Here is what to expect in and around the hive in October.
In the hive
There is little to no egg laying in October. Drone populations dwindle and any drones that remain in the hive are kicked out by their sisters. Bees tend to form their winter cluster at around 50ºF, usually starting in the middle of the month. On warm days, the bees venture out looking for food and may rob unprotected hives.
The weather may be too cold for extended inspections. It will also be difficult to correct any problems this late in the season.
- A full-sized colony should have 80 to 100 pounds of honey to eat by the beginning of October, or more than one full deep. Nucs, of course, need less. Estimate the weight by slightly tipping and hefting the hive. If you extract honey, leave enough for the bees or feed them sugar syrup to make up for the difference.
- If you feed the bees sugar syrup, it should be a 2:1 (sugar to water) ratio, thicker than the spring feed; the bees can evaporate the excess moisture from the hive faster from this thicker syrup. Do not boil the solution – it changes the chemical makeup of the sugar that may be harmful to bees.
- The bees will need at least two double-sided frames of pollen/bee bread by late winter/early spring. It is better to feed protein earlier in the season, although you can do so in late winter/early spring if necessary.
- Do not feed pollen or pollen substitute for the remainder of autumn, as bees use the reduction in pollen flow as a cue to continue rearing winter bees.
Pests, parasites, and diseases
- At this point in the year, if you find three or more mites per 100 bee: from a sugar shake, ether roll, or alcohol wash, you will want to treat. Treatment methods will depend on your management goals, the condition of the colony, and external conditions.
- Treatments that are most effective when there is no brood present are good options now.
- Always remove chemical Varroa mite treatments according to label directions, but make sure none remain in the hives before you winterize them.
- Carefully check every brood frame in each colony for American foulbrood infection.
- Winter preparation should continue: remove extra supers and queen excluders, secure the hive cover with a rock or straps, add a mouse guard (after confirming that a mouse has not yet moved in), or add an entrance reducer. Consider raising the hive up off the ground, if it is not already. Remove any supers that have not been filled.
- You may insulate the hive, but be sure foremost to avoid moisture build-up in the hives. Cold is less of a problem for bees than condensation. Since much of the heat escapes out of the top of the hive, some beekeepers add a super with an insulating, absorbent material (e.g., dry leaves, wood chips). Others wrap the hives in black tar paper or similar materials.
- Leave an upper entrance open for the exhaust of moisture.
- Tilt the hives forward a few degrees so that any moisture that does accumulate can drain out the bottom entrance.
- Consider moving your hives to sunny winter yards. They can be crowded in these yards, since they will not be foraging.
- Be sure that these yards and the spring/summer yards will be accessible in mud season (early spring).
- Consider setting up a wind break near the hives.