Preparations for Winter in the Treatment-Free Apiary
I'm doing my winter preparations and was wondering what others are doing around the country (and other countries). This sort of thread could be especially helpful for new beekeepers going into their first or second winter.
This last week, I inspected my home yard. Naturally, this time of year is a critical one for mites, mite loads, and under other philosophies when mites are treated. I found one hive that had an obvious visible heavy mite load. Since it is too late to requeen and it's not going to get treated, unless this is some sort of magical hive, I'm expecting it to die. However, since I don't test for mite loads and set arbitrary limits on the numbers of mites that can be found and dealt with, who really knows what kind of mite load a hive can survive with? It's a good opportunity to watch and learn. I haven't had a hive die due to a mite infestation for a long time and this hive was a new split this year. I can only expect a certain number of new hives to survive, it's part of the winnowing process. If this queen was a good mite resistant queen like her mother, she may have mated with a bunch of drones who weren't. That's farming.
We had a very hard summer. I measured temperatures at my home on one occasion to be 114.8F degrees in the shade. That combined with extended periods of 105+ temperatures, no rain, and no blooming flowers as a result, left none of the hives with much honey to speak of. I'm expecting a dieoff of feral hives to a certain extent, though I think it is possible for smaller hives to have collected enough honey in the fall to be able to overwinter. It's kinda like overwintering nucs.
Thus, I've needed to spend a lot of money on sugar. I've been feeding as much as I can over the last month or so, and now as temperatures get colder, it is coming to the point where the bees will no longer accept syrup and I'll need to make a last ditch try with granulated sugar.
A nice gentleman from Texas insisted on buying two nucs from me two weeks ago. I told him it might not be a good idea for him buy nucs this time of year, but it's hard to say no when someone offers to pay you to take your risks from you. Also, I lost two hives over the summer but there wasn't much to do as far as post-mortem, they were both just gone. I'd guess it was failure to requeen. This leaves me with 13 hives going into winter, the most I've gone in with since 2004 or so.
I recently watched Michael Palmer's presentation on incorporating nucs into one's operation. http://vimeo.com/23178333 It's a fantastic video. The sound isn't great, but it's well worth the time to watch. I believe keeping nucs like he does will really add to the efficacy of treatment-free beekeeping. I already have six five-frame nuc boxes and a 4x4-frame nuc gadget and so next year I'm adding a major push toward nucs as part of my to-do list. At the same time, I'm learning how to graft and produce my own queens on a larger scale. They go perfectly together. Also, since I'm slowly switching to medium boxes exclusively, it seems to me that the 4-frame deep nucs Mr. Palmer uses would translate well into 6-frame medium nucs. Nucs are very easy to make from 1/2" plywood and very cost efficient over purchasing pre-made.
How about you?