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Here in Illinois we are having a very typical fall. Most asters are drying out, grass is slowing down, and the nights are getting cooler. While our bees are preparing for winter, so are we. We are looking for any cracks around windows and door that need caulked to keep cold air from getting in. I told a friend that up north, our homes are similar to bee hives. While bees need about 70 pounds of stored honey to make it through the winter, we have to provide about 1,000 gallons of propane to our house to make it through the winter. I have to replace a couple of windows, place some snow plow markers around, and the list goes on.
We are also having our last beekeeping class for 2015 coming up this Saturday. We still have two spots open, so sign up today if you are thinking about taking a basic beekeeping class for beginners. Click here for more info. Our 2016 class schedule is being arranged now and will be posted within the next month. Our first round of classes usually is not offered until February 2016, so this is your last chance for a class this year.
If you can not think about winter coming then fall can be a very fun time of the year. We enjoy fall because it is a time to celebrate the bounty of summer. Harvest time means that everything went pretty well during the summer. Harvesting honey means that the bees did well all year. We enjoy pumpkins, the beauty of mums and the fun of going through corn mazes. Here in Illinois, there are places that will make huge corn mazes. This one was shaped like an eagle and was made in honor of our service men and women. I took this picture of Christian standing next to the marine marker.
Fall is baseball at its best with playoffs and the World Series! My oldest son is a big Cardinal fan and this year he forced me and Christian to go to a few games with him in St. Louis. It was Christian’s first time to go to a major league baseball game so we were teaching him the traditions such as the unique claps, corn dogs, overpriced cokes and the words to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
My oldest son David and my middle son Seth do nothing but think about the Cardinals. They never get an autograph, never catch a fly ball, never get close to the players but boy, would they love that. If any of you have connections, hook ‘em up. Anyway, on Christian’s second game a Cincinnati Reds’ player hit the longest left-handed home run in the new Stadium’s history. Well the ball bounced around in the stands and fell back on the field. An out fielder threw it over toward the guy sitting along the foul line and he stood up and tossed it right to Christian and he caught it! They were jealous.
Speaking of our marine son, Seth, he’s made it safely through his second deployment in the middle east and will be getting home soon. We are looking forward to seeing him again soon.
While fall is a fun time it does make us evaluate our hives and decide whether they are ready for winter. Have you noticed how different bees behave in the fall after the nectar flow ends? They are desperately scouring your property looking for anything sweet. I spilt a little bit of sugar in the back of my truck and I had a hundred bees on it. This is the season when hives rob smaller hives which has caused me to consider the bottom board. Let’s talk about this for a minute.
Okay beekeepers, here are two tips for you.
Know the difference between a yellow jacket and a honey bee. People will be calling you asking you to remove honey bees from their compost piles and homes, but when you arrive you will quickly see the difference. Bees have NO yellow on them at all. I always ask the homeowner to send me a picture. Here’s a picture I took of a yellow jacket eating with honey bees. See the difference? The yellow jacket has clear yellow and black markings and look at how long the yellow jacket antennae are.
The second tip is to be sure to place your entrance reducers on your hives now. Mice are starting to find a warm home now that the nights are cooler.
Once again we are hard at work making our Burns Bees Feeding Systems which are a great way to feed your bees in the fall. It comes with 2 holes for jars and one hole for patties. I like to feed my bees one jar of 2:1 and the other jar with 1:1. The first is for storage of honey and the 1:1 is to help build up fall brood for healthy spring and summer bees. These systems are screened so that you can change your jars and patties without bees bothering you.Maximize your effort to feed your bees prior to winter.
I recommend using these and feed your bees liquid as long as they can fly. I just posted a new video online so you can see how to place these on your hive. If the video doesn’t play, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdpqHnKXuMM
When the temperature dips below 50 degrees (f) in the day, bees will stop foraging and that’s when I recommend feeding them with our Winter-Bee-Kind candy board all winter.
BOTTOM BOARD OPENINGS 3/4 or 3/8?
Let’s talk about the opening of the bottom board spacing without a reducer. Years ago the bottom board was referred to as a reversible bottom board. This meant that if you flip it over on one side the entrance opening would be 3/4 of an inch. Flip it over on the other side and the entrance opening would be 3/8 of an inch. We’ve always made our bottom boards this way, only we do not place a back piece on the 3/8 side because hardly anyone flips the bottom boards any longer.
Let’s talk about why they used to flip the bottom boards. The reversing of the bottom board was a practice where you would actually flip it to the 3/8” (smallest opening) during the summer and the larger 3/4” opening in the winter. The thought was that during the winter, the larger spacing of 3/4 of an inch allowed an area inside on the bottom board for dead winter bees to fall and collect away from the winter cluster. And the smaller opening of 3/8” in the summer was believed to reduce robber bees.
Over the last 20 years most people have forgotten the reversible idea and strictly run a 3/4” opening when making bottom boards. After all, it does take a great deal of work to take the hive apart down to the bottom board in order to reverse it. And let’s be practical. First, a healthy colony is very good at removing dead bees from their hive on the first warm winter day. Secondly, a strong colony can defend itself against other colonies attempting to rob its honey stores. But there’s another part of this idea that is starting to intrigue me.
A friend of mine observed that bees land on the bottom board, go to the nearest wall and walk up and then cross over. This is why we see most foragers land toward one side of a bottom board. They are attempting to grain faster access to their wall so they can gain faster access to going up into their hive and then walking across. That’s a slew of walking. It’s not impossible for bees to enter a wall or tree and walk to where their comb is located. However, to be able to enter a colony and immediately gain access to comb does seem more practical to me. This can be achieved by reversing the bottom board to the smaller 3/8” opening because it drops the bottom of the deep hive body frame down closer to the screen bottom board. A foraging bee can land, walk it and simply raise up onto the comb and walk up on any frame rather than having to go to the wall.
Forager bees usually enter a colony and hand off their payload to house bees who walk it up into the honey super. So I really do not know where this transfer takes place. On the wall? Or does the forager have to walk into the comb where house bees are waiting? By my observation, it appears it does not take place on the wall but within the comb which makes sense. If this is the case, then it makes sense that bees would rather enter and choose which comb to gain access to from the bottom rather than having to walk up above the first deep and then back down or up from there.
I observed this activity for some time and I did not see one single bee fly up from the bottom board onto frames. Bees cannot jump, so they were indeed heading to the side wall to go up.
Before you jump to conclusions and form a rigid opinion, wait! I am NOT saying that 3/4” openings reduces a colonies healthy or ability to store resources. Nor am I saying that a smaller opening will improve a colony’s honey production. At the most I am simply suggesting it may reduce the distance bees have to walk to get to where they are going. Whether or not that changes things, I simply do not know.
But, if you want to try it why not. You can see if it makes any difference. We are now adding the extra back piece to all our bottom boards we sell simple to give customers that option if they so choose.
Now, my own person perspective. I like the idea of the smaller opening year round for several reasons. First, reducing the walk time of foragers. Secondly, the smaller opening should reduce robbing in the fall, and mice in the winter. I said “reduce,” not eliminate. Mice are very hard to keep out of hives. In their natural habitat bees always choose smaller openings and will even add propolis to reduce entrances. However, there are less pieces of equipment that support the 3/8” spacing. Most feeders, pollen traps, etc., are made to fit the standard 3/4”. Again, this is something that you can make up your own mind about.
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David and Sheri Burns