Worried about my bees

Yesterday afternoon I was outside in a short-sleeve tee admiring the sky, a clear ethereal blue above a jagged frame of alder, maple, and fir. As I gazed beyond the pasture, a meteor slashed the blue just above the tree line, ripped an arc through the sky, and vanished in a heartbeat. Is it even possible, I wondered, to see a meteor at 3:15 in the afternoon or was I crazy?

I went online to find an answer, only to learn we were entering the Orionid meteor shower at that very moment. How cool is that? Oh, and I found the answer, “Yes, it is possible to see a meteor in the daytime, but good luck setting up your lawn chair and looking for one.” Serendipity, I guess.

But the reason I was outside is more problematic. It is impossibly warm for October. The alders are still wearing their summer clothes, the aronia leaves refuse to turn, and my bean plants have flowers. The air smells of humus and earthworms, and my bees seem to think it’s August.

My colonies are actively bringing in pollen in shades of white and Day-Glo orange. Sure, pollen is good, and so are all those empty intestines. But nary a bee is bringing in nectar. I see none of those distended, nearly translucent, abdomens that signal a full honey crop. No, these bees are not storing nectar for the winter, they are using it up.

When foraging bees look for nectar and don’t find it, they expend a huge amount of energy. They fly from place to place and often come home with an empty crop. They refuel from the colony’s winter supply, and try again the next day. Each day that flying weather persists, the stores are diminished.

Even more worrisome is the fact that here in western Washington—at least in my area—the honey season was not great. The biggest flow, blackberries, was cut short by a hot and dry summer, and the fall flow didn’t amount to much. I fear many northwest bees will go hungry this winter unless their keepers are alert.

I hate to feed sugar. I believe honey bees should eat honey, and to that end I keep a large reserve for emergency feeding. But there is no way I have enough to feed all my colonies for most of the winter.

Each balmy afternoon, I get a little more worried. I purchased 200 pounds of granulated sugar as an hors d’oeuvre. Tomorrow I will buy more, stack the bags to the ceiling, shoo away the ants. Meanwhile, my bees are out there cavorting with the meteors, sunning themselves on the porch, partaking of the facilities. Silly bees . . . if only they had cable.



  • I, too, am worried about my colonies’ readiness for winter. I was beyond dismay when an early October inspection revealed 4 out of 5 hives were bone dry. I had hoped my one super hive would have enough stored to share but they will barely have enough for themselves. I have taken no honey from them since the end of June and the other hives were not harvested at all. So I am feeding and hope the temperatures stay warm enough for another couple of weeks to delay clustering and allow continued feeding. I am 4 years into beekeeping and every season presents new challenges.

  • My hives seem to have lots of honey as of 2 weeks ago, full super on top of the bottom one, other than one swarm I caught in late spring. Should I be feeding them now? I live in the Willamette valley in Oregon. They do have mites tho, lots of mites. I put in Apistan strips two weeks ago, I know that is late, but with this warm weather I opted to try anyway. I did not check them when I should have. These are first year hives. We lost both hives last winter and thought it was because of too much moisture and cold. Now I am worried about the mites being the problem. I did reuse my frames and unused honey from last years hives.
    This is my first year beekeeping on my own. My hubby has been doing it until he got stung too many times with big reactions.

    • Bonnie,

      If you think they have enough honey for the winter, you don’t need to feed. I generally do not feed (this year will be an exception) but it’s a good idea to check the levels around the end of December. After that, they start using more honey because they start raising more brood. In the valley, you can usually find a warmish day in mid-winter to check on honey supplies.

      When the Apistan treatment is finished, you might want to do a sugar roll just to make sure it worked. Many areas have resistance to Apistan, so a sugar roll will tell you if it worked or not.

      Bees don’t normally die of cold; they are very good at keeping themselves warm. But if they are wet, that is a different story. Your climate isn’t that much different than mine, except maybe a bit warmer. I would go with a moisture quilt. It is easy to make, inexpensive, and will keep your bees dry and warm. I have friends in Corvallis who use them and say it makes a huge difference.

  • In SW Oklahoma I have tomatoes in full bloom. I am amazed. This is my first year with my bees but I am not sure some of my colonies are prepared. I can see a rough winter ahead for us. I am also laying in more sugar for the season.

