Sept. – Oct.

At the beginning of each meeting of the Madison County eekeepers Association, approximately 5 minutes is devoted to “Beginners Corner”.   This time is used to answer any novice beekeepers questions, let him / her know what is normal and should (or should not be) happening in their colonies as well as advise what actions he / she should be taking at this time in the beekeeping year.     This information is for the North Alabama area.     If you are a beekeeper in other parts of the world, join a local Beekeeping organization and ask a known experienced beekeeper for similar information.      All advice is intended for the novice beekeeper.   More experienced beekeepers may have the skills to attempt practices not recommended for the novice.


(October 26, 2016) Due to dry weather most honey bees in north Alabama are near starvation right now, if the beekeeper has not taken steps to feed them.     Normally the fall flowers will get the  bees through winter with little to no supplemental feeding, however that is likely not the case this year (2016).    If you have several hives and are new to beekeeping, DO NOT USE BOARDMAN FEEDERS at the hive entrance.     Instead, reduce the entrance and place the Boardman on top of the inner cover, facing the vent hole and cover that hive with a medium empty super or equal (and the outer cover) so that robbers can not get in to the feeder.     If robbing has already started see below for a procedure (using a fume board) that will sometimes stop robbing.

SPECIAL NOTICE October 6, 2016

CHECK YOUR BEES FOR FOOD STORES!    Your bees need a minimum of 60 lbs. of honey to get them safely through the winter.    Which means, RIGHT NOW is the time to make sure you have adequate winter feed.   We have had no rain in north Alabama so there are virtually no fall flowers.   Those that we do have (golden rod and aster) have virtually no nectar.   If you had surplus honey a month ago, check closely as they may well have (and probably have) consumed it during the summer drought.    Feed 2:1 sugar syrup or Fructose 55 at full strength.   Do it soon as the food needs to be in the hive before cold weather.

If you have one hive, purchase one 50 lb. bag of sugar from Sam's (or some any other source) and dissolve the entire bag in 3 gallons of water. That should yield approximately 6 gallons of syrup which is just over 60 lbs. I do not know what the ratio between 2:1 syrup and stored honey is but most likely the 6 gallons of syrup will be enough, however, heft your hives after feeding to make sure they got the syrup and not neighborhood bees (robbers).

This is based on the assumption that your hives have virtually no stored honey which is the case with approximately 2/3 of my colonies. If you have some stored honey obviously you would need to scale down the amount of syrup that you need to feed.  

I find that the 3 gallons of water needs to be heated (up to 212°F) in order to get 50 lbs. of sugar to dissolve in it. Heat the water, then pour in about half of the sugar. That should drop the temperature of the mixture to round 140°F. Allow the mixture to heat back up but not quiet to the boiling point (212°F), then mix the rest of the 50 lb. bag of sugar. Do not let the mixture get to 212°F after any sugar is added. Do not let the sugar accumulate in the bottom of your container while the heat is applied as this can caramelize the sugar which usually causes dysentery in the bees.

If you can get Fructose 55, feed it full strength which is roughly 3:1 if it is Fructose 55. All Fructose is not Fructose 55.     End of October 6, 2016 special notice.

SPECIAL NOTICE September 1, 2016

If you have a small colony that you fed 1:1 to stimulate brood rearing, be sure and check it for food stores.     The 1:1 syrup may have been pretty much used up to produce new bees.     If that is the case, you have a hive full of hungry bees and little or near no stores.  End of September 1, 2016 special notice.




1.   SUMMER SWARMS, are not all that uncommon and often times have a queen that can be used to recover a colony with a failing queen.

a.   They can be a fun project for overwintering.

b.   If you have a swarm now, examine the source hive and make sure that it is not an absconding colony.     They look exactly like a swarm but usually occur for a far different reason.    Absconding is almost always caused by the hive being in trouble that they do not feel they can overcome.     The most common of which is a SHB infestation.

                                         i.    If you encounter an absconding colony, hive it and feed it and it will likely survive.

                                        ii.    Clean out the hive from which they absconded and if from SHB, it can be reused. 


2.   Remove supers and medicate your colonies.   Medication should be in the hives by 15 September if practical.    Be sure that you have removed all honey to be eaten or sold before you apply medication.    Click here for general medication information.

a.   DO not harvest any medicated honey to be used for human consumption.

b.   If you have a super of medicated honey that you would like to harvest:

                                         i.    Remove the top super from any other colony that has not been medicated; replace it with the medicated super then harvest the “un-medicated” one.   CAUTION: make sure you do not take the queen in either super and that the donor colony does not have any disease particularly American Fowl Brood (AFB).


