September – the seventh month of the Roman calendar. The Anglo-Saxons called it the gerst-monath or barley month.
“Best I love September’s yellow Morns of Dew strung gossamer, Thoughtful days without a stir; rooky clamours, brazen leaves, stubble dotted o’er with sheaves – more than Spring’s bright uncontrol suit the autumn of my soul.” Alex Smith
What a year! I have taken off whatever honey there was- there wasn’t much to take. The bees got so few opportunities to work – when they did get a fine day or may be two, they used up what they had stored t in the next week of bad weather. I actually found one hive close to starvation with no honey stores at all and had to feed them immediately. I found three colonies with no queen and have united them with a neighbouring colony. I used two sheets of newspaper with pin pricks in them and the amalgamations have gone well.
Having removed the honey I am feeding a mix of sugar and water in the ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. It is helpful to spill a little syrup over the feed hole so the bees find the sugar more quickly but be careful not to let any drip outside the hive in case you start a robbing spree. The weather in August and September is generally warm and this helps the bees to draw down the syrup and store it.
There are different types of feeder. I tend to use a bucket feeder but also use a box type feeder which has access to syrup at one end. These latter hold more syrup and are the best type for a strong colony because of their capacity.
It is good to get feeding done by the end of September while temperatures are reasonable. The bees need to reduce the water content of the mixture to the consistency of honey. Therefore the sooner they get the sugar syrup after the removal of the honey crop the better chance they have of making it ready for storing. I plan to give one feed to most of the colonies – this plus what honey they have and hopefully, a top up from ivy in late September and October should ensure they have adequate stores for the winter months.
I am now sorting through empty frames and deciding which ones to keep and which to destroy. It is a good question whether we should reuse old frames at all. Is it worth it? Old, dark comb can harbour disease. Also as the cells are constantly cleaned and disinfected with propolis by young bees, the brood cells narrow giving rise smaller bees. Research shows that replacing over 50% of the brood frames annually reduces winter losses. In Denmark they persuaded all the beekeepers to replace 100% of frames each year and reduced the foul brood outbreaks completely.
It is probably best to melt the old combs and sell the wax for fresh foundation. I have a solar wax extractor that works well, when and if, the sun appears in the apiary.
Tim Rowe the creator of the Rose Hive, is in no doubt about what we should do with old frames! He suggests that, ‘one of our most important jobs as beekeepers is to throw our old comb so the whole hive stays clean. We have to do this because when we moved bees into hives we interfered with the bees’ relationship with wax moths. Wax moths get very bad press which is a shame because they been an essential part of the honey bee story for millions of years; without them honey bees would have died out long ago because wax moths are one of the very few animals that can digest wax. In their real home – hollow trees – bees build new comb every year and then deliberately abandon old comb…along come the wax-moth caterpillars, like a team of demolishers and told the old, dirty, diseases comb away. The bees have a clean empty space to build in next year. ..In the hive, however there is simply is not the room for bees to do this. They are forced to use old combs riddles with bacteria and moulds – no wonder colonies get sick. The answer is simple – act like a wax-moth and remove old comb, giving the bees room to build new clean comb.
The question of reusing super frames doesn’t arise for me as I do cut comb which means I use fresh wax each year. If you are extracting, honey gets left in frames so they end up getting heavier and less easy to extract. Again it is probably best to change these frames more frequently then we do especially frames that contain pollen.
Brood chambers and supers can be treated with 80% acetic acid glacial to kill off nosema spores – scrape off propolis and wax before treatment at the ascetic acid cannot penetrate them. You can buy acetic acid glacial from any of the chemical supply companies. I got some from MacEoin’s bee supplies in West Cork.
I am reflecting on the effectiveness of the various hive types that I use. I have National, Commercial, Langstroth both polystyrene and wood, and Rose Hives.
There is no doubt that the polystyrene hives build up faster in the Spring than their wooden counterparts. My experience is that they build up too quickly and swarm unless they are split. The wooden hives on the other hand, seem to be more in tune with the weather and build up gradually and are ready for the flow. The best performing hive this year was the Rose hive – for those not familiar with this type of hive all the boxes are the same size and interchangeable. The fact that it was the best performing hive could have been due to many other factors including the quality of the bees!