October brings closure to the bee-keeping season but important work is still possible, weather permitting. Careful action now is part of good winter preparation which will pay dividends in spring.
The colony should be in a vibrant state, queen-right, with a prolific young queen; however, some indicators might suggest otherwise:
Drones might still be flying, but some colonies overwinter a few drones.
The colony has not consumed sufficient sugar syrup in comparison to others but may have gathered sufficient nectar to store as honey for winter.
Ivy and other late pollens are not being taken in.
Check the brood nest and re-queen or unite if necessary.
Record the queen's qualities or deficiencies. These will influence your spring action plan and queen selection for future breeding purposes.
Colony Health Status
Check, as far as possible, for debilitating diseases.
Send off samples for diagnostic testing. Unhealthy bees will not survive winter or build up in spring.
Remove residues of the particular Varroa treatment you used.
Record the treatment, monitor mite fall and decide if further treatment is necessary in December.
Top-up if necessary. Thirty-five pounds or fifteen kilos have been quoted as sufficient stores for large colonies. Other factors influence the amount of food required:
the size of the colony
the amount of honey left on as winter food.
opportunities to forage autumn nectar and pollen.
the genetic strain of the bee.
Feeding will stimulate egg laying after honey removal.
Under-feeding will result in starvation and/or death.
Overfeeding causes comb-clogging and restricts queen laying space until it is non-existent, which results in a dearth of young winter bees. Older forages gradually die off as winter progresses into spring. Those remaining become “work-weary” and cease foraging to the point of death. Spring brood is neglected and dies. You could have contributed to spring dwindling by “killing with kindness”.
Assess and record pollen content in the brood frames, and decide if spring fed pollen supplements or substitutes are required.
Consider, at this stage, any requirement for midwinter feeding of baker's or Ambrosia fondant.
Make the Hive Bee-right
The roof must be water-tight, clean any wax-moths, spiders, queen wasps and snails from the inside. Insert insulation, if required, and finish with exterior weights on top.
The crownboard may be raised on matchsticks to facilitate ventilation and air circulation if the hive is not on an open-mesh floor.
You might consider a “winter crownboard” allowing 5/8” or 13mm bee space above the top bars for easy bee movement across brood frames in winter. Bees are unlikely to build burr comb when wax making is on the wane.
The Brood Box
Try to avoid October manipulations, which tend to be conducive to robbing. Consider only essential work.
Remove any dirty or deformed brood combs not in use and replace with new drawn comb.
Clean or replace with a clean floorboard.
Insert mouse guards, which can be useful but may be detrimental to late pollen gathers and hive cleaning undertakers.
Reduce the size of hive entrances if wasps still pose a threat.
Around the Apiary Site
Improve or adjust hive stands.
Cut off over-hanging branches.
Repair damaged fences.
Those of us who are totally “rodent unfriendly” could place a sachet of approved mouse poison in a short plastic tube under the hive stand; this has worked wonders for thirty years
Clean and store unused equipment
Start selling your honey. Money will not ferment or deteriorate.
Make good quality granulated or creamed honey.
Consider planting bee friendly forage plants
▪ Bulbs, corms, and tubers: crocus, winter aconite, bluebells.
▪ Rockery plants: white arabis, aubretia, alyssum.
▪ Climbers: wisteria, passion flower, ivy.
▪ Herbacious: plants, hellebore, meadow rue, yarrow.
▪ Annuals: poached egg plant, red dead-nettle, white clover.
▪ Herbs: thyme, rosemary, lavender.
▪ Fruit trees/bushes: pear, apple, plum, raspberry, currants, loganberry.
▪ Shrubs: hebe, gorse, cotoneaster.
▪ Trees: norway maple, horse chestnut, lime.
You have a duty of care to bees in all months including October. Remember the old English proverb “A dead bee makes no honey”.