by J. David Weidner
Winter is coming. Autumn is officially here and our bees are busy at work collecting as much pollen and nectar as possible to help maintain their colonies through the cold winter months. Gone are the warm easy days of collecting clover, buckwheat, basswood and black locust pollen and nectar. Suddenly, days have become shorter. Weather becomes even more unpredictable and the threat of first frost looms on the horizon.
Beekeepers should be monitoring their colonies for varroa mites on a routine basis and treating their colonies as warranted. Failure to monitor and treat for varroa will surely doom the hive. Our inspections have become less intrusive, allowing the bees to organize the contents of their hive as they know best. What we try to do is move two full frames of honey to the outer sides of our lower deep boxes to provide that initial amount of honey for the start of winter as the cluster is typically large enough early in the winter to shift from side to side.
Most importantly, we are hoping that our bees will collect sufficient nectar to stage in the second deep. All ten frames should be drawn with comb to allow for adequate storage of incoming nectar. We have been feeding a 1:1 sugar solution throughout the summer to our new colonies to encourage them to draw out comb. Sugar costs money and feeding can get expensive, so it is now that we welcome the bloom of goldenrod and asters to augment our hives and if we are lucky, perhaps provide us some surplus honey to harvest.
Unfortunately, New Jersey’s large and expansive fields of autumn goldenrod are few and far between. Sure, you can find small stands of goldenrod in many small corners of the highway and in many field edges, but our state’s agricultural practices and our disappearing open spaces have eliminated many of these valuable honeybee nectar sources so vital to preparing their colonies for winter. Recently, I traveled to New York State on a short day trip and while traveling up the New York Thruway, I was amazed at the vast fields of goldenrod and aster available to honeybees as forage.
Beekeepers will notice many changes in their colonies at this time of the year. Our queens start to decrease their egg laying activities, drones are forced out of the hive and our apiaries often take on a peculiar smell that is indicative of the goldenrod flow. This is our autumn gold and is truly welcomed in our apiaries as it provides an added measure of insurance. Very shortly, we will begin our final preparations for winter, a process that began several months ago. Somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the orange, red and yellow leaves on our trees will fall, our days will become even shorter, north winds will shuttle in the first frost and perhaps even a few snow flakes.
Your bees should be prepared. If they have been well managed, thanks to goldenrod, they should be well fed and stocked with pollen and nectar in order to survive until spring.
For more information, please visit NJHoneybees.com