Well it’s the third week of August which, in beekeeping time, is kind of the beginning of a wind down. Sure we have several months before snow and cold (thank goodness), but as a beekeeper, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead; that’s one thing I wish we would have done more often as novice keepers. Our first two years we were so stuck in the now and pretty focused on honey collection as a gauge of success. The reality is, bees will make honey. Yes, some will make more than others and yes, there are things you can do to affect this, but it’s similar to how chickens will lay eggs. No matter what, a chicken is going to lay an egg most days. Sure you can feed superior food and run a light when the days shorten, but much of the egg-laying business is really just nature. Another analogy I’m fond of is two-year-olds and tantrums: they’ll have one, almost everyday, it’s just nature. But back to beekeeping….
This time of year I find a lot of beekeepers bragging on forums and Facebook groups. A lot pictures of tall hives and admissions of “8, 12, 16, 18 frames of honey!” as if you’ve worked all summer for only that: honey. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’ve ever worked a hive in 90 degree heat and humidity (which most of you have), then you’ve earned that honey, but let’s hold ourselves to higher standards and, more importantly, keep in mind that there is more to beekeeping than honey.
Start thinking about winter now. Don’t think about driving, shoveling, or wearing a coat, per se (you have to consider your psyche, after all), but start thinking about winter prep. Before you drag out that extractor, remember that it’s ideal to leave about two boxes of honey (give or take a bit, depending on if you’re using deeps or mediums) for your bees to eat during the winter. Certainly you can supplement with feed, but these are things to think about now. Do you want to huff it out to the hives in the winter? It’s okay if you do, but if you don’t, then maybe don’t go too crazy with the honey extraction.
Winter is a great time to fix, build, paint, order, or organize all of your beekeeping supplies. Around this time we start keeping a tally of things that need to get done. These are generally things that have needed to be done all summer, but we’ve been busy procrastinating. Additionally, maybe spend the next month or two jotting down a list of things you’d like to learn more about. Would you like to read more about queen rearing? Have you been meaning to watch some YouTube videos about top bar hives? I forget things about five minutes after I think them, so after I work the hives I like to jot down things I’ve been thinking about. For example, someone recently told me they “read somewhere” that feeding sugar water can inhibit the bees’ production of vitellogenin. I suspect this isn’t true, but I’m curious. I haven’t had much time to research this topic because I’m busy reading about things I’m doing in the hive right now, so that’s on my winter “to-do” list.
Set Some Goals
Evaluate your summer. What went as planned? What didn’t? What are you dying to try? Around July my husband finally decided he had read enough that he felt comfortable trying queen rearing for himself. It’s going well. We’re kind of late in the season to be growing queens, but it’s a year of experimentation! Also, this spring we installed four packages, but two of them drifted into a third. It worked out really well and that hive is strong and has yielded many splits and queens. Now I’m thinking, maybe next summer we’ll try that purposefully? Fall and winter are great times to set some beekeeping goals. Last year we were very lazy in our mite management, so this year we vowed to keep up on that (which we have). Also, as mentioned above, setting some goals now will give you the winter to do some reading, if necessary.
There are a million ways to find other beekeepers. Maybe you have a spouse or some co-workers who are considering jumping out the window because they are tired of hearing you talk about bees. Well there are others like you and you can find those people and connect in a safe, bee-obsessed space. There are several groups on Facebook, the Kalamazoo Bee Club, Holland Bee Club, etc. As you probably know, the Kalamazoo Bee Club puts on “Bee School” in February. This is a great time and place to meet and connect with local keepers. I think I can safely say that if you find someone’s name on this website, it means they are the type who will talk bees with you until you are blue in the face. What’s nice about connecting with someone now, is you have a season (at least) of experience to talk about. It’s hard to talk with experienced keepers in the spring of your first year. You don’t yet know what you don’t know, but by now, you’ve no doubt experienced many surprises in your hives and the fall is a great time to ask other keepers how their summer went and what their plans are for fall and winter.
Now I’m not saying it’s time to close up the hatches and dig out your mittens from the basement, but as you wind down over the next few months, begin to be mindful of what you’ll do differently next year. Unless you have a better memory than I do, you might want to write yourself an “end of the season memo”. This way your future self can read it in the spring and say, “Oh yeah, that’s right! I was going to try this or that…” Unless you’re the type of person who doesn’t talk to yourself…. I’m not saying I am either….
The benefit of beginning this process of reflection now, is you might still have some time to make some last minute changes. There’s still time to do a powdered sugar roll and estimate the mite population in your hive(s). There’s still plenty of time to borrow a friend’s extractor, if you didn’t buy yourself one this summer. There’s a lot of time to think about how you’ll over-winter your hives. You even have some time to re-queen if necessary. August is a good time to combine hives if you notice one is very weak going into the fall as well.
There’s still a lot of beekeeping to do this year, but I thought I’d give you some things to think about… in case you were getting bored 😉
To follow my latest adventure, check out my beekeeping blog: myadventuresinbeekeeping.wordpress.com