It feels like Fall has just begun, but it's time to get these hives in shape for the Winter (and has been for a while). I just did a quick inspection of the hives and found that they are woefully low on stores to make it through the Winter months. Around here, it is suggested that a colony has at least 50 lbs. of stored honey going into the Winter- the hives at TLC Apiary had almost none
. I wouldn't say they were on the brink of starvation, but without help they would never see next spring.
I gave each hive a little over 2 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup (2 parts sugar dissolved in 1 part water). To that I added some lemongrass and spearmint essential oils (to stimulate feeding and also inhibit mold), along with an antibiotic by the name of Fumagilin-B to treat for Nosema disease. I have mixed feelings about giving antibiotics that may or may not be necessary as a preventative measure, but in the end caution won out. Last Winter was especially tough for many beekeepers, with high losses, and Nosema certainly played a roll in many of those losses. It's said that nosema spores are present in all hives, to varying degrees, and a certain level is tolerable to the colony. There's no way for a small-scale beekeeper like me to effectively test for Nosema (as I would for mite levels), so I'm just going to play it safe. In the future, I hope to have more colonies to experiment with, withholding treatment from some and breeding from the best.
Mouse guards are also now on the hive entrances. When the weather turns cold, bees will form a tight cluster within the hive, leaving plenty of cozy corners for mice to move in and set up a nice winter nest. Putting a metal cover over the entrance with holes too small for a mouse but big enough for a bee is a pretty simple solution. One just has to make sure they go on early enough, so that a mouse isn't locked in!
Other than that there's not much else to do to prep for winter here in Southern PA. The hives don't really need to be wrapped and insulated for our winters. There is already good ventilation in the hives to keep them dry inside (dampness, not cold, kills bees over the winter). Now I just need to stay on top of feeding until they make it up to weight. I've said before, making sugar syrup is my least favorite part of beekeeping, but hopefully when these are no longer first-year hives they'll have a better workforce to provide for themselves.