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Just Say No (to fall hive inspections)

This is not a how-to article. We could call it an opinion piece, but I hope that it provides a little more value than that. Let's say its my philosophy around late-season bee work.

Unpopular Opinion: There is no good that can come from a fall hive inspection.

Now for definitions and caveats.

Late fall: For the purposes of this opinion, let's say that late fall is whenever you are expecting your first frost. Your honey has been pulled, your mite treatments are done, and the leaves are starting to change colour.

If you live in Florida or SoCal, just skip on to the next blog post.

Our fall bee work looks something like this:

We pull off our honey supers around the 3rd weed of August, we immediately treat for mites, and then we start to feed our bees 1:1 (read more about our winter prep here). Shortly after our mite treatment is complete, we do one final hive inspection to make sure that all queens are present. At this time, we'll combine any hives that are queenless and remove any empty frames/boxes. That happens around the first week of September, and that's it! No more hive inspections!

It's not the end of bee work; we'll still feed and then insulate for winter. But it is the end of hive inspections.

Here's Why:

Fall is a really critical time for your bees. Even if it's still warm enough for them to be out foraging for the last crumbs of pollen, they are very much in winter prep mode. They will be propolizing every little crack, moving food stores closer to the brood nest, and raising those fat and happy winter bees. Your queen will be slimming down and will drastically slow down her egg laying (or even stop altogether). This fall shut-down can happen at wildly different times, even between two hives that sit side-by-side.

Opening the hive and pulling frames disrupts much of this important work. And while it might not cause any notable harm, it's important to ask what the benefits are.

I'll wait...

Here is where I restate my earlier opinion: No good can come from a fall hive inspection.

Every year, I get countless messages from people in September and October panicking because they don't see brood in their hive or can't find the queen.

Here's the thing: Fall hive inspections can be REALLY hard to interpret. Your queen has slimmed down and will be harder to find. And there may or may not be brood present depending on when that particular hive shuts down for the winter.

If you didn't have any reason to suspect a problem in with your queen a month ago, then you need to have faith that they are still fine now!

So What SHOULD You Do in Fall?

  • Keep feeding

  • Watch your entrances and help defend against robbers/wasps

  • Check bottom boards for mite drop

  • Treat for mites with Oxalic Acid

  • Insulate your hive(s) for winter

But DON'T pull frames for a full hive inspection, unless you have a very specific concern, and you know what you're going to do about it.


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