May in Your Apiary

May Blossom
(Crataegus Monogynus)

After yet another ‘unusual’ April, with a warm start and cool end and below average rainfall throughout, we may need to excuse our bees for not quite behaving as anticipated. Although the cold daytime breezes and off/on sunshine may not hold back the expansion activities of strong colonies, weaker colonies could still be struggling.

If your colonies were not so strong going into winter. Requeening, uniting or wholesale replacement may well be the order of the day.  

So, expect your surviving stronger colonies to be doing quite well thank you and bursting at the seams … unless you are already on top of their management. Whilst any weaker colonies may be struggling … particular after the more recent dip in temperatures.

Don’t be Caught Out

If you are not already, pay particular attention to swarming in May. This month is usually the month in the beekeeping year when activity accelerates very quickly, perhaps doubly so this May. If you are not well prepared, you will be caught out!

The first rape crops and fruit blossom should be in evidence, and when warm enough, available storage space will be being filled with nectar… competing with space the Queen will need for laying.

Strong colonies will have expanded significantly during April whilst weaker colonies could still be struggling.  Brace yourselves for a busy ‘swarm season’. [Read more…]

April in Your Apiary

Flowering Currant

Flowering Currant

April usually signals the start of the new beekeeping year as the colony transitions from winter survival to colony renewal and growth. One again,  March has been dryer and untypically warm … despite some forecasts four weeks ago of a generally wet and chilly month. Consequentially many colonies are likely to be well advanced in their “growth” phase, provided their stores have held out or been supplemented by us as needed. The last few days of March will have brought much of that early spring activity to a shivering halt. But any newly laid brood will need the colony’s ongoing attention. 

Weather during April can be highly variable and may impact on the rate of colony growth and the type of beekeeper interventions required.  And it’s the ability to provide timely interventions when required that will be OUR huge challenge this month and for months to come. 

IF YOU NEED HELP inspecting your own colonies due to self isolating requirements, get in touch with RBKA. Check the Who’s Who listing in this website for some contact details.

Weekly inspections, if not already underway, can commence. However, do not open up the hive for anything more than a very quick peer down between the seams of bees, unless the outside temperature is at least 15ºC, otherwise the brood may be chilled.

At the first inspection: [Read more…]

March in Your Apiary

Bee Hive & Daffodils

The Start of the Beekeepers Year

March is forecast (by AccuWeather for Reigate) to be wet for much of the first two weeks, with temperatures pretty much stuck between 8 and 11degC for the duration. So maybe not quite the ‘Sunny Spring’ ahead that the last few days of February were providing our bees a taste of.

Egg laying will have been prompted by the mild February. But a down turn in conditions will upset the bees planning. 

Regardless …. the beekeeping season definitely gets underway in March!

March is a critical time for the survival of the colony. Despite the mild February, some colonies may still be close to having consumed all their winter stores or the supplements you may have provided. Colony access to both nectar & pollen is critical in March as winter stores are depleted and pollen is required for the developing brood. Natural replenishment can be restricted if there is a prolonged period of either wet or, cold weather.
The queen should have restarted laying and the size of the colony should grow throughout March., even though the old “winter” bees will be progressively dying off. Smaller colonies will be absolutely dependent on good March weather to facilitate rebuilding their food store. [Read more…]

February in Your Apiary

fondant

Clear tubs allow fondant supplies to checked without opening the hive further.

Feed, Feed and Feed.

During last month, and similarly to winter 2021, January temperatures only dropped a little early on, and still very few hard frosts to trouble our bees. January was also  unusually dry and the sunny spells will have warmed the micro climate of a wind free apiary. But the air temperatures remained rather chilly.

February may start as January has ending, generally mild with some rain and sunny spells. But a cold spell could be on its way by the middle of the month. 

So once again you will have been seeing some activity outside of the hive and the queens could be well into laying already.  So do heft or if needed take a quick peek under the roofs to confirm that the bees are making headway into their fondant, and that they still have some to tuck into.

