September Beekeeping in the East Bay!

Posted by Jennifer Radtke on Sep 9th 2018

Hi Beekeepers & the Bee Curious!

August through October in the Bay Area is the hardest time of year for the bees. It is the most important time of year to be inspecting and making sure your bees are healthy as they head into winter. In this email I review what to be looking for in your hive at this year and also go into detail about feeding your hive (if it doesn't have much honey or is small).

Do you have some unique-tasting, delicious honey from your hive? Enter it in our 7th Annual East Bay Honey Contest. The deadline for submission is Sept. 15th at 5pm. Read the rules and details here. Mark your calendar for Saturday, Sept. 22nd - that's when you get to try all the honeys and vote for your favorite!

Do you have beeswax candles to sell? We are looking for more beeswax candles to sell in our store. Bring in some samples to show us.

I have learned even more about beekeeping by living in Minneapolis - techniques from the beekeepers here plus management styles. I will be in Berkeley/Oakland soon to teach my fall classes:

  • Hive Inspection Class: Saturday, 9/15, 11am-1:30pm, Berkeley backyard
  • Honey Harvesting: Saturday, 9/15, 3:30pm-5:30pm, North Berkeley backyard
  • Preparing Your Hive for Winter: Sunday, 9/16, 10am-1pm, Berkeley Hills backyard
  • Varroa Mite Management: Sunday, 9/16, 6pm-8pm, Sticky Art Lab
  • Backyard Beekeeping: Sunday, 9/23, 9am-noon, Sticky Art Lab
  • Click here for the full descriptions and to register!

MITE-A-THON - Report Your Mite Levels!

The Mite-a-thon is a national effort to encourage people to test for mites and to report their levels. Please test your mites this week (Sept. 8-Sept. 15) and report them here. Take your sugar roll test result and DIVIDE BY 3. The Mite a thon has mite levels per 100 bees and the sugar roll is per 300 bees.


The bees are stressed right now. The entire environment is stressed due to the lack of water at this time of year. There is not as much blooming so the bees don't have as much to eat. How do you know? You can keep track of your honey frames and see if the honey amount is lessening. If so, they are digging into their stores to feed themselves as there is not enough nectar out there to feed them.

The RADIUS around your hive!

Bees prefer to fly 1-2 miles away for food, but can fly 5 miles if necessary. I think for most of the year in the East Bay (because there is an abundance of food and people are irrigating their yards) that the bees likely just fly a 1/2 mile radius around their hive. It is interesting to look at a 1 or 2 mile radius circle around your hive to see what is in that. Here is a tool where you can put in 1 mile (or 2 mile) and then your address to see it on google maps:

In general I don't think the bees are going to cross freeways, so it's likely that will restrict your radius if you are near a freeway. If you are near San Pablo Ave, part of your circle is going to be in water (the bay) which won't have any forage for the bees. If you are up in the hills, it's likely that part of your circle will be park land that is unirrigated and very dry at this time of year with little forage for the bees.

FOOD for the bees now!

After figuring out the 1 mile radius that your bees are foraging in, then take walks around that radius and see what is blooming and is bee forage. Here are some of the bee food to look for at this time of year:

  • IVY - yes ivy, when established, does get flowers, and the bees are all over it. Your bees may bring in a whole box of honey in a week!
  • RED FLOWERING GUM TREES - beautiful bright red flowering eucalyptus
  • CHINESE FLAME TREES - yellow blossoms found in Alameda
  • ROSEMARY - some yards have whole walls of this blooming
  • PEPPER TREES - if you have a pepper tree near you blooming, your bees may not be eating their honey at all but bringing it in.
  • FENNEL - it grows wild along the freeways and in vacant lots.

What to be looking for in and around your hive:


  1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A QUEEN - inspect your hive and look for full frames of brood. It's great to see brood at all stages - capped and uncapped. If you see uncapped brood, you know you've had a queen in the last week. No need to see your queen - it's most important to see evidence of her fertility!
  2. DO THE SUGAR ROLL TEST FOR MITES - I suggest doing it every 2-3 weeks (weather permitting) August - October. When the mite level gets to above 15 mites (per 300 bees), then I treat with Mite Away Quick Strips. Last year mid-October all 4 of my hives were below 10 mites per 300 bees, and all survived the winter. If the level is 15 mites, I use 1 strip. If the level is above 15, I use 1 strip and then 1 strip 7 days later. If you haven't tested, NOW IS THE TIME! We sell the kit and instructions at the Oasis. If you aren't going to do anything about the mites, then put a robbing screen on your hive, so that when it dies (from the viruses transmitted by mites), surrounding hives don't go in and pick up the mites.
  3. CHECK ON YOUR FOOD LEVEL - In a 3 box hive, I usually keep 10 frames of honey at all times. You want to make sure your hives have honey right now to get through a few days or a week of dearth in the food supply when they will eat some of that honey. I wait to take off any excess honey (above those 10 frames) till October when I am shrinking down the hive. For small, weak hives, you may want to feed with sugar water and also pollen patties. See below for all about feeding.

Inspection note - You can do quite quick inspections. Just go into a box that has brood, which in a big hive can be the 2nd or 3rd box from the bottom (no need to inspect the bottom box). Take out frames of brood till you find a frame of capped brood (do the sugar roll test with this one) and find a frame with uncapped brood to verify your queen still lives. That's it.


