There will be more hot days before the Texas Summer is really over, but the peak heat of 2017 is behind us, and thankfully so is the worst of Harvey.
I’ll offer a few pointers on 2 important subjects for beekeepers – 1)Bee Hive flood remediation; and 2) End of Summer Colony Management Routines.
Flood Remediation for Hives
For those lucky enough to still have colonies you can see and find on the coastal prairie, but unlucky enough to have them go partially underwater, here are the key practices and procedures that may help keep your colonies from perishing, and help them recover more quickly than they would otherwise.
Of course, unless you provided your hive with an upper entrance, if your colony’s entrance went under water then your hive may be a goner. Only a minute or two after the bottom entrance becomes submerged, your bees will begin suffocating, and it short order the dead and dying bees will drop to the bottom and further occlude the entrance and interfere with the ability of the colony to obtain oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. This explains why it is advisable to provide an upper entrance for hives, especially on the coastal prairie, where flooding is a risk.
Assuming your colony did have a way to exchange air, and an upper exit for bees to escape the hive, then any comb that went under water is potentially damaged, and any brood that went under water is probably dead. This must be dealt with immediately if you want to give your hive any chance at recovery.
A) First, examine the submerged comb. If the cells are packed with mud/debris this should be cut away and mud-packed comb discarded in a sealed plastic bag or burned. This kind of damage is very hard for bees to cope with, and you are better off eliminating mud-packed comb immediately.
B) If the water that entered the hive was not laden with sediment, then your next concern is to prevent hive beetle infestation and facilitate removal of dead brood from the water-soaked comb. If small hive beetle larvae are already present, then cutting away any infested brood and destroying it promptly is critical to your colony’s survival. Usually, the population of adult bees will have been reduced by submersion, and assessing your colony’s likelihood of surviving is the next concern. So…back to first principles:
i) Determine whether your hive has a laying queen. Are there queen cells present? Can you see embryos (eggs)?;
ii) If your colony has no young brood and no laying queen, then move embryos or first instar larvae from another colony into your hive, or get a replacement queen asap;
iii) Are there sufficient numbers of adult bees to cover any comb that contains young, uncapped brood?; If not, consider reducing to total amount of brood that the colony must care for, because leaving a colony with more larvae than the nurse bees can feed may promote growth of bacterial and fungal pathogens, and explosion of hive beetle populations;
C) If your colony remains relatively strong, with an adult bee population sufficient to cover uncapped brood, and your colony is configured with two or more brood chambers, or one brood chamber and one or more honey supers, then reverse the position of the hive chambers. Move the hive body or super containing combs with water damage up above clean undamaged comb and healthy brood with bees. This simple manipulation will greatly facilitate and accelerate your colony’s ability to remove dead brood, and cleanup and rebuild damaged comb.
D) Even if your colony has abundant honey stores, if damaged comb or dead brood is present, it is usually a good idea to feed a thin syrup to encourage your colony to rebuild damaged comb. Remember, building comb is only possible when your bees are on a nectar flow or receiving supplemental feed over and above their immediate needs for survival.
This brings us to the second topic:
End of Summer Management
All bets for a normal Fall are off if you’re in the zone pounded by Harvey, but colonies in many parts of Texas often get another boost of productivity, brood rearing and even a honey flow beginning after the first rains of late summer or early fall. The floods experienced by many are likely to persist long enough to drown or reduce the productivity of many flowering plants – save those that thrive in wet, partially aquatic or soggy ground, such as asters, smart weed, lakeweed, duck weed or whitebrush. However, if you’re in an area where snow on the prairie, boneset, verbenas, sunflowers, goldenrod, salvias, sumac, kinnikinick and other fall blooming plants are abundant, then you and your colony may enjoy a second spring.
A) Equip your colony for success, and add extra supers or remove unneeded excess equipment so that your hive is configured for optimal performance.
B) Take time to examine brood in your colony and brood production. Brood dynamics are always just as important if not more so than the static assessment of brood on the day you evaluate. If the queen has no open comb in which to lay, and is honey bound, then open up the brood nest by replacing full combs of honey with open brood comb. Alternatively, add a super or another brood chamber.
C) If the cluster of adult bees is small, and there are 3 or fewer combs of brood, despite a good pollen flow and adequate honey reserves, then the queen may be less prolific than she should be. Now is usually a good time to requeen colonies in Texas – though anytime you find a poor or unproductive queen is good time to requeen.
D) You should assess your varroa mite population and implement a treatment regimen if you determine that your varroa mite loads are potentially deleterious. Varroa mites aren’t normally a problem if you are using BeeWeaver queens – they are highly resistant to Varroa mites and the pathogens they vector. If you find you have a varroa mite problem, my recommended remedy is requeening with a BeeWeaver queen. If you decide to use chemical control measures, or other procedures to reduce varroa populations, now is the time to get moving. Be careful when using varroa control chemicals – without exception they can be harmful to bees as well as varroa mites. Wear personal protective gear, and only apply according to the label or instructions. Remember, it is important to reduce mite levels before brood rearing diminishes or ends. Otherwise, your colony will go into winter with too few young, healthy, well-provisioned bees to survive until spring.
E) Finally, don’t forget that your hive doesn’t need more than 50-75 pounds of honey to get through winter in great shape, regardless of how big your colony may be. For many beekeepers in Texas, harvesting another super of honey in late Summer or Fall is possible. Be sure to check flavor attributes before you pull honey in the fall. It is often advisable to remove older honey – produced earlier in summer – rather than pull and extract fall honey. Fall honey can often have strong flavors, astringent properties, and can contain significant concentrations of alkaloids. But bees thrive on it, and your strongest bees next spring will be those that produced fall honey.