  • Your situation sounds similar to mine. Neither of my first year hives set aside any honey, never mind any surplus. I’ve fed 120 pounds of sugar, and they seemed willing to take more, but I wanted them to settle down, so I stopped feeding when the hives got heavy enough. But they are still bringing in pollen – one hive especially is still very active. There is still crown vetch and aster blooming, but I can’t imagine it amounts to much. It was a dry year in southern Rhode Island, and I guess there was never much of a nectar flow after the spring.

  • Yes, I too see the pollen, lots of it and didn’t think about the lack of nectar. Thanks for the heads up.

  • HI Rusty,
    Here is my dilemma for the winter. I got so busy that I forgot to switch the brood boxes. This season I got Carnolians and am hoping they are more winter hardy (I am in CT) Is there anything I can do? Should I put a candy board above or switch the boxes as long as the cluster is not between the two.
    Thanks I always learn something from your site.

  • Central Texas, plenty honey stores and pollen – most hives have over 50 lbs of honey. Will provide dry feed during winter for pollen stores/protein build-up, otherwise bees are in good shape and much to eat.

  • I am a newbie beekeeper and yet even I recognize that my bees are ‘needy’. Haplessly buzzing around my kitchen door, flying inside my open garage space, (no food there) I seem to be bumping into them everywhere.

    We are drought stricken here in central California and it is a challenge to keep my lovely bees happy and healthy.
    Thank you Rusty for having this site where we can share ideas.

  • This is my first year beekeeping. I have 1 top bar hive. I am also worried that there won’t be enough honey. There is practically none right now. I fed some sugar water a few weeks ago, then they were attacked by robbers. I didn’t shrink the opening, which is probably the problem. When is it too cold to open the hive? Our weather has been so rainy lately, I haven’t been able to open it up and see what’s going on.

    • Maria,

      You have to gamble a little. If you don’t open it, they will remain warm but they might starve. If you do open it, you will know if you need to feed or not, and if you work quickly you won’t lose a lot of bees. If you think they are low on food, doing something is better than doing nothing.

  • I guess I am grateful for the colder weather here in western New York, that pretty much coincided with the end of the aster bloom. We’ve been feeding our three hives sugar syrup to make sure they have as much winter honey store as possible. The Ontario (Canada) Tech Transfer people have verbally mentioned some minor correlation between feeding sugar syrup in the fall and improved winter survival, so we’re giving them as much as they want this year. One of the hives has stopped taking syrup, one is still moderately interested, and one is still very interested in nomming away.

  • I’m planning to get out this weekend and check on mine. 4 weeks ago, they had almost 15 solid frames of honey packed away in the brood boxes. Now with the warm weather we’re seeing here in Missouri, and no nectar, I too need to check and see if they’ve consumed it all or still have enough to get through winter.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am experiencing the same situation as you since I am just north of Bremerton/Poulsbo. On Sunday (we saw an even 70 deg. F. at about 1 pm) I was finally able to get the last of my supers off (gotta love the bee escape from Brushy Mtn!) and got the entrance reducer in place, with #4 h/w cloth over it as a mouse guard. Only issue is that the colony is still very active and strong (LOADS of pollen) and I have a major traffic jam most of the dry/flyable days. I didn’t think to be worried about them drawing down their honey stores, so I will plastic wrap and freeze the frames in case I need them later. I also have ~4 capped deep frames from earlier in the year in frozen reserve. I will use these first as the season moves along.

    One question: since my supers are mediums, can I drop the full frames into the top deep if I see empty frames in winter? I think I’ve read that the bees wouldn’t get to them without some sort of bridge comb, and if they are clustered they are not building comb. Basically, what can I do with the medium frames of capped honey? Wait until the top deep is exhausted and place medium box on top with full frames instead?

    I think I’ll be buying or building mountain camp rims to place below my quilt boxes and stocking up on sugar as well…. Heck if the bees don’t get it the hummies will!



    • Hi Aaron,

      You could place a medium box with medium frames on top of the main brood box if you want, but I have frequently put medium frames in deep boxes during the winter with no problem. If the cluster is near the top of the frames (which it usually is) and you place the frames close to the cluster, the bees have no trouble moving across the space to get to them. If the medium frames were in a deep box above the cluster, it would be more of an issue.

