Beekeeping is an activity that ebbs and flows with the seasons.
So beekeepers must understand what happens in the colony at different times throughout the year.
For example, the onset of autumn marks a slowing down of activity inside the hive.
And in the fall, you need to know how to manage bees to prepare them for winter.
How well your bees overwinter could determine the colony’s productivity in spring and summer!
What Happens To Bees In The Fall?
The queen bee reduces her egg-laying in the fall, and the worker bees gather the final resources to prepare for winter. At this time of year, beekeepers must check the colony’s health, whether a hive needs re-queening, begin feeding their bees and provide winter shelter for the beehives.
Beekeeping is like farming with bees. You obviously need to manage your livestock (your bee colonies) each season throughout the year.
Summer is a fun time for beekeepers as they watch their colonies grow, produce honey, and do what bees do. However, the fall season is when the maintenance chores begin in earnest to prepare the colonies for winter and give them the best chance possible to survive the colder months.
The fall season may not be as exciting for beekeepers. Still, the work that must be done is crucial for keeping the colonies robust and healthy for the next honey season.
Beekeepers that live in temperate climates where the winters are not extreme have less intense maintenance during the fall season. In some mild winter regions, beekeepers can even harvest honey produced from winter flowering plants.
Whatever climate you experience, the activity in the hives decreases in autumn, making it an ideal time to do routine maintenance on the beehives.
The ideal method for keeping on top of your fall beekeeping is to keep a checklist of all the tasks you should perform at this time of year.
Fall Beekeeping Checklist
I have to admit… I’m forever making lists!
This checklist of autumn beekeeping tasks will help you plan the jobs that need doing and reduce the risk of forgetting some essential routines. Some colonies will require less maintenance than others, depending on how well they worked in the summer.
Keep in mind some items on this checklist may not be relevant for beekeepers in temperate climates, but it’s worth keeping these things in mind should a particularly cold front appear on the radar:-)
|Fall Beekeeping Checklist|
|Check honey reserves in the colony for winter.||□|
|Harvest excess honey supers.||□|
|Plant fall flowers for your bees.||□|
|Check all colonies have a queen.||□|
|Re-queen colonies that require it at the beginning of autumn||□|
|Check all colonies for pests that enter the hive in summer.Hive beetles, wax moths, etc.||□|
|Treat for varroa mites||□|
|Feed bees 2:1 (2 sugar to 1 water) syrup to encourage storage for winter||□|
|Replace screened bottom boards on hives with solid bottom boards for heat retention||□|
|Reduce top ventilation on the hive, but do not close it off completely – the bees still need some ventilation to remove stale and humid air.||□|
|Install mouse guards on hive entrances to prevent these rodents from moving in during the winter.||□|
|Prepare Snelgrove or double-screen boards to overwinter nuc colonies on top of strong colonies.||□|
|Place nuc colonies on top of strong colonies with a double-screen separator one week before your first frost.||□|
|Erect windbreaks for hives exposed to cold winter winds.||□|
I’ve created this printable checklist that you can download in PDF format. You can print it out and use it as a guideline for your fall beekeeping activities.
Let’s look closely at how to understand and care for your bees in the final season before winter…
What Do Bees Eat In The Fall?
The worker bees from the colony will continue to forage for nectar and pollen through the fall until the temperature drops below 55°F or 13°C.
They may need to travel further afield during the autumn to find resources, which makes planting fall flowers and plants for your bees close to the hives an important project.
A nectar and pollen resource close to the bees will allow them to gather winter forage without expending too much energy by flying far and wide.
Try Some of These Fall Flowers For Bees
The best flowers for bees in the fall are plants that will flower through the autumn and into the beginning of winter.
You may need to plant autumn-flowering foliage in mid to late summer for them to flower early to late fall. The type of flowers best for this will vary from region to region.
Note that bees need nectar, not pollen, at this time of year. Some types of blooms are better suited to producing nectar than others. Pollen is helpful in the spring when bees start raising brood.
Asking a few questions at your local garden center will provide good insight into bee-friendly plants that flower more abundantly in the fall in your area.
Some ideas can include the following:
- Purple Aster
- Autumn Joy Sedum
- Lemon Balm
- Autumn Joy
As well as helping bees, you’ll have a wonderfully colorful apiary for the end of the year!
Beware Of Robbing Bees In The Fall
Autumn marks the beginning of the nectar dearth. At this time, most of your colonies still have a strong population. So all those bees need to be fed. But with less and less available forage, bees often turn to other food sources. In other words, your other hives!
Weaker colonies can experience robbing from neighboring beehives. However, it’s far easier for a strong colony to take honey from a small hive or a nuc than to fly long distances in search of scarce nectar sources.
So keep an eye on your weakest colonies in the fall. You’ll find some tips on how to prevent robbing here…
What Do Honey Bees Need During Autumn?
Bees begin to wind down their activities in the fall as the available food sources become more scarce. They still need carbohydrates, a bit of protein, and sugars in their diet in the form of nectar, pollen, and honey. But they will start using the resources in the hive in the late fall.
You can feed your bees with a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio syrup if food sources are limited. This thicker syrup will encourage the bees to store it in the combs and convert it to honey.
A 1:1 ratio is used as a thinner syrup to feed the bees in late winter or early spring to give them direct energy so they can begin to forage and the queen can lay eggs.
Always use white sugar in bee syrup, and do not boil the water when adding the sugar. If brown sugar is used or the sugar in the water caramelizes, it can give your bees dysentery, weakening the colony.
When Should You Stop Feeding Bees In The Autumn?
It would be best if you stopped feeding your bees syrup once the outside air temperature drops below 57°F or 14°C. At this time, you need to switch to feeding your bees solid winter patties.
Read: “Winter Patties For Bees“ for more on this topic.
Do Bees Die In The Fall?
Bees will naturally die off in the fall, and the queen will slow down her egg-laying activities to reduce the number of bees in the hive for the winter. The active workers at the height of summer would be at the end of their life and will die off.
Colonies in cold climates will often expel excess drones from the hive in the latter part of fall to conserve resources in the hive. The drones have no purpose in the hive during winter and are a drain on the honey reserves.
Colonies in temperate climates with mild winters do not often see drones expelled before winter. In these climates, drones usually overwinter in the hive.
Why Do Bees Abscond In The Fall?
Absconding colonies in the fall is an unfortunate event for a beekeeper. The bees that abscond at this time of the year are unlikely to survive the cold winter months since they have inadequate resources and shelter.
Wild colonies may abscond in the fall if their hive has become too small or if there are insufficient food supplies in the area and they cannot build up winter stores.
The colony will abscond from the hive to search for more abundant resources. But it’s too late for them to establish a new hive and build reserves at this time of year, and the colony will not survive the winter.
Feeding your bees in the fall will help strengthen weaker colonies and give them the necessary stores to survive winter. In addition, beginning to feed your bees early in the fall can prevent fall absconding and keep your bees where they will be safe for the winter.
Fall is a time of preparation for the beekeeper (and the bees!).
Good preparations ensure that your bees will be comfortable and well-fed throughout the winter.
So a bit of maintenance in the autumn can go a long way to help your colonies make the most of the early spring season when the nectar flows begin once again!