Beekeeping (Fall Planning)
Glen L. Stanley
Iowa State apiarist (Emeritus)
Even though there will be many more warm, to
hot days ahead the time is rapidly approaching for making a decision
as to which colonies qualify for wintering.
My predecessor as State Apiarist, Floyd B. Paddock,
Professor of entomology at Iowa State, always referred to the
month of August as being the month to begin colony preparation
for fall management and wintering.
Beekeepers hesitate looking deep within their
colonies if there is still much surplus honey still in the colonies.
However, by the time you receive this, a good share of the surplus
honey will have been harvested, so a closer look within the colonies
can be made.
There are a few items to consider when selecting
colonies that will be likely prospects of Wintering. Here in Iowa
and throughout the Mid-west, along about the last of September,
or first weeks of October, each colony would have three or four
combs of brood. That is assurance that the colony will have enough
bees hatching late, which will survive the winter. Prior to that,
the honey flow is over so the lower entrance should have been
reduced to a small opening.
Now, comes the act of making sure that each
colony has an adequate supply of honey stored in the two brood
chambers. The ONLY WAY to make sure of this is to weigh each colony.
It would not be wise thinking to believe every colony would be
placed on a platform scale and weighed. So to avoid all such lifting,
I designed a scale to do it all with little effort. (Scale pictured).
This is done with the use of a spring scale with a hook reversed
so the scale can be read as each side of the hive is lifted. Just
weigh each side and add the two and the accuracy of weight will
be within a pound or two.
In central Iowa it was determined that we needed
each colony in two standard brood chambers to weigh 115 to 120
pounds without the outer cover. In Northern Iowa, and further
up in the Midwest that would need to be increased to maybe 125
or 130 pounds. That can be accomplished easily with a little maneuvering
of combs of honey.
Any colony weighing 90 pounds or less should
be eliminated. Just use what honey the lighter colonies have to
bring the better ones up to the desired weight. In some areas
some colonies will gather excessive amounts of pollen. In that
case, make sure that there is not full combs of pollen that are
being weighed instead of honey. The bees need some pollen but
not much until brood rearing begins next spring.
The colony that has made the most honey may
not necessarily be a good colony to plan to winter. The greater
production could have resulted from the loss of their queens for
whatever reason, at just the right time and that left the colony
with no brood to feed so consequently a big honey production.
Sometimes when weighing colonies you will find
a colony that has too much honey. Why is it too much? Such a colony
will also likely have to much honey come spring so the number
of empty cells for the queen to begin laying will be inadequate
thus delaying development of the colony.
Glen L. Stanley demonstrates his colony
weighing scale. Assessing fall weight is an important part of
A Review of the Final Preparations to
Colonies for Winter Is As Follows:
If you have followed the former plan, then the
remainder of preparations is easy and does not require a lot of
Colonies have been weighed so now set off the
top brood chamber and place two or three combs of open cells or
brood in the upper chamber, putting the combs of honey in the
bottom chamber. Why? Because bees prefer to cluster on partly
open cells and this will also be where the bees will begin their
brood rearing in early spring where it might not occur had they
been confined to the bottom brood chamber by excess honey in the
Having completed that, place a middle entrance
between the brood chambers by using two pieces of wood shingle
about 1 inch wide on each side of the lower chamber. Then cut
2 pieces of lathe, 7 ½ inches in length to place in front
leaving a one-inch entrance directly in the middle. This is a
must, in case the bottom entrance should become plugged during
Place the upper chamber back then the inner
cover on top. Cover the escape hole in the inner cover with a
thin material then place a sheet of Styrofoam on the inner cover.
Colonies may be wrapped with the 15 pound felt paper with or without
the outer cover. Two colonies may be wrapped together to save
The felt may be cut in half, the long way to
wrap around the hives. Just so there is an overlap at the ends.
One lathe will hold that in place. If wrapping two hives together
then cut a full sheet of felt 36”x48” – fold
as if wrapping a package and lathe on all four sides. Make sure
a hole is made in the felt at the middle entrance.
Now, all is well and made secure until next
April with no need to think about feeding, even then there will
likely be enough honey in the hive until some source of nectar
is available come spring.
The question will arise, how do I get replacement
bees for those I disposed of last fall. If all goes well, there
will be enough brood and bees in nearly every colony to rob two
or more combs of brood and bees to make up more colonies than
you eliminated. Even additional colonies could be established.
For 40 years we did it so we know it works and
we sold nuclei besides.
I now have three colonies and they have over
400 pounds of surplus honey on them now, and could be 500 if I
can provide empty supers. This is August 20th and the alfalfa
where they are foraging is still blooming.
Glen L. Stanley
Iowa State Apiarist (Emeritus)
3835 Merced Street
Des Moines, IA 50310