Beginner's Corner

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Beginner’s Corner:

Sept. – Oct.

At the beginning of each meeting of the Madison County Beekeepers Association, approximately 5 minutes is devoted to “Beginners Corner”.   This time is used to answer any novice beekeepers questions, let him / her know what is normal and should (or should not be) happening in their colonies as well as advise what actions he / she should be taking at this time in the beekeeping year.     This information is for the North Alabama area.     If you are a beekeeper in other parts of the world, join a local Beekeeping organization and ask a known eperienced beekeeper for similar informatin.      All advice is intended for the novice beekeeper.   More experienced beekeepers may have the skills to attempt practices not recommended for the novice. 

If you have a small colony that you fed 1:1 to stimulate brood rearing, be sure and check it for food stores.     The 1:1 syrup may have been pretty much used up to produce new bees.     If that is the case, you have a hive full of hungry bees and little or near no stores.



1.      Remove supers and medicate your colonies.   Medication should be in the hives by 15 September if practical.    Be sure that you have removed all honey to be eaten or sold before you apply medication.    Click here for general medication information.


2.      If your removed supers have any dark comb or pollen, they are a target for wax moths and SHB (Small Hive Beetles).   Treat supers as follows (What you are effectively doing is creating a PDB gas chamber within the treated super):

·        Use Moth Crystals (paradichlorobenzene - PDB) do not use Moth Balls (Naphthalene)

·        Stack supers to be treated 3 high, then place a ¼ sheet of newspaper with about 3 TBL spoons of PDB.

· Continue stacking with PDB added this way every third super. 

·        Close all lower entrances, as fumes are heavier than air.

·        If a queen excluder is placed above the top PDB, you will get better air circulation and more effective results.

·        Check the stack at least once a month.   If the PDB has evaporated, replace it.

·        Before you re-use the treated equipment let it air well (until no odor is present) before using with live bees.


     If combs are not discolored and / or you desire not to use PDB, cross stack them so as to allow maximum light and ventilation exposure as wax moths hate both light and circulating air.


3.      Start your planning and shopping list for next year.    Remember that suppliers will normally not ship foundation in cold weather due to the probability of breakage in shipment.

·        If you are planning on attending any state conventions this fall, find out what suppliers plan on attending and arrange to pick up your supplies at the convention and save considerable shipping cost especially on wood ware.    You may also pick up special prices there on some items.

·        Since we (the MCBA) do not have another official meeting after the September meeting until next year, don’t forget to leave clues such as beekeeping supply catalogs with items marked so your spouse or other obligated gift giver can find them.




Discuss your planned purchases with said gift giver as though you want their input.    Make sure you mention that you plan to purchase just after Christmas to allow time to build and paint.   This way you plant a gift idea in their mind and assure them they will not duplicate a “surprise” purchase.


4.      Make sure you leave adequate stores for your bees to survive the winter.    To be safe, try and leave about 100 lbs. of honey.   In this area (north Alabama).      I recommend a deep “brood chamber” and one additional medium full of honey.    You can also overwinter  two deeps or 3 mediums.


5.      If you leave a queen excluder in an active hive, make sure it is above the food chamber so the queen can reach the food. 

·        Reasons to leave a QE include spacing above menthol (between the menthol which is on the top bars of the top most box and the inner cover or place the menthol on top of the excluder) to allow better air circulation and distribution of the menthol fumes.     Since the bees do not like the smell on menthol, they will propoloize the bottom of the bags.     This is normal and can be remedied by moving the bag to a new spot occasionally.


6.      Do not harvest any medicated honey.   If you have a super of medicated honey that you would like to harvest:

·        Remove the top super from any other colony that has not been medicated; replace it with the medicated super then harvest the “un-medicated” one.   CAUTION: make sure you do not take the queen in either super and that the donor colony does not have any disease particularly American Fowl Brood (AFB).


7.      Make sure you reduce the hive entrance during late fall and winter months to prevent the entrance of field mice.    Most bottom boards are “reversible” if turned shallow opening up; no entrance reducer is needed.    If you turn deep entrance up, you need to use an entrance reducer.

·        Entrance reducers should be placed “slot up”.    Some winter die-off is normal. “Slot up” allows the live bee to climb over the dead bees to exit.


8.      Remember, If you sell (or consume) comb honey, it should be stored in a deep freeze for 3 days to kill Lesser Wax Moth eggs before it is sold or consumed.

