Updated Content and Dates: Jan 2017

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A Beekeeping Diary #9: September and October—Finish Extracting; Feeding and Moving Nucs

With a good honey crop, extracting will continue for the whole month of September.  This month usually begins as the end of summer, and finishes as the beginning of autumn. We like to push steadily on during this time, so that as much honey as possible can be extracted during warm weather. It’s usually sometime in September when the bees will start robbing the truck, and making the harvest more difficult. There is some goldenrod and aster honey around, and the bees will keep packing it into the brood nest on warm days. But underemployment has set in, and in every yard there are thousands of bees ready to reclaim the honey we have moved onto the truck. Having a small truck, and taking only 35-50 supers at a time helps with getting the honey out quickly, but things don’t always go according to plan, and all beekeepers with long experience have at least a few stories about robbing that got completely out of control. Much of the honey harvested in late September and October is lifted off of the escape boards. Sometimes this can be done early in the morning or even during light rain, when few bees are flying. One way or another, the work goes steadily on until the last honey is spun out in the first half of October. During that last week or two, it’s getting too cold in my unheated honey house, and the honey has to be run through the system quickly—or it’s liable to set up in the tanks. It hasn’t happened yet, but who knows, perhaps by the time you read this…

There is, however, one thing that interrupts the harvest during the last week of September: feeding. I built 100 hive top feeders in the early days, when I had just 100 colonies, and since then, except for queen rearing, those feeders have spent most of their time gathering dust in the shop. Even in the disastrous year of 2006, with poor foraging in both summer and fall, I fed only a few of the honey producing colonies. Some of those big crops obtained by Italian bees need to be adjusted somehow to reflect the amount of fall feeding required, and the labor of carting the syrup around. The most profitable bees are usually those that can produce a large crop of honey without needing much extra attention. The Russian-type bees fit the bill very nicely at the end of the season—they almost always find 100% of their winter feed without any assistance from me. (But I’ll be the first to admit that they need more attention in the spring than Italian bees do—to keep them from swarming.) Even before I had Russian bees, I found that this system of overwintering many nucleus colonies selects strongly for frugality and the desire to pack the brood nest with honey and pollen in the fall. These traits were magnified faster than any others as the process of propagation and selection within the system went on from one year to another. In fact, it seemed impossible to slow this process down, or stop it. At the beginning, I fed the nucs a fair amount of syrup in the fall, and again in spring—sometimes filling the feeders three times in late September, and once again in March or early April. Even my local bees, who were very frugal and maintenance-free in double stories, had trouble storing enough winter feed and raising enough bees for a viable winter cluster in a 4-frame space. I used to haul syrup out to the yards on a sled during February, so that I could “save them” in mid-March, as soon as it was warm enough for the bees to take some more feed. But this changed quickly, and in a few years only a small amount of feed was needed for the nucs. The coming of the Russian bees pretty much marked the end of feeding bees at all; except in a disastrous year like 2006, when a few double stories and about 2/3 of the nucs were given some supplemental feed.

Once the last honey is drained out of the tanks, and the extracting equipment is all washed and put away for the winter, the last big push of the season has come to an end. In the second half of October there’s usually a chance for some time off before the days become too short, and the nasty weather of late fall and early winter sets in. But there’s still one more important job to do sometime before mid-November: marking the nuc boxes and moving them to their winter locations. Once all the boxes have been provided with their colored tacks—(showing the origin of the queen(s), the mating scheme, and the date of mating)—the nucs are ready to move. This used to be a big project when the nucs all had to be moved from their summer locations and set on top of the honey producing colonies. I did it little by little, each morning moving just one or two loads of 25 boxes into their winter locations. But now most of the nucs are wintered on the pallets right where they were made up in June or July. This saves an enormous amount of work, and after five years of experience with both warm and very cold winters, appears to be a completely satisfactory winter situation for these valuable colonies. A few loads of nuc boxes are moved, so that all the pallets are full, and all the nuc boxes can be packed in groups of four…

And so with the honey crop safe in the shop, ready to process or ship to a buyer, and the nucs all in their winter locations; it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief, slow down, watch a few soccer games, go for a walk, and enjoy the last few warm days of another busy season.

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