Dear Uncle Drone
What are the key things that a beekeeper should be doing or looking out for at this time of year?
Uncle Drone answers:
Well, the bees should not be disturbed at this time of year so the main thing is to observe and protect. As part of the observe bit you should also make notes of what you see, such as the time of day, temperature, what is the bee activity level. Also within this observation look carefully for signs of dysentery as this is often an indication that nosema will be a problem and if the bees are messing on the front of the hive take some scrapings and get a nosema check done on them.
Unfortunately if nosema is confirmed it will not be possible to cure it at this time of year but having the knowledge does give you some guidance as to one of the tasks to be undertaken in the spring. The nosema spores are often present in many colonies but do not cause a problem till the bees get dysentery often from stores that have started to ferment, the tidying up of the mess spreads the spores and so it goes on.
Turning to protection. This must take the angle of keeping pests out and two stand out as they can and do destroy hives and colonies, Mice and Woodpeckers. Make sure you have good mouse guards in place firmly on the front of the hive, while mice seldom manage to move them, rats can if they are in the area so be warned.
Keeping woodpeckers out and away from the hive can be done cheaply by removing the roof then wrapping the hive with a strong polythene sheet before replacing the roof. Without anywhere they can get a toe-hold they cannot bang a hole in the hive but please make sure that the entrance is not covered and that the bees are free to fly.
Wind can blow hives over or blow roofs off, either can cause the loss of a colony so make sure the hive stand is solid and place an extra weight on the roof, a brick or two will do the job and keep checking the apiary on a regular basis (weekly) throughout the winter.