Category Archives: Auntie B

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
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Uncle Drone and the hive move

A beekeeper asks:

Dear Uncle Drone
A swarm moved into an empty brood box in an inconvenient spot in my garden about six weeks ago and is now looking like a lovely colony. I need to move it about 10 yards so that the grandson doesn’t get involved. I’ve heard recently and seen on YouTube that its possible to move hives short distances (but further than the recommended 3 ft at a time) if you shut the bees in for 24 to 72 hours and put foliage in front when you open up. What do you think of this idea?

Uncle Drone replies:

While shutting the bees in for 24 to 72 hours may work OK I have never used it as a method because there is a danger (at this time of year) that the bees can panic and overheat. With autumn coming on there is less nectar, the bees will be collecting water to cool the colony, any break in these activities will unbalance the hive, potentially cause defecation in the hive and spread disease.

Remember that bees locate their home by remembering the vicinity when they first emerge from the hive, and try to make them repeat this.

My tried and tested method is as follows:
1. At dusk after all flying has ceased, close the hive to be moved using a wet sponge in the entrance.
2. Move the hive to the new site carefully, placing on a low hive stand (bricks or blocks) and completely removing all signs of where the hive stood (change the look of the old location).
3. Gather bracken, long grass, leaves, prunings etc, enough to spread over the front of the hive so that the bees cannot just fly straight out.
4. Pull out a corner of the wet sponge, to reveal about a quarter of the entrance.
5. Place all the assembled bits of bracken, leaves, long grass etc over the front of the hive that has just been exposed and fix to stop the wind blowing them away. Please note: you cannot have too much but you can have too little.
6. Check that enough debris has been applied to stop any bee flying straight out but must crawl out via the clutter you have just placed in the way.
7. Watch the bees in the morning and see them re-orientate to the new position as they emerge
8. After 2 days if the debris has not already blown away, remove the balance and the sponge from the entrance.
9. Job done.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone’s tips for feeding your colony in early Spring

More bees die in March and April than at any other time during the winter, and the majority of these die of starvation. This is because the colony is trying to expand quickly and using food fast in anticipation of more coming in as the spring approaches. Unfortunately the season and type of stores often frustrate the bees intention.

At the beginning of March a colony should have 4 or 5 combs with good sealed liquid stores – this gives them 9kg/20lb of honey. The colonies I looked at today had enough frames BUT the honey was granulated and therefore not usable by the bees, they only had one side of one frame with good fresh stores that were usable. Problem.

These colonies will need slabs of fondant continuously until later in April when we can feed syrup and it will be necessary to get the colony on to new foundation as soon as possible so plan for re-waxing the entire brood box.

Note. Do not go opening the brood area of colonies unless the day is warm enough ie 15C or more, and be very quick, and very, very careful but you can move the non populated frames and have a quick peep to check stores.

So where did my granulated stores come from? The bees are in an area with a lot of Ivy and my guess is that the bees stuffed the cells with that. Had they been fed with more syrup ie a gallon or two in September this would have limited the amount of Ivy nectar stored, the Ivy pollen would have been good and complemented the sugar syrup. I will make a note for next year.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone and the pot of honey

Dear Uncle Drone
I hope it isn’t tempting fate, at this stage of the winter, but IF I was able to get a honey crop this coming summer I’d like to get some honey jar labels printed. I’ve read all the info about what needs to be included but do you have any tips or general principles about what works well for a label design, or what to go for in ordering a quantity in from a printer?

‘A beekeeper’

Uncle Drone replies:

Honey labels are important as they must identify the producer and the product exactly and by law. Putting the honey into the jar is just the start but that process has to meet exacting requirements of weight and hygiene, meaning the jar has to be at or above the stated weight and have been adequately strained to eliminate the odd bee wing or leg!

So to the labels, these can be purchased via most equipment suppliers either blank or over printed with the beekeepers details. I suggest a county label that contains the weight in metric and imperial is good.

If the beekeeper is not going to produce masses of honey it is acceptable to get the county labels as blanks, then get a rubber stamp with the beekeeper’s details on it to mark them up as needed each year.

A copy of the regulations, from the BBKA, is attached here.

Uncle Drone

Timely tips from Uncle Drone

We are now past Xmas and if you have not had a quick peep to make sure your bees are OK then you should have. I do not mean an open hive inspection, just a visual apiary check that they have not been blown over or smashed by trees and no nasty birds have drilled a big hole in the side of the box. Such checks should really be done every week or two at this time of year. While you can get used to them not getting blown over, the bird and animal issues are too variable to call.

Looking over the records of my solar panels reminded me how poor the latter end of the the autumn was but at the same time how warm. Seldom did it get near freezing which would have made the cluster tighter and helped stop the queen laying so she could have been laying all through the winter so far. This will have used a lot of food up so be prepared to heft the hive and put a chunk of fondant on when you visit, better to over-feed than let them starve.

Uncle Drone

Uncle Drone considers some seasonal tasks

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.

Uncle Drone’s tips on autumn work with the hive

Dear Uncle Drone
I’d like to make sure I’m doing everything that needs to be done for my colonies at this time of year. Could you supply some tips on things to make sure of?

Thank you

A Newbie

Uncle Drone answers:

During September colonies will need preparing for winter, this means three jobs – a varroa treatment, feeding, and then securing the hive.

Varroa treatment: By now (September) all supers should have been extracted and dried out. This makes it simple to put MAQS Strips on the top of each brood box, cover with the crownboard
and leave for a week. It is recommended to increase ventilation at this time so the entrance block can be removed for strong colonies or just widened for weaker ones. This is wise even if there is a varroa board in place of a floor board, and you do need this on at this time to assess the varroa drop/kill.

Feeding: Please keep in mind that bees do not work wax below 60F/15C so do not give them feed where day or (more importantly) night temperatures are close to this, hold back until it is warmer. The reducing temperatures will cause the workers to cluster and not clean the cells and this slows the Queen in laying. Once it warms up they need RAPID feeding of a strong warm syrup. Also remember that reducing temperatures means the bees are less active and will not be defending the entrance against predators so much, please reduce the entrance to keep out wasps and mice.

Ashforth feeders or Contact Bucket feeders are best for autumn feeds as these deliver a mass of syrup which will be taken down quickly and stored rather than turned into more bees. Always put this volume of syrup on in the evening/late in the day as the intense excitement it causes can start mass robbing and always use HOT water for the mix, it will normally still be warm by the time the bees get it and this will encourage quick storage. At the end of feeding you should have a brood box that weighs around 15-20kg or more.

Securing the hive: This should be second nature. Reduce the entrance. Confirm the hive stand will sustain the weight of the hive in winter winds and the roof will stay on, put bricks or blocks on the roof for extra security. Wrap the hive in a material that woodpeckers cannot rest on, plastic sacks are good, tie/staple these firmly. Also do check the area surrounding the hive, are trees likely to need trimming, could branches fall on the hives? Consider all options.

Look forward to a successful wintering, but do remember the bees and have a cursory look around them regularly.

Uncle Drone