The Ashland Beacon
This is a critical period in a beekeepers attempt to manage hives; however, we need to define the term "Dearth," so this is clear to all our first-year beekeepers. We also want to help manage your bees as we embark on the final flow of nectar before fall.
Dearth: This is a period of time when bees cannot find sources of nectar or pollen in quantities large enough to sustain the colony. The most apparent dearth period is during the winter, when nothing is growing or blooming.
However, when the term is used, it usually refers to that period in early to late summer for our area - July through the end of August. Most plants have passed the blooming stage, and nectar becomes very hard to find, which often triggers bees to become aggressive, and when other hives are not far, it can set up robbing. For this reason, feeding your bees during this time should be done inside the hive. Board feeders can be the source of robbing, and once it starts, you can lose the weaker hives.
As Goldenrods and Ironweed begin to bloom, bees will again start to bring in both nectar and pollen; this marks the end of the Dearth, and at this time, you should do complete inspections of your bees to determine their health and what each will need to make it through the fall and winter.
During your inspections, you should see all stages of brood from larva, pupa to capped brood, or find the queen. You may find hives that have no honey or pollen left in the hive. Due to the lack of finding anything to collect, the colony was living from stored resources; this hive must be fed as they need to develop about 60lbs of honey before winter. Feeding should be done inside the hive.
If you had a super on and your bees migrated to the upper brood box and into the super with brood, you should rotate the brood boxes, putting the brood on the bottom, brushing all the bees into the second deep, and putting a queen excluder between the second deep and the super. The nurse bees will be able to pass through the excluder and tend to the brood in the super and at the same time keep the queen from laying there. This will open up your super for honey and put the brood back where it should be in the next 21 days.
The next thing you should be on the lookout for is unwanted pests: wax moths and small hive beetles. Both of these invaders tend to show up when hives are weak and not defended because most of the time, the bees will control these pests if they are healthy and in good numbers.
If you see a hive with no resources, all stores are gone, and no brood is present and no queen to be found, it's a good chance this hive has been robbed and the queen killed. I have found that it is entirely futile to replace the queen. If you replace this queen, the robbers will kill her in less than two weeks. I have tried many times. I have found I must either start a new hive in a different location or combine the remaining bees with another hive.
Your goal the first year for each new hive is to grow you split, package, or Nuc from the 10,000 bees you started with to 40,000 bees, which is equal to two full deeps every frame covered with bees. If you do this, your second year, you should harvest without harming or handicapping your hive.
I know with COVID-19 raging, bee clubs have had a hard time doing the education they typically provide. I hope that while I have been unable to teach from the classroom or bee club, we continue to provide some guidance from this column. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me. I will help in any way I can. In the meantime, stay safe, and may God bless you.