Week five of the beekeeping class was on off season management. Off season management is very important for Iowans because our winters are cold and long.
Like I have said in other posts, beekeeping is local. Different strategies for off season management are used in different areas. In Iowa, disease and mite control, adequate food stores, and winter protection are the three main concerns of preparing a hive for winter. The strength of the bees going into winter will determine whether or not your colony will come out of winter alive. This is why disease and mite control, adequate food stores, and winter protection are essential to the bees’ survival.
A beekeeper needs to be thinking about winter in the fall, really, late summer. As soon as the supers are removed from the hives, a beekeeper needs to check and treat for varroa. Varroa mites can easily kill a colony if there is a large population in the colony. Beekeepers treat for varroa mites in the fall because there is a break in the brood cycle because the queen stops laying eggs.
In the fall, the bees need to also be fed 2:1, by weight, sugar syrup. A hive needs to have between 110-120 lbs. of honey in order to have a strong chance of over-winter survival. An entrance reducer and a mouse guard should be put on the hives. An entrance reducer allows the bees to defend their colony better and a mouse guard ensures that mice do not take up residence in the hive. Another thing that beekeepers in Iowa do in preparation for winter is a technique called mountain camp. A mountain camp is pilling sugar on damp newspaper at the top of the hive. This is important because it creates an emergency food supply for the bees and helps reduce moisture condensation.
Some beekeepers, to give their bees some extra protection from the cold, wrap their bees in tar paper. The tar paper absorbs heat from the sun and warms the hive. Almost all beekeepers put upper entrances on the hive to create better ventilation and allow the bees to go on cleansing flights. Cleansing flights are flights the bees take on warm winter days to relieve themselves. Upper entrances can save the bees if the bottom entrance becomes buried in snow.
The thing to remember about winter management is that you need to always be one step ahead. It is important to think about the next season well before it has started.
Here is a extremely general calendar for an Iowan beekeepers year. April 15th is time to install bees and feed them syrup and a pollen patty. Boxes should be added according to the 7/10 rule. When the bees basically stop eating from the feeder a beekeeper will remove it. Once both brood boxes are on and full to the 7/10 rule supers should be added. Honey should be removed in late July to early August. Immediately after supers are removed, a mite count should be taken and the bees should be treated for mites, if needed. In the middle of September, the honey bee’s stores should be assessed and they should be fed. Then in spring you start the cycle over again.
This class was rather short so Doyle talked a bit about the Iowa State Fair. He encouraged everyone to enter in the beekeeping categories. There are lots of categories in our state fair. Some of them are rarely entered in. We have entered both beekeeping photos and wax candles in the state fair. We are planning to enter these categories and more this year.