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Winter Preparation - In September!

By:  Chari Elam

September? You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve gone from Spring to Fall (well almost) – just like that! September implies cool mornings, sipping hot coffee on the porch, enjoying the change in the seasons…NOT!

It is HOT – no honey coating it… It’s just HOT – and so are our bees! Not to sway too far from my article topic, but…

I’d like to refer back to Blake’s Monthly Tips Zoom call on August 6th. If you didn’t catch it, here’s a link to the recording. CLICK HERE to listen later –and also, don’t forget to sign up for this month’s call September 3rd – CLICK HERE!

In this call, Blake did a “thermometer” test to measure just how hot it gets inside our hives in the sun vs. shade. You talk about mind blowing - 100˚ inside of a hive that had some shade vs. 105˚ inside of a hive in full sun. This is a big deal! Over the last couple of weeks in southeast Texas we’ve had temperatures exceeding 100˚. This will, of course, start to cool as the month progresses, but for now it’s hot! September is the beginning of our winter prep and our bees can use all the help they can get, not only because of the heat but also nutritionally! Fun Fact: Bees make “bees” 2 times in a year; spring for honey production and fall for overwintering! That’s it! So, the title of my article (yes, I’m finally there) is “Winter Preparation in September?”

Why the question mark? It’s hard to fathom that inside that small ecosystem are checks and balances that “must” take place for the next year’s bees to be productive.

Our task – understanding what is really going on inside that box. Let’s take a look ~ The queen has slowed her laying – why is that? Very simply put; nectar flows have all but stopped, pollen sources are scarce and (depending on where you live) water sources are drying up or even worse, gone - even with a little rain here and there.

When we add all of those up, what do we get?

  • A workforce that is struggling to bring in resources (nectar/pollen) to feed the colony.
  • Reduced feeding for the Queen = less egg laying!
  • A colony in risk of not faring well through winter!

How do we overcome that? Supplemental feeding of course! Blake talked about this in the August Monthly Tips call.

So if we are embarking on the 2nd of only 2 brood rearing times for the year, it’s only logical that our commitment to feeding will make the difference in how well our bees overwinter. I want to briefly expound upon this ~ In reading countless studies, articles and let’s face it “Facebook” – to feed or not to feed is the question of the hour. I want to share the following snippet of one of my past Bluebonnet Newsletters of late with you~

"Are we just “feeding” or are we effectively giving our colonies good nutrition?"

We as humans know that we require a balanced diet. If we eat too much sugary food and not enough protein our muscles and stamina will suffer. We’ll have energy well enough, but we aren’t healthy. Same goes for our bees! We can’t just keep feeding them sugar syrup month after month and occasionally throw out some pollen substitute and expect a well nourished hive.

Let’s use Goldenrod as our example. It’s one of our primary fall forage plants for our bees - It seems like good news to learn Goldenrod is a Nectar and Pollen source. Double the benefit…more bang for your buck right? Not so fast! It is generally understood that diversity in bee forage (multiple sources) is very important for a well balanced diet. Protein content can vary dramatically from plant to plant; anywhere from 2 – 61% depending on the type of plant. So if we only have 1 or 2 plants available like now, it stands to reason we might feel a false sense of “pollen flow” or even worse “nutritional needs met!” Nothing to do here! Right? Wrong!

Why is pollen so crucial? We would need to look deep into the biology of Honey Bees to find the answer. Pollen is a bee’s ONLY source of protein. In pollen, they, in theory, are getting all of the minerals, lipids (fats) and vitamins they need to be healthy. If nature is only supplying a small variety of pollen producing plants, the odds go way up that the “quality” of the pollen isn’t meeting the nutritional requirements for a healthy hive. As a matter of fact, poor quality pollen added on top of limited quantities of pollen, increases the impact on colonies by drastically reducing the area of brood tended by nurse bees! What?

Quote: Randy Oliver ( “Should protein become even scarcer, the nurses will cannibalize drone brood, eggs, and young worker brood (in which they have invested the least resources), digest out the protein, and recycle it back into jelly. And, in extreme circumstances, the nurses will hoard the remaining protein in their bodies, and become the aforementioned diutinus (long lasting), or "winter bees."

Practical Tip: Workers which develop as larvae during pollen dearths may have food withheld, and thus be compromised in later life – beekeepers should be aware of this delayed effect.” End quote

What does that mean? It means that this time of year with very few choices for bees to forage on, we are at risk of our Winter Bees (the ones that will be rearing our Spring Bees) not being feed well in developmental stages (larval) leaving them incapable of being productive bees for our hive!

What’s the answer? Supplement pollen! It is understood that supplementing pollen is a brood stimulant, correct? Is that what you want to do right now? Actually yes! We NEED bees and we need those soon to be Winter Bees to be prolific and healthy! We want to come out of winter with robust, well fed bees that are more than capable of rearing our Spring Bees! Wow – I couldn’t have said it better myself… wait, I did say that myself! HaHa! But seriously, when I think back on what kept James and me trudging away through the learning curve of beekeeping; it was to have “healthy, robust, thriving colonies!”

Supplemental Pollen

Bottom line ~ our bees need us. Bees in nature struggle. We can’t see it, but they do. They have Varroa mites. They have Small Hive Beetles – and most of all, they struggle nutritionally! When we put those bees in a box, we accepted the responsibility to do better than what our somewhat “imperfect” environment can provide. It’s easy really… listen to your bees. Pay attention to their needs and they will reward YOU by bee-ing happy, healthy and productive!

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