In general, what’s going on during the month of November/December?
The bees are in their wintertime mode. A small amount of brood may exist in early November and the queen has stopped laying. Only a few days will be warm enough for the bees to conduct a futile search for flowers.
As the temperature falls the bees will be forced to form a tight ball or cluster to remain warm. The cluster will cover several adjacent frames filled with honey among the brood frames. The bees will gradually move in the direction of the stored honey as it is consumed to keep warm.
Hives without mouse guards provide mice with an opportunity to move into hives where the bees are tightly clustered. The bees cannot leave the cluster to drive the mice out of the hive because of the low temperatures, leaving the mice free to make their nest and overwinter in a corner of the hive.
Local conditions in the Louisa County area and recommendations
The first week of October brought more summer like temperatures (mid to upper 80’s) and a welcome dry spell. Warmer than average temperatures are forecast through the first half of the month. Bees are working the Aster flowers bringing in and storing the nectar which is not very tasty and smells bad to humans. The good news is that there is a fall flow this year which can reduce the need to feed later. The bad news is that the weather during September was very overcast and wet keeping the bees from flying and forcing them to rely on their winter stores.
Checking hives during the last two weeks of September found most (60% - 80%) light on honey stores and very few (10%) with the required 50-55 pounds of weight needed to get them through to spring. Aggressive feeding in top-feeders or jars inside an empty medium or deep box on top of the hive with 2:1 sugar syrup is warranted for hives weighing less than 35 pounds. Open feeding for heavier hives is easier and should be done at the same time for all hives in the apiary to deter robbing.
1. For insurance add fondant or sugar cakes partially covering the opening in the inner cover for the bees to feed on when the temperatures allow.
2. If you have not done so, remove any treatments or queen excluders from the hives early in November.
3. Attach mouse excluders and reduce entrances if you have not done so already.
4. Provide a wind break or wrap to protect your hives.
5. Consider planting black locust and tulip poplar tree seedlings during November or December. These trees are known for their rapid growth and valuable nectar for honey.
Top Bar Hives:
1. See recommendations above.