Tag Archives: Understanding bees

December branch meeting


December branch meeting.

This month’s meeting had as its topic winter hive management and there were several areas that as always sparked lively debate amongst the virtual club community!

Some of the highlights were as follows:-

Keeping the bees well fed and spotting the signs of potential starvation.

The key to this is to start early, depending on how much honey you have taken, feeding may be needed from as early as August through to October to give the bees the reserves they need to see them through the winter. A hive will need at least 20 – 22 kilos of stores to last until the spring so if you take honey, make sure you take it early enough (ideally before the end of August) so that they can amass the stores they will need after that while it’s still warm enough for them to cap the stores.

Every year is different and this autumn was really very mild which kept the Queens laying more than usual and the bees flying. Don’t assume that because you can see them being active they are OK, all this activity uses resources and checking their store now / hefting the hive will let you know if they have been a little too active and need help. Indeed the NBU sent out a starvation warning recently saying that your bees reserves might be a lot lower than you think.

Monitoring their situation throughout the winter is key. Looking at the drop on the floor tray can tell you a lot about where the cluster is and how big it is. Hefting (lifting each side of the hive in turn) the hive (although far from an exact science) can, with a bit of practise, give you an idea of how much food they have in their larder. It’s all relative, so you need to do this in the autumn to give yourself a reference point and then regularly follow on through the winter. If the hive feels obviously light then they may well need some help (more about that later).

If you think they are in trouble, don’t be tempted to give them any liquid feed, it’s too cold for them to be able to use it, fondant or whole food products with synthetic pollen mixed in are really your only option until early March.

The size of the brood nest that goes into winter can have a big effect on how fast the reserves are consumed, a five frame cluster from a strong colony will probably need feeding, brood and a half may be a good plan for them.

When to apply any winter anti-varroa treatments.

This is best done once the queen has stopped laying and there is no capped brood in the hive. In the meeting it was discussed which of the two governing factors (day length and temperature) were most important in determining the best time to either trickle or sublimate oxalic acid. As always in beekeeping, opinions varied. The important thing is to watch the weather and be pro-active. After a 12-14 day spell of cold weather the queen will likely have stopped laying, and those capped larvae in the hive should be hatching so after that is a good time to apply treatment. Other treatments were also discussed with a regime of hops/lavender and regular twice yearly box changing being seen as potentially effective. Sacrificing drone brood as a “varroa magnet” was also discussed (although this is a summer option) and opinions varied as to it’s effectiveness and also whether it is an appropriate sacrifice to make.

The method of applying oxalic acid was also discussed and there were no shortage of sponsors for both trickle and sublimation as an effective method of treatment. The trickle method is possibly kinder to the bees (from a health perspective) and avoids noxious fumes. Sublimation is highly effective but health and safety is paramount and proper (human) protective equipment must be used – masks must protect against organic acid vapour.  Delivery methods for vaping were also discussed, with some favouring the traditional electric heating element method and some in favour of the new gas-vap equipment.

With the recent cold snap, the bees have really hunkered down and it’s likely the queen will have stopped laying. It might be the ideal time (now) to apply anti-varroa treatments, be that trickling or sublimating, as the bees will all be in the hive and nicely clustered. Those pesky varroa won’t be able to hide in the brood and you can get a really high reduction in their levels (up to about 95%).

Preparing for the next season.

This depends to some extent on your strategy for the season. You may be trying for an early crop from (for example) oil seed rape, in which case you will need to build up the colony quickly, or you may just be wanting a slower start towards the usual end of July /early August main crop. Whatever you are trying to achieve, being pro-active is better than being reactive. For example, in order to harvest an early crop of oil seed rape honey, you will need lots of flying bees at the end of April /early May. As their first three weeks are spent in the hive nursing /cleaning etc., they need to be hatching at the start of April. Which means the eggs have to be laid in March, and to achieve that you will need to start stimulating the queen to lay in February with fondant or a wholefood.

It was also mentioned that having a young queen in the spring can be beneficial as they are vigorous.

It’s good to have a plan, even if it all gets messed up by mother nature having a different one!

One key point to remember here though is that if you do start to give them fondant, you’ll need to keep that up until you can switch to light syrup in the spring. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, if they need help, they need help!

A lively and well attended meeting that gave everyone plenty to think on. If only every question had only one answer!

Spring and Summer 2020 – Auntie Bee answers some questions

Question 4:  American websites and blogs speak of storing full supers in the barn over winter, well I don’t have a barn and I don’t have sufficient freezer space either!  So what is your recommended best practise for storing supers with frames of comb over the winter:  timing, location, pest treatment, repeat treatment, what if they have stores of honey, nectar, pollen in the comb etc and how long can they be stored like this ?

Answer from Auntie Bee: Firstly, regarding storing supers with honey residue (wet supers) or supers with honey still in them, I would not recommend this as the honey will take up moisture, its hygroscopic, and will then ferment and/or go mouldy.

I number all my supers as they go on the hives and then after extraction put them back on the same hive above the crown board.  The bees will quickly clean them out and take the honey down into the brood box, about 48h is enough time.

Before Certan was introduced, we used PDB crystals ( paradichlorobenzene for anyone interested) a common moth killer which was banned as it was shown to cause cancer (carcinogenic).  It may be that moth killers currently available (Mothballs, Lakeland products etc) may also work but I would have no idea regarding dose or effectiveness.  If you were to give these a go you would certainly need to air the supers before reusing them next year as these products are insecticides and would not discriminate between moths and bees.  They are however volatile and should evaporate very quickly.

