Fall bee hive management tasks prepare the hives for the bees’ winter survival. When the beekeeper sets up the hives for winter on a warm fall day, he or she will make a number of observations and hive adjustments. First, the hives must be queen-right. We don’t need to actually locate the queen, just see evidence that the hives have a healthy queen. Finding eggs or larvae tell us that a queen has been laying eggs recently. Queen bees reduce their egg laying in the fall and usually stop laying eggs completely as winter approaches. If a colony is weak, we should combine it with a strong colony. It is best to take our winter losses in the fall and not risk losing valuable honeycombs to wax moths. It is extremely important for beekeepers to manage parasitic Varroa mite levels in the hives. We should sample the bees and measure the mites using an alcohol wash or powdered sugar roll test. If Varroa levels exceed a three percent threshold, then a mite treatment of the hives is needed. Bees in colonies with high mite levels have a shortened life expectancy, and these colonies often perish during cold weather due to a lack of sufficient bees to provide winter cluster warmth.
To successfully over-wintering bees, the hives must have sufficient winter stores of honey, properly placed so that the bees can access it; and the hives must have adequate ventilation, particularly at the top. Arkansas hives require approximately 60 pounds of honey stores. Frames of honey should be on the edges of the fall cluster of bees, and the majority of the honey should be above the bees’ cluster. The beekeeper will likely need to rearrange hive boxes or frames to place the fall cluster low in the hive. As the winter progresses, the bee cluster will slowly move upward, eating through the stored honey. Remove all queen excluders, and reduce hive entrances as in today’s photo.--Richard