Winter’s not here yet, but it is time to think about preparing your hives for winter here in the high desert of Central Oregon. If you have staggered the hive boxes to help with summer ventilation, such as in the picture above, its time to close them up if you have not already done so.
Most importantly its time for a hive check to see if your bees have enough stores for winter. Big strong hives will have put away plenty of extra honey making it possible for you to share in the bounty. BUT WAIT! Check your other hives first. If you have made some late season splits or simply have a hive that has not done as well as you would hope, pull some frames of honey from the strong hives and share it with the weaker hives. That way everyone is set for winter.
If your hives are low on stores and you need to feed, you want to feed a 2 to 1 mixture of sugar and water. Two parts sugar to one part water. Takes lots of stirring and hot water!
This is also the time of year the mite populations peak. Do a mite count and see how your hives are doing. One way to do a mite count is with a powdered sugar roll. Collect one cup of bees and add them to a pint jar that is then capped with a screened lid. Through the screen add a heaping tablespoon of powdered sugar. Roll the jar to coat the bees and then let the jar sit for one minute. After a minute, take the jar and shake out the powdered sugar (and mites) into a pan with a very shallow layer of water. The water will melt the powdered sugar and reveal the mites. Count your mites.
There is about 300 bees in a cup and you divide your mite count by 3 to get mites per 100 bees – or a percentage. Anything over 5 percent and you may want to treat. If you have been following along with my blog you know we don’t use chemical miticides in our hives. Instead we create brood breaks to control mites and use essential oils. If you must use a miticide, I suppose the Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) would be a choice to make as they are an organic acid that is corrosive, not toxic, thereby killing the mites physically and giving them little chance to build resistance. Beware though! A respirator is suggested use when applying this treatment and you would not want to apply the MAQS when temps are expected above 85 or you may harm the queen. MAQS are effective but they are expensive and somewhat hazardous to apply.
If you prefer a softer, natural approach, use food grade organic essential oils. Its not a silver bullet and not an immediate kill like the MAQS, but it is organic and will help to control your mites. To make a concentrate, add 1 teaspoon of Wintergreen oil, 3/4 teaspoon Tea tree oil, a few drops of spearmint and a few drops of lemongrass oil to one cup of water in a blender and run on low for five minutes. When done add this to a half gallon jar of water. This is your concentrate. When you feed this to the bees you add one cup of the concentrate to one gallon of 2 to 1 feed.
If your creating brood breaks during the season and following up with essential oils, you will lose very few hives to mites without using chemicals.