Another suggestion is to use an insect zapping lamp.  These work quite well and I use one in my bee house when I’m working in my shed in the autumn when I am troubled by wasps.  The insects, bees, wasps, moths, everything are attracted to the UV light and then are humanely killed when they get close. These can be bought for around £25 from Amazon.  Its worth noting that wax moth lay eggs within the seams in the woodwork of frames and boxes so its possible there are larvae lurking there already in which case the lamp would not be effective.

The only sure way to rid the boxes of wax moth is to use Acetic Acid vapour.  There is a nice leaflet on the NBU website about fumigating comb (BeeBase, http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167) so I’m not going to describe it here.  It will kill all stages of wax moth and if a stack of supers is sealed with tape with a solid board underneath and a properly fitting roof on top they will remain moth and mouse free until spring.  This treatment also kills Nosema spores, EFB and AFB spores.

Acetic acid is available from Thornes – collection only, £18.80 for 1 litre, and from Bee Equipment Ltd at Bridge although I note today 19th August they are out of stock.  One litre will treat a fair number of boxes and should tide most of us all over until Certan is available again.

Just one last note, wax moth are much more likely to be attracted to brood comb than to super frames so if you are overwintering drawn brood comb, a precious commodity, I would recommend storing those in a freezer if at all possible.

Best wishes

Auntie Bee


Question 3:  So I missed my weekly inspection by one day and yup, my biggest hive decided to swam. However, thanks to the fabulous teachers I have had I recaptured it. I pretended I had done an artificial swarm and put the new hive with some drawn and some new combs for them to sort out back to the location where they had come from having shifted the old hive to a few feet away.

So now I have a lot of new bees in a b box and no supers on them although there were two on the old hive. One q cell in old hive. All good there. Interestingly no classic swarm cell clusters, just two magnificent q cells in centre of a frame.

Questions –

  • Should I move supers from old to new hive? I think probably yes but pls confirm.
  • Should I feed new hive? I think probably no especially if I move supers over with some food present.
  • Any other useful pointers?

Answer from Auntie Bee: Well done, you’ve made the best of the situation and got it all right. If it was me I would put a feeder on the ‘swarm’ hive to help them draw out the remaining foundation and leave the brood hive as it is. As always there are many alternatives which would all work, but I think by doing that you will still have your honey crop and a reliable split on mostly newly drawn comb.


Question 2:  I’m pretty sure one of my hives (luckily quite physically remote from the others) has got cbpv. The bees are very jittery on the comb although I haven’t seen any black greasy looking ones yet. I’ll have another look next week and may consider requeening as I know this can help. I know the virus can develop quite quickly so I appreciate I won’t have the luxury of taking a “wait and see” approach.

My question (which I can’t seem to find anything about online) is how long this virus can survive on equipment. ie. should the worst happen and the colony collapses, would the frames be safe and useable next year. I know typically viruses are quite short lived and can only survive for days at most outside the host but I’d feel much happier seeing something to back up my assumed position. Have you come across anything on this in your studies?

Answer from Auntie Bee: I had an outbreak of CBPV in one apiary a few years ago.  The first thing I noticed was piles of dead bees at the entrance of every hive (6).  At the time I suspected spray damage as well as disease and phoned the bee inspector to find out how to proceed.  Looking at the bees I did see some bald black bees on the top bars, in some of the hives, but waited to see what Kay Wreford would say.  Kay came about 10 days later, she was busy as CBPV is not notifiable so my call was low priority.  By the time she came the bees had recovered and were bringing in honey with no symptoms of the virus, the dead bees in the grass under the entrance remained.

There was no clear cut answer for me, Kay recommended I clear up the bees and disinfect the soil which I did although as you say the virus would not persist for very long outside of a living cell or organism.  She did say that had this been spray damage – the bees are in mixed orchards – there would have been piles of dead bees inside the hive as well as at the entrance so this was not the case.

So, unless your bees are particularly susceptible I think they should recover and I would just clean your hives as you normally would, by blow torching the boxes when empty.  If you are recycling old frames I would boil these in soda.

Bees always do better and look better on new comb so I change my comb in the Autumn by doing a Baillie comb change when I feed and the empty drawn supers go back to the shed where I sterilise them with acetic acid vapour – see BeeBase guide for exact details.- before storing them for the winter.  You could requeen but I don’t know anywhere where you can buy a CBPV resistant queen, I don’t think such a thing exists so personally I wouldn’t bother.


Question 1: “I’ve put a new super on my hive, the first one, but the bees don’t seem to want to go up there. It’s been on a week and they’re ignoring it, despite being on eight brood frames. What should I do to make them go up?”

Answer from Auntie Bee: This is always difficult when you are a new beekeeper with equipment bees haven’t been in before.  I have two suggestions that might work.

 1.  Try putting a feeder on with weak sugar syrup.  If they draw out the frames under the feeder keep moving frames outwards until all are drawn.  A small feeder, little and often is recommended allowing the feeder to empty before refilling it.  Remove feeder before they start storing the syrup unless you intend to leave it for winter feed.

2.  Try putting the super underneath the brood box,  that way the bees will have to walk over the foundation and will leave pheromones which may encourage them to draw it out.  I would say to begin with leave out the queen excluder as this will knock pollen of the foragers legs if left in place.  As soon as they have drawn a couple of frames put the super back over the queen excluder and move frames around until all are drawn.

I think my preferred option would be 1 but I use large brood boxes that are very heavy for me to lift.

Good luck

Auntie Bee 🐝