What you do in July will have a measurable impact on your colony’s chance of winter survival. Bees raised after this month must endure the long, wet winter and still be strong enough to raise a new generation early next spring. July is your opportunity to create ideal conditions for development of healthy winter bees!
- Plan your mite treatment. Monitor mite levels throughout the month so you know whether or not you need to treat. If numbers exceed threshold, don’t wait until August to deal with the problem. Many colonies have been lost to Varroa by mid-August in the past. Even if your numbers are low enough to wait, finish treatments no later than August 15 so that your winter bees are raised with minimal exposure to mites and mite-borne disease. If you are trapping for drones, you can continue trapping all the way through July, but be careful not to leave the frames in too long.
- Minimize heat stress. Provide plenty of ventilation for warm, moist air to leave the hive. Make sure the bees have a water source. If possible, give your colony afternoon shade during hot days.
- Watch for robbing. The blackberry bloom ends in mid-July for most of Oregon. This marks the beginning of robbing season. Reduce entrances on weaker colonies, especially if you suspect they are diseased. Marauders from healthy colonies can bring diseases back with the booty.
- Avoid spilling syrup or honey near the hives, and keep hives open only as long as necessary. Keep a “robbing screen” on hand in case you need to stop a looting frenzy.
- Resolve queen problems. Queens are generally not available after the first week of August. It’s best to make colonies queenright now so they have time to collect themselves for winter. Recombine hives if necessary, but only if colonies are not diseased.
- Assist swarmed colonies if necessary. In terms of summer population, colonies are weakest five to six weeks after they have swarmed. Reduce entrances, confirm the new queen is laying well, and combine swarmed colonies with other colonies if necessary. Be ready to feed swarmed colonies in August if they are light on stores.
- It’s also time to plan for the honey extraction. In most parts of Oregon, colonies don’t put much honey away after July. You can remove honey supers at the end of this month without compromising your harvest. This allows you more time and flexibility for preparing the bees for winter.
- Consolidate your honey supers as July progresses. Rearrange frames if necessary. Your goal is to minimize unprocessed nectar on the frames at harvest time. When you are ready to extract, give frames with uncapped cells a shake while holding them parallel to the ground. If nectar comes out, the frames are too wet to include in the harvest.
By Karessa Torgerson, originally published in similar form in The Bee Line, July 2013