Category Archives: Auntie B

Winter arrives…some advice from Uncle Drone

Dear Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone

It’s got suddenly quite cold over this 10 days and I’m concerned about how my bees may be coping in early winter. Do you have any recommendations for this time of year?

Uncle Drone replies:

Hi concerned beekeeper.  By now your bees should have been well fed in October followed by a Varroa treatment and protected from the woodpeckers in November.  Assuming that these preparations went ok, all that can be done now is to watch and check the hive security for a while and keep hefting.
Watch to see if they are finding and taking in pollen, how many are flying, what temperatures they are flying at, look in the entrance to see if it is blocked by dead bees, if there are dead bees out front what age are they?
The thing here is that the bees should be just hanging in a state of quiescence and not leaving the hive except to excrete or find nectar and pollen.
If a hive goes light give it fondant, not excessive amounts, but they can take 3-500g in a week if they need it.  My preference is to give them some anyway as an Xmas present following a Varroa treatment which should be timed to around Xmas or New Year following a few days of cold.
Enjoy Xmas and have a glass of mead to toast the bees.
Uncle Drone

Spring feeding

A concerned beekeeper asks:
Dear Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone

Is it a good idea to give my bees some syrup and/or pollen patties at this time of year, to help the queen start laying and the colony to build up after a rather cold and miserable March? I don’t want to encourage too much growth but it has been really chilly for them so far.

Uncle Drone answers:

Yes, now we are into April the bees should be bringing in pollen and this stimulates brood rearing.  If they are not then you should watch carefully over a period of time in case they have not found a good source of pollen yet.  Pollen is the protein that bees need to produce the brood food needed for the developing larva and the queen so supplementing this can help but is not always necessary if the weather is adequate to provide several hours foraging per day.

The extra syrup and/or fondant can be essential if their stocks are low and the bees get confined to the hive by low temperatures and wet conditions, either way it will not hurt to add a little extra and it will be converted into more bees at this time of year rather than stored.

A down side to adding pollen patties and syrup/fondant is that they will stimulate the colony and in a months time or before the bees can be thinking of swarming, so you need to be prepared for this and avoid letting them get too cramped by keeping to weekly inspections/ checks and adding space as necessary.

Keeping the winter stores going – advice from Uncle Drone

‘Worried of Whitstable’ asks:

Dear Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone

My bees are still flying in all this mild weather and I’m worried that they’re using up their winter stores really fast at the moment. Should I give them some fondant now or is it better to let them use their own stores first and put fondant on later?

Uncle Drone replies:

Well this point is of concern to all of us.  It is too late in the season for syrup and it is wise to keep as much of their own stores intact as they act as heat sinks/insulation as well as food stores

So, fondant is the only option but it attracts moisture so must be given in small quantities (say 300-400 g) and wrapped in cling film (or flattened out in a ziplock freezer bag), cutting/slicing into it with a knife where it is to be placed over a hole in the crown board.

Once given/started it should be continued on demand till spring.

Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone answer a query about suddenly finding many bees dead in front of a hive

Hi Auntie Bee and Uncle Drone,
I found a heap (hundreds rather than thousands) of dead and dying bees in front of a hive this morning. A couple of days ago a lot of yellow lumps of pollen had appeared under the hive. Have had a closer look and most of the dead have furry bodies, probosces sticking out, folded legs and wings at more or less right angle to bodies. Recent Varroa count negligible. The hive seems to be thriving otherwise. Could be garden pesticide?

From Uncle Drone: Any situation where there is a sudden increase in dead bees in front of the hive should ring alarm bells as the most probable cause is a pesticide or herbicide being used wrongly and not according to the licensed method. Either a plant has been sprayed with a pesticide to kill greenfly or maybe some grass that has clover in it has been sprayed with a herbicide to remove weeds other than grass such as clover and dandelions.

From Auntie Bee: I agree with Uncle Drone this does sound like poisoning.  Were all hives in the apiary affected or just one?
The only other situation I have encountered where there are many dead bees at the entrance is when a colony of mine was affected by Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus but this is easily recognised as there will be adult bees inside the hive showing symptoms, bald and shiny, trembling and walking aimlessly, often on the top bars.  I killed the queen in my infected hive and united with a newly mated queen in a nuc.  Within three weeks the hive had recovered, although all the old bees were then found dead in front of the hive.
The only thing to add is to make sure you sterilise your hive tool between hives ( which you should be doing anyway) to ensure that if there is disease present it doesn’t spread.

