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.