Dear Auntie B and Uncle Drone
I have two colonies that I want to unite at the moment. Both need the late summer varroa treatment. How soon after uniting them is it safe to start treating them with Apiguard? I wouldn’t want the smell of the treatment to disrupt the chosen queen’s hold over her newly extended colony.
Auntie Bee answers:
Now is an ideal time to unite colonies and it is essential to have strong colonies going into winter. As colonies have their own unique odour they will fight unless united slowly with time to get used to each other. There are a number of methods for uniting colonies but the newspaper method is easy and reliable.
Firstly a few tips about uniting. If you have two colonies to unite – your records should tell you which has the better/younger queen and the other queen should be culled. Don’t unite and leave both queens to fight it out on the principle of survival of the fittest, the victorious queen may well be damaged in the punch up and then you will have no queen for the following season.
How to unite, This is best done late afternoon when foragers have returned to the hive.
Remove supers from both colonies and place a sheet of newspaper over the brood box in the position that the final colony will occupy. Secure this with a queen excluder and make a few small holes in the paper to allow the odour of both colonies to permeate. Place the brood box from the second colony on top and close the hive. If you want to put back a super with stores a further queen excluder and newspaper sheet are required.
Most text books say it is preferable to unite with the queen in the bottom brood box but I think this is not important. As you have a queen excluder in between the brood boxes you will know where she is and you can reverse or amalgamate the boxes later on. Don’t over winter with the queen excluder in place though, if you chose to leave the bees on a double brood.
And the answer to the question. After a week, inspect the colony and if a good proportion of the newspaper is gone and the bees are moving freely between the boxes, I would tidy away any remaining paper and check that the queen is laying. You will need to see eggs or very young larvae to ensure that she is laying well. Then reverse the boxes if necessary so the queen is in the bottom box or amalgamate frames into one box if colonies were both small to start with. I would then leave everything for a further week before doing the varroa treatment. Bees are susceptible to stress and I like to do only one manipulation at a time and give them time to recover in between.
Final noteVarroa treatment should be done before feeding as most treatments are temperature dependent.
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 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.
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.
Our AGM, and the following Honey Show, made for an interesting afternoon, last weekend.
At the AGM, it was clear that we have had a good year as a branch, as Julie’s ‘Secretary’s Report’ detailed, and Roger reported also on our increased funds in the branch. New branch officers were appointed by the meeting. The Minutes of the meeting are available here: Bees – Minutes of AGM November 2015.
The Honey Show saw a small but good collection of entries, some of which are shown in the photo below, courtesy of Tilly Bayes:
Some of the entries in the 2015 Honey Show
‘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.
The most recent BeeCraft hangout was on this subject and the recording can be viewed/listened to here:
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.
The branch meeting on 3rd January started in somewhat inclement weather. As we huddled in the meeting hut, our branch Secretary, Julie, gave a short presentation explaining the purpose of this seasonal Oxalic Acid treatment, as well as reminding those present about the importance of keeping good hive records
throughout each year as an aid to assessing each colony’s character and performance. As the weather cleared to merely damp, we then went to the bees.
The four branch hives had their roofs and crown boards removed, 5ml of Oxalic Acid was syringed down the space between each top bar where there were bees present; this varied between 5 and 8 applications per colony. The crown boards and roofs were then replaced quickly to avoid chilling, and we returned to the hut for tea and debrief.
A reminder about the new lecture series:
The lecture series at Tesco’s, entitled “The Beekeeping Year”, is being lead by Keith Hooker and starts next Saturday at 9.30am for 5 weeks. This leads into the “Beginning Beekeeping” series starting in February which has three practical sessions in March. All are welcome, beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike. More details can be found here: The beekeeping year
The long warm September that we’ve just had has given the bees plenty of time to stash away some really good quantities of winter stores. Offering syrup has seemed almost superfluous for some hives, notably the one in the pictures below. Obviously it would have been a good idea to either leave them a super to fill and/or to cover the second opening in the crownboard. Neither of these things having been done, they decided to store more supplies in the only place left to them (the brood box being full right out to the end frames) and used the space round the contact feeder… They have now been given a super to fill and had the feeder taken off, with a replacement crownboard and roof put on – and we have the task of clearing out the wild comb from the empty super. Number 286 in the list of things one needs to be aware of as a junior beekeeper… 🙂
Using the only space left to them