  1. LOOK FOR ANTS A COUPLE TIMES PER WEEK (if not daily) - or just get some really good ant protection going on your hive legs so they can't get there. Strong hives are likely keeping them out, but weak hives right now could start attracting ants. We sell great ant stands with moats to put vegetable oil that will keep you from worrying at night. We also sell diatomaceous earth (use at the base of the hive stand legs) and tangletrap (use on the hive stand legs).
  2. PUT AN ENTRANCE REDUCER OR ROBBING SCREEN ON - If your hive isn't taking up with whole entrance with bee traffic, reduce the entrance, so they are. Watch your entrance for fighting in August & September. If you can't watch your hive a lot during these months (and/or are going on vacation), consider putting a robbing screen on the hive. If you see a lot of fighting, you may want to reduce your entrance more and/or use a robbing screen.
    1. A study in the past year traced bees from hives collapsing from mites. They found the bees in hives in a 2 mile radius of the collapsing hive. This looks like a way that the mites transfer to surrounding hives. Robbing screens will prevent bees not from your hive from getting in. Your bees orient to the robbing screen (you put it on at night) and know the way in. Bee from other hives try to get in by smell - at the screen and can't figure it out. In this video, you can see all the bees on the screen trying to get into my Luxurious hive - they are not from my hive and could be carrying mites into my hive if allowed to get in. I am putting robbing screens on all my hives now to see if this lowers my mite loads over the next couple months.
  3. REDUCE THE WASP/YELLOW JACKET LEVEL - wasps eat honey bees. They hang out at the entrance of the hives and pick off bees from the entrance and dying bees on the ground. We sell a glass wasp trap and lure at the Oasis that you can hang up 20-30 ft away from the hive to kill them. In addition, you can hang paper bags near the hive which look like paper wasp nests and are supposed to keep wasps away because they think it's another wasp's territory.


Bees will often be eating their honey off and on at this time of year. I always leave my hives plenty of honey so they can weather these times when there is a food shortage. For me this means, leaving a hive with 2 boxes of brood (or bigger) a box of honey (or 10 frames of honey/nectar). For hives with 1 box of brood, I leave them 5 frames of honey. A small hive (only a box or less of bees) may not have any honey stored and needs to be fed (or will likely starve over the winter). If you don't have frames of honey stored that you can rotate into a hive, then I'd recommend feeding the bees, particularly a small colony with no honey stored at all. You are going to want to continue feeding till the end of January when the fruit trees starting blooming.

Super important: Before feeding your bees, you want to have the entrance reducer on the small 1 inch opening OR have a robbing screen on your hive, so that the feed doesn't attract starving bees invading from other hives to get the food. An entrance reducer or robbing screen will enable your bees to protect their entrance (& their food) again other hives. In addition, you want to have ant protection figured out, as feeding sugar water in particular will encourage ants.

Here are some options:

  • POLLEN PATTIES - This is the most important thing to feed a small colony, so the brood it raises is strong (the next generation of bees). The bigger colonies are likely bringing in enough pollen right now. Look at the royal jelly that the larvae are swimming in to assess if there is a pollen shortage in the hive. If the larva look dry, then feed pollen immediately. Here is what lots of royal jelly looks like (no need to feed). You can divide up a patty into small bits and put a 1/3 of it on a small colony every 2 weeks (or more often if they are eating it quickly). You want to figure out exactly which frames have brood in them and lay the pollen patty across the tops of the frames with brood. It's the nurse bees feeding the brood that need the pollen. We sell the Ultra Bee patties that did the best on Randy Oliver's pollen tests next to real pollen (his homemade patty didn't do very well, or we'd tell you to make your own). If you want to feed real pollen, then next year trap pollen in the spring when there is an abundance of pollen and freeze it for this time of year -- it's too late for that now.
  • ENTRANCE FEEDER - These are great for spring, but you don't want to use these at this time of year, as they encourage robbing. Bees from other hives can easily get to these feeders at the entrance and then invade your hive as well.
  • FRAME FEEDER - These replace 1-2 frames in your hive and you fill them up with sugar water. The ones we have contain ladders that the bees crawl down as the level of liquid goes down so the bees don't drown. We now have both sizes of frames (deeps and super) and they are pictured to the right.
  • TOP TROUGH FEEDER - Also pictured to the right, this feeder goes on top of your hive but below the inner cover. You fill up the two troughs on either side with sugar water. The bees come up through the inner divider and can walk down the screen to get the liquid. One advantage to this feeder is that the bees are trapped inside/below and so you can refill it without being in contact with the bees/opening up the hive.
  • DRIVERT SUGAR - Bees can't ingest sugar unless it is dissolved in water normally, but they can eat drivert sugar. Drivert is sugar where the sucrose has been broken down into the simple sugars of fructose and glucose, which is a similar process that bees use to make honey (mostly fructose/glucose) from nectar (mostly sucrose). You can put this on the top bars of the frames to feed or put on top of the inner cover. We sell it in bulk at the Oasis.

May your bees thrive in this time of adversity!


Jennifer, Beekeeper & Worker-Owner, BioFuel Oasis Cooperative