Although this is usually the last of the quiet months for the beekeeper, things will certianly be stirring in the hive as the bees begin to respond to the longer (and unseasonally milder) daylight hours. The queen will be coming back into lay, if indeed she every stopped, and will be depositing eggs in clean cells in the centre of the nest area to raise workers for the early part of the season.
Caretaker activities are important. February is all about making sure that your bees have sufficient to eat and drink, and protecting your hives from the continuing effects of cold wet wintry weather and animals. 

Outside the temperature may still be in single or even low double figures, but with brood to raise the workers need to boost the temperature in the inner nest to 33°C – 35°C, by clustering together and quivering using their large thoracic muscles to produce heat. This requires them to consume an increased amount of food, up to 500g in a week, so we can expect the stores to become depleted more rapidly now.

  • Heft the hives every two week by lifting them at each side, (or weigh them with a spring balance – see BeeNews November 2014 edition for advice about how to do this), and feed only if necessary.
  • If the hive is still well provisioned and you can see bees carrying pollen into the hive, leave the hive alone.
  • If no pollen is being taken into the hive feed fondant or candy, (which can be made from caster sugar and your honey); if pollen is being brought to the hive feed syrup.
  • If you have any doubts about the level of stores, a slab of fondant placed over one of the holes in the crown board is good insurance.
  • Pollen patties can be given at the end of the month on top of the frames. See BeeNews February 2012 edition for advice about how to make patties.
  • Do not stop feeding until there is a steady flow of nectar and pollen into the hive.
  • If the air temperature is over 10°C and the sun is shining you should expect to see a few bees venturing out in search of pollen or making a cleansing flight.

The bees will need water close to the hive.

  • Make sure there is a suitable water source. This can be a plastic container, filled with peat or wood shavings and water. An old car tyre laid flat also makes a good watering place. See BeeNews November 2012 edition for making a DIY water station. Any source should be about 10 m from the hive so that it is not contaminated by bees during their ‘cleansing’ flights.
  • Check all hives for activity.

If most hives are active but one appears inactive, inspect this hive to see if the colony is dead. Any hive which has died should be shut down and if possible removed from the apiary.

  • Ensure all hive entrances are clear, remove any dead bees and any snow.
  • If you treated with oxalic acid and monitored the varroa drop, the tray can be removed to assist ventilation.
  • However, the queen will almost certainly have started laying by now, so you may prefer to leave the tray in place to help keep the brood nest temperature raised. Remember to clean the tray regularly.
  • It is also important during February, if weather permits, to clean your hive floor or consider changing it for a fresh floor, especially if it is a solid floor. But remember to ensure the brood box does not chill, so do the cleaning or changing as quickly as possible, and it is best to have an assistant to help with lifting.
  • Check there are no leaks into your hive. Damp is dangerous, leading to chilled brood and mouldy comb.
  • Continue to check for the unwanted attention of the green woodpecker. They can be a particular nuisance if the ground is too hard for them to find ants.
  • February is often the most convenient time to relocate hives in the apiary that need moving more than 3 feet. If you move the colony after a week when the weather has been too poor for flying, then you can re-site the hive beyond the normal 3 feet restriction. The bees will re-learn their new location when they do emerge.
  • Complete cleaning and making equipment and new frames ready for the season.

Remember if you must open the hive beyond simply checking fondant stores over a crownboard, do it on a warmer day with minimal disturbance, (+13°C is the preferred temperature).

On warmer days the bees will still be housekeeping with mortuary bees removing dead bees and detritus from the hive…. so, make sure the entrances and mouse guards (if used) are clear even if there is no snow/ice around.

With brood already in the many colonies you may wish to buy or, prepare ‘pollen patties’ to help the colony feed the early brood. This is essentially an insurance policy against poor weather preventing pollen collection. Once started, feeding pollen may need to be  continued until there is a good flow of nectar and pollen into the hive. Click HERE to read how to make your own pollen patties and use them in your hives.

February is also the time to tidy up the shed, clean your equipment, prepare new frames and order supplies otherwise, you run the risk of panic in March! Surplus and no longer needed equipment can be cleaned up and put into our Auction in April,

January in Your Apiary

Happy Beekeeping in 2022

As we recover (as needed) from Christmas and New Year festivities, our thoughts now need to be turning to the approaching beekeeping season. The winter solstice has already passed, and despite not having seen much of the sun since then, the day lengths are starting to increase.

