Maine beekeepers are on the “home stretch” for the 2011 season. By mid-October, colonies with queen issues should have been united or culled, had Varroa treatment, and fed sugar syrup when needed. Fortunately, most hives have heavy brood nests and large populations of young, fat, fuzzy bees this fall. Varroa populations are low and symptoms of viral infections are minimal in contrast to this time last year. For the most part, there wasn’t a significant fall honey crop for most of Maine and minimal goldenrod honey was extracted. The bees put most of the fall honey in the brood nest and many supers had only a few frames of partially filled, uncapped nectar and honey.
Partially filled supers of nectar and honey usually aren’t worth the effort to extract due to the high moisture content and minimal amount of honey recovered. Prior to storage, it is best to feed this honey back to the bees so it isn’t prone to fermentation or crystallization. The bees will empty the combs when the partially filled super is placed above the inner cover with the escape hole open. This method works well while the daytime temperatures remain warm, provided the super is bee-tight in order to prevent robbery. Tape all areas where bees can access the super such as the inner cover notch, knotholes, chips, etc. Center the partially filled combs within the super directly above the escape hole and be sure to scratch the wax cappings on partially filled frames of honey. The bees will move the honey down into the hive bodies in short order.
Likewise, stack hive bodies from culled, disease-free hives with limited amounts of honey/nectar stores and small patches of live brood (drone or worker from queenless or failing queens) above the inner cover. Make sure the failing queen is pinched before stacking the hive body above the inner cover. The only advantage to stacking the frames of spotty brood is to allow it to hatch prior to storage. Emerging workers will join the colony below and the poor drones will either be evicted upon emergence or cannibalized.
Hive bodies with frames of disease-free capped honey should be stored bee-tight for future use or distributed to other hives that are a frame or more short of winter stores. Frequently, the frames of foundation located along the walls of the brood chamber aren’t completely drawn-out, and these honey frames can be substituted. In addition, a full hive body of honey can be placed on top of the brood chambers of a “broody” populous hive that is low on stores. Winter the hive in three brood chambers, or remove the lower hive body in late October or early November prior to wrapping and/or providing upper insulation.
In general, hives that were lost due to failing queens have little nectar or honey stored in the lower hive body. Usually, there is dried, dead brood and frames of pollen in the lower box. These boxes should be stored, mouse-proof, in an unheated area. Frames that have limited drone pupae within worker cells can be reused the following year. It is best to give these frames to strong hives when replacing old or damaged combs at reversal, or when making nucs or splits. Frames with excessive dead pupae or damaged drone comb should be culled and given foundation prior to reuse. Likewise, it is best to cull frames that are pollen-bound. In particular, cull the pollen-bound frames that appear to have a sheen, since the bees aren’t likely to use this pollen. When this sort of pollen is fed back to hives the following spring, they will either remove it from the cells or ignore it. Frames of pollen that have a “normal” dull fresh-looking appearance are good candidates for storage. Depending upon the storage location, these frames may grow a blue-green penicillin mold of various intensity. Pollen frames with minimal mold are readily accepted and cleaned by bees the following spring. In contrast, frames of pollen overcome with a thick, moist white mold are often avoided and the contents eventually torn out by the bees. At times, stored combs with dried pollen and pupa become infested with Dermestid beetles. The shed, hairy skins of beetle larvae and pollen dust located on the bottom of stacks of stored equipment are indicative of these beetles and the adults are usually found within the comb. The beetles provide a valuable service to the bees by consuming dead brood and removing old pollen prior to reuse.
Now is the time to gather and properly store any remaining beekeeping equipment, dead outs and sort through honeycomb. Prior to storage it is a good practice to separate equipment that has frames or comb in need of repair or retirement. It is best to store woodenware and comb stacked mouse-proof in an unheated building since Maine’s cold winter minimizes wax moth and hive beetle pressure. If an unheated building isn’t available, outside storage is acceptable. Store the boxes of comb both mouse- and bee-proof and not in direct contact with the ground. Ensure the equipment doesn’t topple over from winter winds or spring frost heaves, and keep the woodenware as dry as possible to minimize mold and decay.
In no time, you will be frantically pawing through those stacks of boxes wondering, “Where was that box of beautiful comb?” Protect your equipment — especially the comb — it is a valuable asset.