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
At the end of summer most beekeepers are considering the amount of stores their colonies will need to overwinter safely. It’s never an exact science, but there are factors that everyone should consider. This post from the US considers a variety of issues that we can translate to our own locality. http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-much-honey-should-i-leave-in-my-hive/
An interesting area of research, looking to see when drones start to be laid. http://entomologytoday.org/2014/08/21/honey-bee-hive-population-of-4000-triggers-rearing-of-male-reproductives/
Some good graphics on this site, set up for the recent ‘Hive Alive’ series. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zg4dwmn
A massive store of useful information. http://www.ibra.org.uk/categories/faq
A report on an interesting study, in France, looking at the numbers of wild bees (all species) in urban areas and how important such habitats may be. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28888218
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.
There will be a meeting up at the campus apiary on Saturday, 28th December at 11.00 am, for a demonstration of when and how to give the oxalic acid anti-varroa treatment. We will also be putting the fence up again, doing a bit of planting, and generally making sure all is well up there.
Attendance at the meeting could also be useful in treating ‘Christmas over-indulgence’ for anyone suffering from it…
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.
The first meeting of 2013 was held at the university apiary on Saturday 5th January and was very well attended. The weather was dry but quite cold.
Julie gave a demonstration on how to administer oxalic acid (for varroa control) to your winter hives. A midwinter treatment of oxalic acid is usually used in conjunction with an autumn thymol treatment. Julie explained that it is best to apply oxalic acid when there is no brood in the box so that the mites will still be on the adult bees. Oxalic acid damages open brood but can’t kill mites in sealed cells. So the depth of winter (between Xmas and mid-January, say) is the best time to apply it when the bees are in a cluster and before the lengthening warmer days send signals to the queen to start laying.
In view of the cold weather it’s important to make this a quick visit so it’s a good idea to have everything ready, have had a practice with your chosen method and be able to limit yourself to 5mls per seam. If you have only a few hives Thorne’s have produced a new contraption – a plastic bottle holding enough to treat two hives, with an ingenious easy fill compartment holding exactly 5mls for each seam. Treatment will be better received if the acid is at room temperature.
After you remove the crown board the cluster should be clearly evident, and you can trickle your 5 mls along each seam and close the hive up quickly
Care should be taken not to inhale the acid or get it anywhere near skin or eyes.
Dear Auntie Bee
I have had conflicting reports about what to do for Winter protection for the bees and as the weather has turned cold I feel I should be doing something quite urgently. Can you please recommend a course of action?
Bees need to be protected from woodpeckers in the Winter as they can cause considerable damage to a hive, particularly those that are not in gardens and cannot be looked at every day. This can be done using chicken wire making sure that there is no access to the roof or up underneath through the floor if these are both wooden.
Bees shouldn’t really need protecting against the cold as they form a tight cluster and go into a state like dormancy when the weather is very cold. However, as more people leave their open mesh floors on throughout the winter there are some schools of thought that recommend protecting from draughts and this can be achieved by wrapping the hive in plastic or bubble wrap.
It is absolutely essential not to do this so thoroughly that the hive is not ventilated and there should be some air circulation either from underneath through open mesh floors or by putting a couple of matchsticks between the roof and crown board.
Bubble wrap or plastic needs to be secured with string so it can be removed for varroa treatment in January. Drawing pins will not hold in strong winds and parcel tape or similar will harm the wrap so it cannot be used year on year. Woodpeckers are deterred by plastic wrap as they find it difficult to grip but it is not as fool-proof as wire mesh.