Do heed warnings issued by the NBU about high levels of Varroa.

Although we can’t see, preparations for the forthcoming season will be in progress, and with few really cold spells during the last weeks of 2021, patches of brood, in the centre of the colony, will already be underway.

So what tasks should we be contemplating?

  • Now is a good time to review the hive positions in your apiary and move any hives to improve their Winter sun and wind orientation.
  • Heft regularly (lifting a hive side) to assess the weight of stores present without disturbing the colony. If in doubt gently lift off the lid and check visually. Choose a milder day to do this so as not to chill the colony unnecessarily but do not delay if you suspect they need feeding. The colony will die very quickly if there is no food available. If the bees are at the top of the frames and clustered and not showing any activity they may already be starving.
  • Feed with solid food placed right on top of the frames where the bees are clustering. Keep checking every couple of weeks and estimate consumption to plan top ups. Remember, if it is very cold they will not move to where the feed is, even if it is just the next frame, and will starve to death. Ensure the feed is always easily available.
  • Don’t assume that strong colonies need less looking after, they need more food !
  • Remember any solid food that you give your bees has to be diluted and that means finding water from somewhere. Not easy in a hard frost.
  • Ensure your bees will have a water source throughout the Winter.
  • Check that your hives have adequate ventilation.
  • Monitor the now small entrance regularly for the build up of dead bees. Remember to look particularly behind any mouse guards.
  • Bees are dying all the time and cold temperatures dissuade the ‘undertakers’ from fulfilling their duties. Use a probe (stick) to gently remove the deceased and keep the entrance clear, but be careful not to disturb all the others.
  • Even if you have mouse guards fitted, check for signs of a mouse getting into the hive, such as large pieces of wax on the ground at the hive entrance. If necessary lift the cover board and smell; an ammonia type smell may indicate a mouse.
  • If we have snow later, it can easily block the entrance in a dramatic way. So keep a watchful eye.
  • The bright reflection of snow can fool bees into thinking it is warmer outside than it actually is. If they come out from the cosy cluster for cleansing flights they will perish as soon as they meet the freezing air. Prevent this by placing a board over, but not blocking, the entrance to keep the bright glare of sun on snow out.
  • Rake dead leaves away from under your hives.
  • If not done so alreay, consider treating for varroa with oxalic acid if necessary. See the article in the October 2016 BeeNews about the use of an oxalic acid vapouriser.
  • Check out the website links provided by Jamie Ellis during his 2021 December talk for up-to-the-minute options and guidance on Varroa treatment options.
  • Make up new frames, but leave the wax fitting until March, and clean old frames. Make other new equipment ready for the start of the season – a nucleus hive is always useful.

Regular checks on the hives are always recommended. Have you ensured they still have their lids on and haven’t blown over or been disturbed by winds? If your hives are in a new spot, is it a frost hole? Has the site flooded? Have the woodpeckers found it? Read on, for all the early season checks and what to look out for.

After Christmas and (as needed) we recover from New Year festivities, our thoughts now need to be turning to the approaching beekeeping season. The winter solstice has already passed, and despite not having seen much of the sun since then, the day lengths are starting to increase.

Enrol on the ‘RBKA Crew’  WhatsApp page for topical tips, suggestions and help.

Since this is now the fifth consecutive (relatively) mild winter since Adam Leitch first commented about the unusually warm weather. Much of his comments and advice then, still apply again this January …

It is day length, rather than temperature that is the key to reduction in laying of the queen. Thus even in a mild winter, a queen will reduce her lay rate, although she is unlikely to stop altogether, and even in more northerly parts of the country, it is not unexpected to find brood throughout the Winter even if it is colder location.

Warmer weather might mean the cluster breaks more frequently during the day, and isolation starvation can occur if it doesn’t reform as a single entity during the night. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to help in this case.

