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Beekeeping in September and October in the PNW

Hello Honey Bee Caretakers!

There four seasons in the PNW to a beekeeper:

  1. Spring (when it warms until when it stops raining)

  2. The Nectar Flow (June and part of July)

  3. Winter preparations (August to October)

  4. Winter (November to April?)

We are incredibly close to the time when we can no longer fix many of the problems that face our bees until Spring. Yikes!


It is still hot during the days and feels like summer, but the bees are not acting as though it is. Many of our queens have stopped laying or have, at least, significantly reduced the amount of brood they are rearing. They know what is coming. Winter bees are emerging and they are pulling in the last bits of pollen and nectar they will find until it warms back up.

During this time, we need to ensure that all colonies have enough food to make it through our PNW winter; approximately 80lbs are required. That is a rough estimate, as some colonies are frugal and will only use 30 to 40 lbs and have plenty left in the spring while some will plow through their stores and be in need of emergency feed to ensure they don’t die of starvation before the spring flowers open. This 80 lbs of honey can be measured by counting out 10 full frames (deeps) of stored honey, by weighing the hive, or by “hefting” the rear of the hive. Hefting is a learned skill and can tell you roughly how much stored food they have remaining. Ultimately, you lift the hive from the back handle, rocking it on the front and say, “yep, it’s heavy!” (at least you hope). Once you know the feel, this can give you a very quick and easy assessment of the remaining stores without having to crack the hive open and expose the bees to the cold, wet PNW.

This is also still the critical time to continually assess varroa mite levels. Hives that are uncontrolled will almost undoubtedly not make it through winter. Varroa mites put a large amount of stress on the bees and significantly reduce their longevity. Winter bees live 6 months or so, and varroa can cut that down to 4 months. That would put colony death due to a varroa infestation timed for the early part of the new year and February if they are unchecked. We are regularly checking our hives with the sugar roll method to ensure low varroa numbers (less than 3 mites per 100 bees). If hives are in excess of this threshold, you have no choice but to treat (see the Honeybee Health Coalition, and check out the Varroa Management Decision Tool for more information).

Other things we are watching for or doing: managing robbing from yellowjackets, adding mouse guards, and insulating our hive covers.

Enjoy your bees, your honey, and start dreaming about Spring…!

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