Uncle Drone’s reminder list for late winter activities

A beekeeper asks:
Uncle Drone, I do not seem to be doing anything much with the bees this month – have I been missing something I ought to do?
Uncle Drone answers:
Well, this month and the next two are critical to the survival of the bees this winter.  They will be trying to encourage the Queen to lay a few more eggs to replace those workers dying of old age.  This uses food which is not being replaced by the flying bees, so depending on the type of bee you have they could use their stores up quickly.
Your task during this month and the next two is to keep track of the food usage of the hives, not by opening them as this could kill them, but by hefting regularly (check the weight) and watching the flying bees on good days.  If the weight drops significantly (you should have notes of previous checks on your hive notes) then add fondant packs and monitor how quickly they take this down.  By March it should be warm enough to add a warm syrup but do not do this unless the daytime temperatures are reaching 12-15C.
A second and equally important area to keep monitoring is the hive security.  Damage can be caused by woodpeckers, wind, excessive rain or impact by branches from overhanging trees, any of which can cause the loss of colonies, so a regular, weekly check (a walk by) is  important.
Uncle Drone

Auntie Bee answers a query about feeding fondant

Dear Auntie Bee
With all this warm weather my bees are continuing to fly and while hefting the hives they are beginning to feel lighter than they did one month ago when I’d finished feeding.
I have read on beekeeping blogs that beekeepers are putting fondant on their hives but I’ve also read that this can cause dysentery.
What would you advise?
Dear Beekeeper
Yes the warm weather this autumn has meant the bees were flying on many days in November and there is still activity in the middle of the day in December.  There is a little pollen coming into hives which may indicate the queens are laying and the bees will need to use stores to get energy for foraging flights to support the growing larvae.  This means that rather than being in a tight cluster and using very little stores, the bees may be using their winter stores at the same rate they might in early Spring when there is always a risk of them running out of food and starving.
I would certainly add a slab of fondant at this stage if you have any doubt about the stores in the hive.  Fondant can be purchased in bulk from bakers or from any supermarket in small amounts but be careful that it contains no preservatives or other additives. There are also recipes on line for making your own but avoid adding vinegar and you need a jam thermometer as the temperature is critical to get a soft set final product.
I recommend wrapping fondant in cling film and placing it on top of the crown board partially or nearly over the hole.  Make a small access hole in the clingfilm and then look every week by raising the roof, to see if the bees are taking it.  The film will prevent the fondant drying out and if the bees eat it it’s easy to add some more.  If the weather gets very cold for a prolonged period then the fondant can be moved to under the crown board making it easier for the cluster to access.
As always, every season is different and we have to be aware of and responsive to the bees’ needs.
Not long now to the new season
Auntie Bee

Uncle Drone advises on likely issues in a warm, dry, autumn

A beekeeper asks:
Dear Uncle Drone

With all the warm and dry weather this month, are my bees likely to delay sealing away the autumn feeds I’ve been giving them and instead raise more brood on it, perhaps to the extent of trying to swarm? I noticed a big patch of drone brood in one colony last week and wondered if I need to start looking for queen cells again, having seen others talking online about swarms being taken recently.

Uncle Drone replies:

You have two different issues here.  1) the unsealed stores and 2) drones and potential swarming.

For the first issue, unsealed stores.  This can be due to the lower night temperatures and reduced ventilation.  Remember the bees remove a vast amount of water from nectar by evaporation, this will always be better if it is warmer and although most colonies have open varroa floors the entrances are reduced because they are being fed and medicated at this time of year.  Another factor is that the bees are still bringing in more stores and need to put it somewhere.
For the drone issue.  Until the colonies get to believe winter is coming they will tolerate drones and even breed more.  The spring was not one of the best for getting virgin Queens mated and so this could be an indication that they expect to succeed their existing queen with a new one for the winter.  This can and does happen even when you have this year’s queen present.  Swarms at this time of year are not likely and casts that are seen could easily be mating queens being cared for on their return from the drone congregation site.
Uncle Drone