If bees continue flying so late in the day, they may succumb to the cold whilst out flying and never return. Also late flying bees may not be able to provide warmth to the cluster and hence the remaining bees will have to work harder to maintain the temperature. Young bees, which would normally see the colony through the Winter might start to use up their reserves if they start foraging during the Winter, rather than more normally early in the Spring.

Due to the higher flying activity of the bees ensuring that they have sufficient food will be particularly import. Regularly heft your hives, and feed candy if required. Additionally, if the colony is found to be small in the Spring, a small boost of fresh syrup in late February or early March may be sensible, and even a pollen patty to reduce the burden on foragers.

If a larger amount of brood has been reared during the winter months, we can expect varroa loads to be high, even early in the year.  So treat your hives with oxalic acid in January, and continue checking mite drop in February and March, and then regularly through the season.

It is likely that the March/April period is going to be even more critical than usual as the number of house bees struggle to cope with the potentially high amount of brood. So be ready to supplement the colony with food – pollen patties for the brood and candy for the bees.

Assess the Remaining Stores for Each Colony

Feeding Fondant via the Feed Hole in the Crown Board
Feeding Fondant via Feed Hole in Crown Board

If we have mild weather, the bees will continue flying and deplete their winter stores more rapidly than usual…..there is no nectar to collect, only pollen from early flowers. The gorse and mahonia are both in flower providing useful early pollen. Consequently, it’s important to assess the level of honey stores at intervals through the 1st Q 2020. For more information on how to assess winter stores click HERE.

Some beekeepers give their colonies a pack of fondant (placed over the hole in the crown board). If the weather permits (pick a still, sunny day), quickly open the hive, add an eke on top of the brood box and insert a pack of fondant (opened face down) directly across the frames….or, simply place an open face of fondant directly over the feedhole in your crown board (remove the porter bee escape). Some beekeepers give their colonies a block of fondant regardless of the level of colony stores in early January. It can be seen as an insurance policy, to ensure your colony doesn’t go short of stores & it also has the potential to kick start the natural growth in colony size ahead of the Spring foraging season. NEVER feed your colonies sugar syrup in winter. It can ferment, and in doing so cause dysentery.

Check Your Hives are Secure Against Predators

Woodpecker Protection

Hopefully you protected your hives against woodpecker damage as part of your winter preparations. If there is damage to the hive wall, temporarily glue a piece of polystyrene foam over the hole/damage or, if it’s a small hole, fill it with something inert like plasticine, until the box can be taken out of service for full repairs in Spring. If we get another cold snap, and the woodpeckers has learnt that your hives provide a bountiful food source, do get some wire net – agricultural suppliers, or gardens centres sell rolls of wire netting that can be formed to provide a protective cover. It needs to be place a couple of inches from the side walls, so that the woodpecker beak can’t peck through it, but not so far away that they can get underneath it.

Check the Hive Entrance for  any Blockage

Dead Bees at Hive Entrance
Dead Bees at Hive Entrance

Sometimes mouse guards can make it difficult for the colony to clear out dead bees which can create an entrance blockage. An entrance blockage can stop bees leaving the hive on milder days for cleansing flights, creating unhygienic conditions within the hive. An entrance blockage can also substantially reduce natural air circulation through the hive, causing mould & mildew to form on the internal hive walls & on the brood frames.

Varroa Treatment

If you haven’t already administered an oxalic acid trickle, or ‘vaped’ your hives, early January is normally the last opportunity, before new brood begins to appear in the hive as the queen restarts laying.

Normally in early January, most colonies usually have little/no brood so, any varroa in the hive will be exposed, on the bees, rather than in the brood. This makes the whole population of varroa highly exposed to varroa treatment. (Note: It may already be too late for an oxalic acid trickle, if there is very early brood in your colony. If this is the case you may need to use MAQ strips or, dust brood frames with icing sugar …the latter on a mild day!). Sublimation (heating oxalic crystals from to a gas) is particularly effective at controlling varroa, see their website, and remember to take any recommendation precautions for personal health and safety.

