dark bees. About 70% of them are “Whatcom bees” : bees from open mated queens. Those queens may have started as Russians, Russian X Survivor Stock, New World
Carniolan, Caucasian, or some of my long lines of “Whatcom queens” who have provided local stock at the farm for years. (“Whatcom” is simply the name of the county in which I live.) Whatever their background the hives that have been with me more than a year are dark bees, who are sparing with their stores. They need to be frugal. Remember, there is no forage here for 6 months of the year.
Pre-note: I prep the hives for winter starting in the third week of September (following harvest in the second week). I just don’t have time to write it all up then, thus what follows occurred from Mid-September to Mid-October.
I try to leave 50 to 70 pounds of honey on the hives. Sometimes the smaller hives do not have that, so they are provided with harvested honey from stronger hives.
I also feed cane syrup with essential oils. Each hive, regardless of size, gets about three-quarters of a gallon (US of course) of syrup for three weeks following the honey harvest. I’ve used the same basic recipe for years, which I covered in a previous post It has lemon grass, spearmint, thymol, and this year tea tree oil. I replaced ½ of the Spearmint with Tea Tree oil after reading many postings about this being beneficial (One of this year’s experiments).
One year I did not feed the essential oils to a number of hives, and it could be coincidence and not causation, but all of those hives died in the winter. So, I feed essential oils.
Until last year I used the Dowda Method, aka powdered sugar dusted over the top bars once a week for 3-4 weeks, but over time it had less and less affect on the mite count.
Last year I tried Formic Acid in the form of Mite Away quick strips. They worked well, in my view, at least I had fewer winter loses to mites. However, I come from raising four-legged livestock, and in that world one never uses the same insecticide twice (be it natural or not). This is to reduce the build-up of resistance to the insecticide – yes it’s natural, but formic acid is still an insecticide if it’s killing insects.
This year I used Apiguard, but not on top of the hive. This is a thymol-based product. It’s cold here by September/October, so I chose to follow Randy Oliver’s suggestion (scientificbeekeeping.com) of cutting the prescribed dose in half and placing it inside the hive between, or on top of, the brood boxes (some hives have 2 brood boxes, some have only one). The bees cleaned it all up, and we shall see in the spring how that product works.
There are two drags about Apiguard as compared to Mite Away Quick Strips.
1) You have to apply the Apiguard twice, ten days apart. I hate opening hives; it’s so disruptive. Mite Away is a one-time deal.
2) You’ve got to measure the product if you buy in bulk.
OK, I read some forum post that said “it’s not rocket science, just get a feel for it”, but I’m obsessive, and if a manufacturer and a researcher say a strong hive should have a certain amount, I’m going to believe them and measure it out. I also did this wearing nitrilegloves, and a painter’s mask (not a respirator). If you have ever worked with essential oils in feed or making soap, or any other purpose, you know this stuff can hurt you inside and out if you are not careful.
Again the larger hives got one-half the dose (25g) on top of the brood box. Smaller hives got 12g, and the tiny nucs got 7g. Measuring also allows me to see what those doses do. I do recommend measuring things if one can.
Ten days after the second application, I removed the cards. One small hive did not clean all their Apiguard. The rest of the hives cleaned it up. Some proceeded to start propolising and removing their card.
I’ll see come spring if I’ve left enough food and if the Apiguard works. It’s raining now with snow predicted soon. I’ll not be opening the hives for a good while.
Next post I’ll go on about the physical preparations I do to the hives to get them ready for the coming winter at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.
How much honey do you leave on your hives? And if you use essential oils, what do you use? Do share. Beekeeping is a constant learning experience.