Fall is the time when beekeepers make sure their hives are good to go for winter. For most beekeepers around here, this runs from the second half of August to the first half of November. The end of August is usually harvest time. This is where you remove the excess honey from the hive. This is accomplished by taking advantage of a bee’s natural inclination to store honey up higher in the hive. So, when you see pictures of beehives look at the differences between the sections.
Most beekeepers have two “Hive Bodies” down low. These are taller sections with ten frames in each one where the queen lays most of her eggs and most of the bees are raised. The bees do store honey down here but it is usually around the margins of the frames. Beekeepers start adding the shorter “Honey Supers” with 9 frames each on top as the population of bees grow and more honey is stored.
In the fall the bees fill up the honey supers with all the extra honey and this is what beekeepers harvest while ensuring there is enough honey still in the hive for the bees to live on over the winter. This is the busiest time of year for beekeeping. A full honey super weighs around 55 lbs. full and a productive hive will fill 3-4 of these supers in a good year. That will yield roughly 35 lbs. of extracted honey per super. Most small beekeepers do all this work on their own and by hand so that involves a lot of work pulling supers, extracting, and cleaning up everything for storage until next year.
The next focus is on making sure the beehives are set up for winter. The queen bee naturally starts laying less eggs in the fall. From a high population of about 60,000 bees in the middle of the summer the hive shrinks to 10,000-15,000 bees. These are the bees that you need to make it through the winter so beekeepers typically start checking honey levels in the hive and sugar syrup feeding on hives that might need a little extra. There is no perfect time for this as each year is different. Some years you might get a good flower nectar flow well into September due to a warm fall. Other years you get an early frost which reduces what the bees can forage for.
If needed you can syrup feed bees well into October if the temperature gets above 55 degrees. Why? Because bees will cluster in the hive to keep warm when it gets below 55 degrees. If it warms up during the day to 55 or higher the bees will be active with foraging and eating sugar syrup. You might wonder why a beekeeper feeds sugar syrup to bees that have honey stored. Mostly, it is for safety. Once it gets cold out the bees cluster to keep warm. They will not break cluster to move to the other side of the hive. So they slowly move upwards as they eat the honey and the goal is to make sure any gaps in the comb are filled with food so the bees are not stressed or starved. Once the bees are set up for Winter most beekeepers finish the season by cleaning and maintaining their equipment, fixing hive components, and properly storing it all for the next spring.
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