Stored Brood Comb

If you have any stored brood comb, January is a good time to again check for wax moth (Note: wax moth usually only infests comb which has had brood in it. Consequently, stored super frames are not usually subject to infestation unless the queen managed to get inside the super, & lay eggs). Acetic acid fumigation can be applied but, this is a chemical which is hazardous to humans if not handled correctly. Sulphur strips can bee used to fumigate a stack of over wintered brood frames. The latter does not require the removal (or, greasing with vaseline) of metal parts to protect against corrosion. However, you will still need to perform this operation outdoors & evacuate the area to avoid breathing in sulphur fumes.

And finally …

… this time of the year usually produces some high winds, so, make sure your hive roofs are strapped or weighted down!

December in Your Apiary

Your colonies should by now, be well prepared for the months ahead; housed in weatherproof and pest (e.g. woodpecker and mice) proof hives, with low varroa loadings and ample supplies of winter stores.

The day time temperatures during the second half of November took a bit of a dive towards the zero mark, with overnight frost across our patch.

So your bees will (or should be) well hunkered down in tight clusters .. hopefully near to their stores or your substitute/additional provisions. Your winter preparations for them will already be being put to the test. 

December looks set to deliver sub 10 degrees temperatures every day, with maybe 50% of days, having some rain, snow not (yet) forecast.  January looks like it will more of the same. So do keep checking your colonies stores and topping up feed supplies as needed.  

December may be the quietest month for bees and beekeepers alike, …. but what ARE the bees doing during December ? 

Your bees are in their winter cluster – secure, warm, dry and well-provisioned if you have done our job properly – and will not be seen outside the hive unless on a cleansing mission or to collect water. The population of each hive is now very much diminished, as few as 5,000 bees and these form a cluster with the queen and remaining brood at the centre.

Their priority now is heat conservation and the protection of queen, brood and hence colony through the coldest months of the year. The cluster is formed with an outer shell of bees facing inwards, abdomens outwards, creating an insulating layer against heat loss. The bees can also protrude their stings should an intruder threaten the cluster. Within this outer shell the bees can move freely and can access their stores – vital as they maintain heat in the centre of the cluster by eating honey and vibrating their strong flight muscles. Larvae also produce heat by consuming food.

During a broodless period the temperature within the cluster is generally between 20-30°C and the cluster can expand or contract to maintain this range and to ensure that the outer wall does not get too cold. Bees from the centre will change places with bees from the outer layer to give them some time in the warmth and the cluster will loosen from time to time in order to move to a new area of stores. (Read the December 2016 edition of BeeNews article about the ‘Winter Cluster’ for more insight.)

In very cold weather the bees may be unable to move far enough to reach available stores and can perish through isolation starvation.

Do log into and join the Winter Virtual Meeting on the 1st December, when Jamie Ellis will be talking to us, from warmer Florida climes, about what he believes is killing our bees … and what we can do about it

Around New Year there is often a broodless period when oxalic treatments can be applied: on a still day put on suit, gloves and veil and work quickly with warmed solution, and upwind of vapour applications. For advice about the benefits of using sublimation read the article in the October 2016 edition of BeeNews.

Winter is also a good time to move hives as the bees aren’t flying so you can ignore the ‘less than three feet or more than three miles’ rule, the bees will re-orientate when they start flying again in warmer weather.

Be prepared for gales and make sure your hives are secure and protected. Do not leave spare supers on the hives as the taller they are the more they are susceptible to being blown over.

If we do have snow that lies, it may attract the bees to come out, especially if it is sunny and the snow reflects warming sunshine onto the hive. The bees then try to fly but are lost due to becoming chilled. Keep landing boards clear of snow or lean a wide board against the front of the hive.

Hive security and the comfort of your bees should be the objective.