  • Here in England (Somerset) I have the same situation. Unusually warm but damp the bees active when they can be taking in pollen. The colony is in its first year, as am I as a keeper. Wasps continue to be a problem. I’ve fed syrup and recently Ambrosia as the nights are cooling down, but with a large number of bees am concerned the stores are being eaten. Also have a varroa concern as this year has been bad here I’m told and despite treatments still have a daily fall. All in all the girls are a worry and I really want to do the best for them but am so uncertain as to what course of action is best. Rusty I really rate your site – genuinely has been the most helpful site I’ve found in my first year. I wish you all well.

    • Dave,

      Everyone who has responded to this post should check back in come spring. It would be interesting to see what happened in each case. Overwintering, especially in your first year, can be an ordeal. Good luck.

  • My hives are in the same state: the top bar was completely empty of honey. When I opened it this summer, I broke a couple of combs that I tried to reattach but, after a couple surly stings, gave up and just harvested. I purposefully kept that honey separate knowing I might need to feed it back to them this fall. The hive was bone dry when I opened it this fall. I’ve fed most of the honey back to them with an interior feeder and they’ve already gone through one batch of candy. I’ll need to make another before I close it up for the winter and wrap it with tar paper. I don’t hold a lot of hope for their winter survival, but at least I know I’ve done everything I can to help them.

    • Have you tried a dry mix to build pollen?

      Made of powdered yeast, dry milk, soy powder, unbleached flour (ensure not bleached flour) – it will assist in survival – start now and they will build their stores before winter, then you can add your sugar water separately.

  • Hi Rusty,

    New beekeeper . . . I have a hive with a shallow super that is full and capped. I didn’t get around to extracting it and figured it would be ok if I just left it on the hive over winter. After reading a bit, I started thinking that may not be a good idea. Will beetles ruin it? I have had some beetles (earlier this summer I would only see 3 or 4 during inspection) but I haven’t seen one in a while.

    What about wax moths? The super has never had brood in it. I’ve heard that means the moths won’t go in it; I didn’t understand that. Is that true?

    Should I leave the super on the hive for the winter or bring it in the house or put it in the freezer? I’m a bit confused. What would you recommend?

    Thank you very much. I really appreciate your blog and enjoy your writing.


    • Jesse,

      Lots of questions here, but they are hard for me to answer because I have no idea where you live. If you get hard freezes, these other insects are not as much trouble as they are in warmer climates.

      But the larger question isn’t who might eat the honey, but how much honey your colony needs. Again it depends on where you live, but you will most likely need between 40 and 90 pounds of honey for overwintering. So if the colony has that much without the honey super, you can take it off. If it doesn’t have that much, you should leave it on. If the colony is healthy and robust it can handle most of the invaders. You don’t want to starve your colony in the interest of controlling wax moths or hive beetles.

      Wax moths like to eat the shed larval skins of honey bees, so they generally go after comb that has contained brood. That’s not to say you will never find them in a honey super, but it is rare.

      If you take the super off and want to save it for next year, I recommend you wrap each frame in plastic and then freeze it overnight. That will kill any wax moth eggs and larvae that may be there. Once frozen, take it out of the freezer, leave the plastic in place, and store somewhere that is protected from mice, etc.

      There is more about all these subjects on my site. Use the Google custom search box on the right-hand side of most pages.

  • Hi Rusty,

    “I see none of those . . . signal a full crop honey” interesting statement. I was wondering if you could expand more on that statement. I can see when a bee is bringing in pollen, but how does one know if they are bringing in nectar or anything else for that matter?

    • Steve,

      “I see none of those distended, nearly translucent, abdomens that signal a full honey crop.” I will work on getting some photos. But honestly, that’s what it looks like: the abdomens are puffed up and light goes through. Anyway, it’s a good project for me.

  • Here in western Washington I’m having a hard time with the bees ‘milling’ around the yard now that there is a dearth. Too many bees for my (and my neighbors) comfort. Would feeding them more syrup in the hives help this or add to the bee-chaos? I want them to go back to bee-lining and get out of my hair, literally. Any thoughts?

    • Cat,

      They won’t be bee-lining until they have something to bee-line to. Not much is in bloom right now, especially after the abnormally hot and dry summer. They mill about when they don’t have a decent place to forage. Feeding can make it worse, especially if neighboring bee colonies detect the food source and try to get some. Basically, this is just a season you have to go through. Once it gets rainy and cold, they will stop bugging you.

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