The lady behind the counter of the store where I get my bee supplies said "it has been a terrible year for bees". And that with all the wet weather we have had this year many beekeepers are wondering If they will get honey at all.
This has got me thinking "how well are my bees doing?" and how much of my thinking "they are doing great" Is the wishful thinking of a new and enthused beekeeper.
It didn't take a lot of thought to realize I have nothing to compare the bees progress to and don't know either where they should be right now or even how much in the way of honey stores they will need for winter.
If there is someone from the valley who could help me answer the questions I have and let me know what I should be doing at this point my bees would be very grateful. So would I.
Curious which store that was ? We are not in the lower mainland, but over on the island, but I know the folks at most of the supply stores in the lower mainland.
The early spring weather for us was somewhat so-so, but we actually had a decent spring overall, the was a month of sun after that early month of cold and rain. Now it's summer dearth here where we live, but we have most of the full size colonies up in a logging patch for the fireweed bloom, they will come home in another 3 weeks or so. The colonies still here at home are all late starts and we have feed on them.
The thing to understand, we are out of town on a small farm, so conditions here are VERY different from those found in more urban areas. This year is the first year since 2014 where we have not had a couple colonies in town at friends place there. Most years those colonies do extremely well during July and August while the hives here at the house would starve if we were not feeding them. The reason is simple, it's called 'sprinkler'. In town there are endless acres of manicured gardens and lawns that get watered all summer. Empty lots are overrun with blackberries, so overall, the landscape is nirvanna for the honeybees. There is always something in bloom, and no shortage of nectar because the blooms are rarely dry. In contrast, here at our home location, once the thimbleberries are finished blooming in the ditches and on empty lots, for the bees there is virtually nothing. This year has been an exception tho, the hawksbeard has turned a few 5 acre plots into an 'ocean of yellow' over the last few weeks, and the bees have been working it well.
If you are in Surrey, and in town proper, then there will be a fair amount of various things available for your bees thru till September. Is it enough, I cant say, but it's easy to tell. If you lift out frames and there is some open nectar surrounding brood nest, then the bees are finding enough to survive. They WILL need heavy feed just prior to the onset of winter if a first year colony, unless it is a stellar fall. If you need more comb built, and they are not building comb, you need to get thin syrup on in a feeder, but it can be a balancing act. If you overfeed them, they will backfill the brood nest and run out of brood comb for the next generation, which will be the start of your winter bee population. If you dont feed them enough, they wont build comb for it.
How to answer the question 'are the bees doing good'. Ask 3 beekeepers, you will get 4 very different answers, even after they have all looked into the same colonies. Some will tell you they need to be built up into two boxes of deep frames in order to survive the winter. Others will tell you that you need to be on medium frames, and 2 or 3 boxes of those. Some will insist that boxes have to be 10 frames, others will suggest that 8 frame boxes are better.
Here in Campbell River we've been at this for a few years, and do things our way because in general it's worked well for us. I am of the opinion that box size doesn't matter, what matters is the bees are healthy and well fed in the fall. We want to have our mites dealt with by early September, then winter feed in the hives by end of September. I used to winter all colonies in 10 frame double deep boxes, because we were told many years ago as new beekeepers that's what was needed. Today, I tell folks the box size doesn't matter, what matters, the bees in the box have to be healthy, well fed, and FILL THE BOX. I have some colonies in two high stacks of 10 frame deeps, the traditional configuration around here. I have a bunch more in 10 frame boxes, singles. I have more colonies in 5 frame boxes, then I have another 15 colonies in mating nucs, made up of 5 half size deep frames. Over the years we have successfully wintered colonies in all of these configurations, and this winter going into the winter, I'll have bees in double deep, single deep, 5 frame nuc and mating nuc boxes.
Last fall due to beekeeper health issues, we didn't get our bees properly managed for mite control, and we were shy on winter feed. First time in a lot of years where we suffered heavy losses over the winter. This year we will start another round of mite management on the bees as soon as we bring them home from the fireweed patch, they got a round of mite management in June before they went up to the fireweed. We'll put feed on them as necessary, and the goal is to get them to Oct 1 with enough stores in the hive for the winter, mites near zero, and bees that fill the box. After mid October we do not open the boxes again until February when first spring feed goes on. The bees will propolize and seal the cracks before the coldest and windiest part of the winter arrives, and I wont break those seals without a good reason. In an ideal year I can have them ready for sealing by the first week of October, doesn't always work that way, but we consider Oct 15 to be a hard deadline, bees must be ready by then.
The other thing you will hear lots of beekeepers in the lower mainland talking about, is winter losses. In reality, there are very few winter losses. Colonies tend to die in the fall, and in the spring, winter deaths are rare in our experience. Colonies that are weak in September typically dont make it till November. They get robbed out by the stronger ones and succumb to whatever made them weak combined with starvation. Another fall killer of colonies is the wasp, in some years the wasps are thick and once they overpower the guards at the hive entrance, they get in and start wreaking havoc with the brood. You want reduced entrances before this starts. In our area, wasp predation typically starts in late August, over on the mainland a bit farther south, you will likely see it a week or two later. In the spring losses come about for a couple of reasons. Contrary to popular myth, the bees dont consume most of the stores over the winter, they consume them raising brood in the spring. Folks that dont keep an eye on feed levels will often see colonies that 'had lots of stores' in February, starving in March. Another common killer of colonies in a southern BC spring is weather. We get a warm spell in early February, queen starts laying and the winter bees get a large patch of brood started. Two weeks later it's all capped, then we get a cold snap and the cluster tightens up considerable, leaving a bunch of the brood to chill. Net result, a fair number of the winter bees are dieing off after expending themselves to raise a round of replacements, but the brood died, so the colony starts to dwindle. Another similar situation, some colonies wont abandon the brood they are incubating when the cold snap comes, they stay on the brood out of touch of the honey, and starve with honey only inches away. It's common in a southern BC spring.
So where does all this go? IMHO, if the box is full of bees, 80% of the frames are full of honey, and mites have been dealt with, the colony has a good chance of being alive in the spring. I dont care if it's a 10 frame double deep or 5 half size frames in a mating nuc, the recipe is the same. So look at your bees today and ask yourself, is the box full of bees ? If it's full of bees, then next question is 'is it full of comb'? At this time of the year those are the two things you want to focus on fixing. In another 6 weeks the questions become 'Do we still have mites in the colonies ?' and 'How much feed do they need to reach winter conditions?'. Then by October the question becomes 'where are we going for winter holidays this year', because you are done with the bees, they have been put to bed for the winter, and you aren't going to look at them till February.
TY for you detailed and very helpful response;
Where to start?
The store I have been dealing with the most is Westcoast bee supply. The prices are fairly good and it is close by.
I agree that spring was not too bad but I started my hives with 5 frame nucs on June first and June was a wet month here in the valley. It was a quality nuc and seemed to do well however I am a first-year beekeeper so I don't know for certain. The weather was cool and wet and did not get many warm sunny days. As a matter of fact, it rained quite a bit. The weather has warmed up and we finally went above 25c this past week.
The colonies are in double deeps with the brood in the lower deep and the upper is not quite half-filled with honey. The frames in the upper box have not all been drawn out either.
All the books I have read about beekeeping mentions a summer dearth However being a first-year beekeeper I am not sure what to expect. I am going to start feeding sugar water today and see how they respond. I will also monitor pollen intake and see if it has dropped off. Here is a link to a youtube vid of my hives >https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiYIdl5iMuU< it shows what the activity was like 3 weeks ago and i will be posting a new one in the next few days. Anyhow, I need to head over to the hives and check things out. I will update when I find out.