The beekeeping year can be divided into two extended management seasons: spring management and fall management. September sees changes in the bee yard which result in changes in beekeepers’ hive management. Honey bee colonies forage any flowers in bloom. Summer flowers that bees use to produce light colored and mild flavored honey are dying back. Beekeepers harvest delightful summer honey and sell it at a premium. Fall flowers are now coming into bloom. From the nectar of fall flowers, bees produce honey that is typically darker in color and more robust in flavor. The aroma of the honey is likewise changing from mild to more pronounced. Today, I noticed the more pungent odor of fall honey being ripened by the bees as I opened my hives for a regular seasonal inspection. Bitterweed and fall asters are coming into bloom in central Arkansas. They soon will be followed by the bloom of smartweed and goldenrod. These fall wildflowers produce ample amounts of nectar for the bees to convert into honey. Prudent beekeepers leave the resulting stronger-flavored fall honey in the hive, and bees use this honey for food throughout the winter.
Another change occurring at this time of the year involves the population of bees and their parasitic mite pests. Honey bee populations peak in late summer and then gradually decrease through the fall. Parasitic Varroa mite populations are reaching their maximum now. If left unchecked, the mites will weaken the honey bee colonies and spread viral diseases which will kill the bees. Beekeepers need to measure the number of Varroa mites in their hives and take corrective action if the mite load exceeds treatment thresholds calculated by the Honey Bee Health Coalition. Methods of sampling the mites and optional treatments are available in the pamphlet, “Tools for Varroa Management: A Guide to Effective Varroa Sampling and Control,” available at honeybeehealthcoalition.org. I assisted James Metrailer, shown in today’s photo, sample Varroa mites in his Kenyan Top Bar Hives.