·        Honey stored in a deep-freeze, should not crystallize while frozen therefore you can store your comb honey "in the comb" in a deep freeze, remove it, thaw it, cut it into chunks and make up jars of chunk honey as needed throughout the winter.


9.      Keep weeds trimmed from entrance as this hinders flight and ventilation.


10. If you have weak failing colonies between now and winter, mix them with a strong colony.


·        HOW TO MIX

· Remove the outer and inner cover from the strong colony.

· Place a sheet of newspaper on top where Inner cover was; make sure it covers the entire super.   Make sure it has no holes big enough for a bee to pass through.

· Separate the weak hive from its bottom board.

· Set the weak hive on top of the newspaper.

· Slide the inner cover on the top (weak) hive back ¼ inch or so to allow ingress – egress.

· Put a spacer (entrance reducer works well) to prop the outer cover up to allow the bees to go in and out.

·        WHY TO MIX

· If they are weak and you re-queen.

·        You will be out the cost of a queen

·        You will be out the cost of medication

·        They may not make it through the winter

·        If they don’t, it will likely result in Wax Moth damage

· If they are weak and you combine them

·        You greatly enhance the likelihood that they will survive the winter

·        You have no additional cost

·        Come spring, you can split them, if they are strong enough.

·        If they are not strong enough, you may have lost both colonies had you tried to over winter separately.


11. As the honey flow shuts down, be careful about spilled honey and or feeding weak hives because the bees will become more aggressive toward robbing.

·        For the same reason, be more cautious when entering the hives, as the bees also become more aggressive toward beekeepers.   If you have been working your bees with no gloves, proceed with caution as they are much more aggressive after the honey flow has stopped.  

·        Bees also become more aggressive toward each other so don’t leave a hive open and try not to spread honey around when robbing.


12. If you have White Aster blooming near you don’t be surprised if you observe an unusual odor in your apiary from curing honey, it is likely not Foul Brood the odor does not degrade the cured honey.


13. Robbing as the result of taking honey off or medicating.

·        To help prevent robbing you can:

·        Place an entrance reducer "big entrance slot up" in the entrance.  

·        Make sure no other holes exist in the hive.  

·        Place a menthol bag over the IC vent hole or otherwise stop it up.  

·         The bees do not like the menthol odor and will not try and enter the vent hole.


14. If you create a Bee robbing problem when you are robbing your bees:

·        Immediately insert “or change” an entrance reducer so that the bees have to use the smallest opening to enter the hive.

·        Stop up the inner cover vent hole and all other openings (It also works to place a full menthol package over the vent hole).

·        Place one of your (charged) Fume Boards over hive entrance.   I do this by resting the open end of the fume board on the hive bottom board (fume side toward the hive) and lean the top against the front of the hive and temporarily place a steel “T” post against it to hold it in place.

·        Smoke the outside of the hive heavily.

·        Do not remove Fume Board until after dark that day or the next day.

·        Re-orient entrance reducer with big slot exposed within the next few days, and this time of year (September), leave it until spring.     If there is harvestable honey, take it off and process it after you have stopped robbing.     Do not move supers being robbed to a strong hive while robbing is taking place as this will almost always expand the robbing incident to the strong hive.

·        Unstop inner cover vent hole a few days later.


15. How do you tell a hive is being robbed?

·        The hive being robbed will have thousands of bees frantically trying to get in the entrance and any other opening in the hive.    You will be able to hear a lord roar a little like a swarm except a lower pitch.   In the early stages, there will be bees fighting at the entrance.


·        When you approach the apiary (or your yard if the hives are in your back yard), there will be lots of bees flying in all direction, very fast, and they will sting.    Also any empty, spare or junk equipment you have around will have bees either going in and out or trying to get in.


·        WHY IS THIS?

·        We are all familiar with the “figure “8” dance” that the bees do to recruit foragers for a nectar source.   They only do the “Figure 8” dance if the source is more than 100 or so yards from the hive.


·        If the source is less than 100 yards from the hive, they do a “round dance” instead.    The “round dance” does not convey exact location therefore the bees leaving the hive start a very thorough search of the immediate area.    They get rather excited and will try and enter other hives.   If you have weak hives with the normal summer entrance opening, those hives will likely be “robbed out”.    “Robbed out” means the bees will enter the hives and take the honey.    Since the target hive will try and resist, the invaders normally kill all bees in the hive being invaded. 


·        The “robbers” are not only aggressive toward other bees they are very likely to sting anyone that is in the immediate area.




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Last revised 9/9/15 brf