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.
For anyone who has not yet returned their completed membership form to Roger, the form can be downloaded here – whb-renewal-16-17
Membership runs from 1st October so please do return the form as soon as you can, so that we can be sure of our numbers for the coming year. For any of our new people who want to take part in branch activities and join in even though they haven’t got their own bees yet, please sign up under the ‘Friend’ category. The same would apply to any colleagues giving up their hives and moving away from active beekeeping.
This blog post offers some very interesting insights and ideas from France, about working to keep honeybee colonies safe in the presence of Asian Hornets.
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.
For part of one of the autumn branch meetings we had an enjoyable 20 minutes sharing those ideas and good practice that made things better for us and our bees. In no particular order, these are some of the ideas put forward by members:
- Light your smoker before opening a hive, even if you were not intending to do much. You never know…
- When making syrup (particularly 2:1) warm the sugar first by putting the bags in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. The sugar will then dissolve much more easily when you mix it with the (hot) water.
- If you see a queen starting to be balled, powder heavily with icing sugar immediately (from the shaker you always keep in your bee box… 🙂 ). This often changes their minds.
- Have a look at the National Honey Show’s channel on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiOtIebcpY0Zqqma0H5wLYQ), to see the great series of lectures by experts at past shows.
- Don’t wash your hair just before going off to do a hive inspection. Some shampoo smells are not appreciated by bees.
- Always wash (in soda solution) your gloves, hive tool, and the handle of your smoker, between hives.
- The hood of your beesuit can go in the washing machine with the rest of your suit/jacket if you tuck it down into a sleeve (for the fencing type) or in the trunk of the zipped-up suit (if round type) first. Secure the opening of the suit with a safety pin and remember to tuck the velcro tab away from the veil as well.
- A see-through/polycarbonate crownboard makes it easier to check how many seams of bees you have in the winter.
- If you have a phone camera, taking some pictures up through the OMF in winter can provide reassurance that they’re still alive in there.
- Luggage scales are very useful in monitoring stores situation in winter. Weigh either both sides or front and back at each visit and compare over time to see how much is being used.
- A spray bottle filled with soda solution can be useful in rinsing gloves. Just be careful not to think it’s the one you filled with clean water for inspections in hot weather (when a fine mist of water can be more calming than smoke for the bees).
- A wallpaper steamer fed down into a box of old comb on a solid floor can melt out the wax very well (and is what the Thornes’ Easi-steam system is based on).
- If you go back to a hive after an inspection and having removed your beesuit, because there was something small you’d forgotten to do, the bees will not realise you were not intending to disturb them – “feeling lazy, I decided to quickly creep back and put my varroa floors in without putting my suit on. As I bent over the wind suddenly gusted and three poor bees got caught in the hair on top of my head and stung me. Later that day I looked like a dolphin.”
- If you want to make some cut comb honey, don’t put the super you want to use directly above the brood box as that is where the bees often store some pollen. Always put your cut comb super on after the OSR season and only on a strong colony.
- Dusting with icing sugar needs to be done regularly every seven days for a worthwhile drop in varroa levels over the season.
- An old duvet cover makes a secure container for a boxed swarm in the car (making sure to leave enough ventilation).
- Shaking a swarm into their new nuc/hive rather than running them in avoids having to deal with instances of them clustering under the new home rather than in it.
- Always check to make sure you’ve placed the central cup back over the access hole when using a rapid feeder of some type. Otherwise, you risk finding 100s of drowned bees when you next check them and feeling like a mass murderer.
- When doing a shook swarm, putting a single frame of uncapped brood into the new brood box along with the frames of foundation means that the bees are much less likely to abscond. Take it out and discard it after a week, when most of that brood has been capped, and you will also get rid of most of the phoretic mites that were on the adult bees.
There was a very interesting Bee Craft hangout in January, looking at involving children in beekeeping in safe and engaging ways. The recording is well worth a watch.
Last month, the latest in the series of Google Hangouts organised by Bee Craft magazine
focussed on beekeeping tasks in the wintertime. There were some really interesting discussions so please do have a look at the recording, below.