I saw the first frost of the season on the ground this morning. I also saw the bees stretching their wings outside the hives, but when I went out and checked, what I thought were bees were actually wasps — at least ten of them swooping around the entrances of both hives. I lifted off one outer cover, too, and noticed the inside of it was full of condensation.
I couldn’t do much about the wasps, but I put a screen in place of the outer cover for twenty minutes while the cover dried in the sun. I’ve seen the condensation build up over the past week. I take it as a sign that I need to prepare the hives for winter soon.
September is an eventful month for beekeeping in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Let me list the reasons why:
1) The bees get grumpy around September 1st. In the past 71 days since we’ve been keeping bees, I’ve been stung maybe 10 times, and nearly all the stings happened in September, usually just from walking too close to the hive or getting a bee stuck in my hair. (I keep my hair short now.) I’ve even had bees follow me into the house — and sting me. The bees were docile during the summer months, but they got dramatically more defensive after the nectar began to dry up in September.
2) September is the month for wasps. One or two hanging around during the summer wasn’t a big deal, but their numbers seemed to increase every few days beginning in September. (Feeding the bees sugar syrup probably attracts more wasps. For this reason, I would use internal frame feeders exclusively if I could.) I see wasps getting into the hives and fighting with the bees every day now. Sometimes the wasps are driven out right way. Other times, it’s a battle to the death. I’ve seen so many wasps getting in the hives over the past few days that I’ve reduced the entrances by half so the bees won’t have as much area to defend. But reducing the size of the entrance will decrease the ventilation in the hive, which is definitely not what I want happening as the weather gets colder. So I can’t reduce the entrances for long. I assume bees have been living around wasps for millions of years and know how to deal with them. I hope so.
3) The bees begin to prepare for winter by kicking out the male drones around mid-September, or in the case of hives with recently introduced foundationless frames, they chew out the drone
larvae pupae and toss them. It’s gross and a bit disturbing at first, but that’s it. I assume the bees know what they’re doing.
4) September is hurricane season in Newfoundland. We seem to get hit with one big storm every September. All my vegetables take a serious beating, all the apples and leaves get knocked off the trees, and the bees are stuck in a cold, windy hive for three or four days. Then they probably get out and find half their nectar sources have disappeared. Good times.
5) The nights get cold in September. Day time highs of 25 degrees Celsius (77 F) drop down to about 12 C (54 F) by the end of the month. Overnight temperature approach freezing at the same time, and then the first frost appears. It’s time to start preparing the bees for winter, and pronto.
I still don’t know what to do about wintering our bees. Every beekeeper seems to do something different depending on their local climate. If all goes well, I’ll post my plans for wintering our bees in a day or two. In a way, I’ll be glad when winter kicks in so I won’t have to worry about the bees until sometime in the new year when we pop open the hives and see if they’re still alive.
PHOTOS NOTE (OCTOBER 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.