3.   Make sure you leave adequate stores for your bees to survive the winter.    To be safe, try and leave about 100 lbs. of honey.   In this area (north Alabama).      I recommend a deep “brood chamber” and one additional medium full of honey.    You can also overwinter two deeps or 3 mediums.


4.   STORINIG EMPTY SUPERS, it is best to store your supers dry because the honey in wet supers will likely crystallize over winter and can seed crystallization in your spring 2017 honey.


a.   “Wet” supers can be returned to the hive for cleanout but be careful as this can start robbing.  

                                         i.    If you have a few hives you should be OK to return your wet supers to the original hive for cleanup and then remove and store them.    If you do this, it is best to return wet supers just before dark CAUTION not

                                        ii.    after dark as the bees are likely to be hostile after dark.

                                    iii.    The best method, if you have the option, is to place the wet supers at least 100 yards (A football field) from the nearest bee hive.    This minimizes robbing.

5.   STORING EMPTY SUPERS If your removed supers have any dark comb or pollen, they are a target for wax moths and SHB (Small Hive Beetles) and should be stored with Paradichlorobenzene - PDB crystals – Available from Wall-Mart)   Do not use Moth Balls (Naphthalene).     If the combs have had any brood in them, consider them dark and store using PDB,   What you are effectively doing is creating a PDB gas chamber within the treated super) Treat supers as follows:

a.   Use Moth Crystals (Paradichlorobenzene – PDB)

b.   Stack supers to be treated 3 high, then place a ¼ sheet of newspaper with about 3 TBL spoons of PDB.

c.   Continue stacking with PDB added this way every third super. 

d.   Close all lower entrances, as fumes are heavier than air.

e.   If a queen excluder is placed above the top PDB, you will get better air circulation and more effective results.

f.    Check the stack at least once a month.   If the PDB has evaporated, replace it.

g.   Before you re-use the treated equipment let it air well (until no odor is present) before using with live bees.


h.   If combs are not discolored (still white) and/or you desire not to use PDB, cross stack them so as to allow maximum light and ventilation exposure as wax moths hate both light and circulating air.

i.    If the comb has never had brood and is still white, PDB is not necessary as long as not one frame is dark.

6.   PROCESSING HONEY, Try and process all supers within 3 days of removing them from the hives.

a.   SHB will slime honey in the honey house.

b.   Honey will absorb moisture in most honey houses and ferment.

c.   Freeze all comb honey before eating or selling to kill wax moth eggs and larvae.

d.   If you have regular wired frame with pretty honey that you would like to use as comb honey use your electric wire imbedder (or any 2 amp, 12VAC transformer) to heat the wires and pull them out of the combs.   Just be sure and get them all!


7.   Start your planning and shopping list for next year.    Remember that suppliers will normally not ship foundation in cold weather due to the probability of breakage in shipment.


8.   If you are planning on attending any state conventions this fall, find out what suppliers plan on attending and arrange to pick up your supplies at the convention and save considerable shipping cost especially on wood ware.    You may also pick up special prices there on some items.


9.   Plan for your own Christmas surprises!

a.   Don’t forget to leave clues such as beekeeping supply catalogs with items marked so your spouse or other obligated gift giver can find them.


b.   OR


c.   Discuss your planned purchases with said gift giver as though you want their input.    Make sure you mention that you plan to purchase just after Christmas to allow time to build and paint.   This way you plant a gift idea in their mind and assure them they will not duplicate a “surprise” purchase.


10.                If you leave a queen excluder in an active hive, make sure it is above the food chamber so the queen can reach the food. 

a.   Reasons to leave a QE include spacing above menthol (between the menthol which is on the top bars of the top most box and the inner cover or place the menthol on top of the excluder) to allow better air circulation and distribution of the menthol fumes.     Since the bees do not like the smell on menthol, they will propolize the bottom of the bags.     This is normal and can be remedied by moving the bag to a new spot occasionally.


11.                Make sure you reduce the hive entrance during late fall and winter months to prevent the entrance of field mice.   

a.   Most bottom boards are “reversible” if turned shallow opening up; no entrance reducer is needed.    If you turn deep entrance up, you need to use an entrance reducer.

b.   Entrance reducers should be placed “slot up”.    Some winter die-off is normal. “Slot up” allows the live bee to climb over the dead bees to exit.



12.                Remember, If you sell (or consume) comb honey, it should be stored in a deep freeze for 3 days to kill Lesser Wax Moth eggs before it is sold or consumed.

a.   Honey stored in a deep-freeze, should not crystallize while frozen therefore you can store your comb honey "in the comb" in a deep freeze, remove it, thaw it, cut it into chunks and make up jars of chunk honey as needed throughout the winter.


13.                Keep weeds trimmed from entrance as this hinders flight and ventilation.


14.               If you have weak failing colonies between now and winter, mix them with a strong colony.



b.   Remove the outer and inner cover from the strong colony.

c.   Place a sheet of newspaper on top where Inner cover was; make sure it covers the entire super.   Make sure it has no holes big enough for a bee to pass through.

d.   Separate the weak hive from its bottom board.

e.   Set the weak hive on top of the newspaper.

f.    Slide the inner cover on the top (weak) hive back ¼ inch or so to allow ingress – egress.

g.   Put a spacer (entrance reducer works well) to prop the outer cover up to allow the bees to go in and out.


i.     If they are weak and you re-queen.

j.    You will be out the cost of a queen

k.   You will be out the cost of medication

l.     They may not make it through the winter

m. If they don’t, it will likely result in Wax Moth damage

n.   If they are weak and you combine them

o.   You greatly enhance the likelihood that they will survive the winter

p.   You have no additional cost

q.   Come spring, you can split them, if they are strong enough.

r.    If they are not strong enough, you may have lost both colonies had you tried to over winter separately.


15.               As the honey flow shuts down, be careful about spilled honey and or feeding weak hives because the bees will become more aggressive toward robbing.

a.   For the same reason, be more cautious when entering the hives, as the bees also become more aggressive toward beekeepers.   If you have been working your bees with no gloves, proceed with caution as they are much more aggressive after the honey flow has stopped.  

b.   Bees also become more aggressive toward each other so don’t leave a hive open and try not to spread honey around when robbing.


16.                If you have White Aster blooming near you don’t be surprised if you observe an unusual odor in your apiary from curing honey, it is likely not Foul Brood the odor does not degrade the cured honey.


17.                ATTEMPT TO STOP ROBBING (I have achieved about 50% success using this method).

a.   If you have a feeder on the hive being robbed, REMOVE IT and shut off where it entered the hive.

b.   Immediately insert “or change” an entrance reducer so that the bees have to use the smallest opening to enter the hive.

c.   Stop up the inner cover vent hole and all other openings (It also works to place a full menthol package over the vent hole).

d.   Place one of your (charged) Fume Boards over the hive entrance.   I do this by resting the open end of the fume board on the hive bottom board (fume side toward the hive) and lean the top against the front of the hive and temporarily place a steel “T” post against it to hold it in place.

e.   Smoke the outside of the hive heavily.

f.    Make sure no other holes exist in the hive.  

g.   Do not remove Fume Board until after dark that day or the next day.

h.   If you are successful, Re-orient entrance reducer with big slot exposed within the next few days, and this time of year (September), leave it until spring.     If there is harvestable honey, take it off and process it after you have stopped robbing.     Do not move supers being robbed to a strong hive while robbing is taking place as this will almost always expand the robbing incident to the strong hive.

i.     Unstop inner cover vent hole a few days later.


18.                 How do you tell a hive is being robbed?

a.   The hive being robbed will have thousands of bees frantically trying to get in the entrance and any other opening in the hive.    You will be able to hear a lord roar a little like a swarm except a lower pitch.   In the early stages, there will be bees fighting at the entrance.

b.   When you approach the apiary (or your yard if the hives are in your back yard), there will be lots of bees flying in all direction, very fast, and they will sting.    Also any empty, spare or junk equipment you have around will have bees either going in and out or trying to get in.


                                         i.    We are all familiar with the “figure “8” dance” that the bees do to recruit foragers for a nectar source.   They only do the “Figure 8” dance if the source is more than 100 or so yards from the hive.

                                        ii.    If the source is less than 100 yards from the hive, they do a “round dance” instead.    The “round dance” does not convey exact location therefore the bees leaving the hive start a very thorough search of the immediate area.    They get rather excited and will try and enter other hives.   If you have weak hives with the normal summer entrance opening, those hives will likely be “robbed out”.    “Robbed out” means the bees will enter the hives and take the honey.    Since the target hive will try and resist, the invaders normally kill all bees in the hive being invaded. 

                                      iii.    The “robbers” are not only aggressive toward other bees they are very likely to sting anyone that is in the immediate area.




Last updated 10/26/2016