  • Optimum winter conditions for bees are a constant cold temperature and dry conditions.
  • Continue to visually check your hives on a regular basis.
  • Check your hives are watertight and stable, and ensure they are on secure ground.
  • Take measures to ensure hive roofs cannot be blown off – use bricks or secure with wire.
  • If you have solid floors ensure that if water does get in it runs out of the hive, tilt the hive forward by placing a small piece of wood under each rear leg.
  • If you have open mesh floors some beekeepers advise to insert the varroa boards, so that less cold air can enter the hive.
  • Ensure you have woodpecker protection and mouse guards in place.
  • Ensure entrances are reduced to minimum width.
  • Monitor the now small entrance regularly for the build up of dead bees.
  • Remember to look particularly behind any mouse guards.
  • Bees are dying all the time and the cold temperatures dissuade the ‘undertakers’ from fulfilling their duties. Use a probe (stick) to gently remove the deceased and keep the entrance clear, but be careful not to disturb all the others.
  • Snow can easily block the entrance in a dramatic way. So keep a watchful eye.
  • Rake dead leaves away from under your hives.
  • Heft your hives to estimate the remaining stores; feed if necessary.
  • Feeding should not be required yet, but keep an emergency block of candy just in case because most  colonies that die out, do so because of starvation.
  • Ensure your bees will have a water source throughout the Winter.
  • Remember any solid food that you give your bees has to be diluted and that means finding water from somewhere. Not easy in a hard frost.
  • Many beekeepers give their bees a present of fondant on Christmas Day, and why not – they will ignore it if they don’t need it and it will be welcome if they do.
  • If you have mesh floors, you can try checking the occupants of the hive without physical disturbance, by positioning your mobile phone underneath and taking a photo looking up into the brood box (don’t forget to first temporarily remove the varroa board if fitted). Alternatively, a torch shone on to a mirror positioned at an angle under the mesh floor can provide a view.
  • Check that stored comb is protected from mice and wax moth damage.
  • Inspect stored brood frames for signs of wax moth. Wax moth eggs and grubs can be killed by leaving overnight in a suitable freezer.
  • Repair and clean hive parts and other equipment – soda crystals and a blow torch are good friends.
  • Make new frames ready for next season, but don’t fit the wax sheets unless you can store them in a secure place safe from wax moth.

Review the past year and make plans for next…

When all is done, it’s time to put your feet up and go back through your 2021 apiary notes. Look at the successes/failures you experienced in 2021 and make plans for 2022.

And finally, create that wish list of books, equipment and beekeeping accessories you would like for Christmas and leave the list “accidentally’ but, prominently on display!

Ho Ho Ho!

November in Your Apiary

Autumn Colours

Autumn Colours

The Surrey Honey Show, our own Honey Show and the National Honey Show events for 2021 are now past, the clocks have gone back, and yet more rain has been descending  upon us.

October ended with a mixture of heavy spells of rain, bright days and generally mild temperatures.  Bees have been flying and were finding late ivy. 

So … your bees winter stores may FEEL heavy enough … but, are they really prepared for this winter?

There may be a temptation to assume “job done” if you followed all the advice in “October in Your Apiary”.

But, for many beekeepers there may still be much to do to ensure colonies survive the winter and you are well prepared for the start of the 2022 season.

What happens to the Bees during the Winter ?

Once temperatures have dropped consistently below about 12°C (54°F), the bees will enter a dormant state. Flying will cease and they will group together in a ball, occupying cells in the centre of the nest, left empty of stores for the purpose. This is known as the winter cluster.

The bees are not hibernating, in the way queen wasps and bumblebees do, and there is always some activity.

The temperature in the cluster bears little correlation to the outside temperature, and ranges from about 8°C (45°F) in the dense, insulating outside layer of bees, to 24°C (75°F) in the centre of the cluster. The bees here are more loosely packed and are more active. They generate heat by constant muscular contractions-shivering. To fuel this activity, the bees must be in constant contact with their honey stores.

On milder days they are able to move around and relocate the cluster, and a large cluster can move around at will, due to its superior heat producing capacity.

The bees expand and contract the cluster, according to the temperature. When it is really cold the bees on the outside may be unable to maintain their grip and so fall off and die but generally they stay just warm enough to cling on.

Generally, although there is an optimum size, the bigger the cluster the better able it is to maintain an even temperature in the brood nest and any interference disturbs this equilibrium.

Sudden changes of temperature lead to increased activity, this means increased food consumption and possible dysentery if it is too cold for cleansing flights to take place. From now until the Spring only disturb the bees if absolutely essential.

The syrup you fed in September to early October has had time to “ripen” and should now be capped/sealed. There should be approx. 40lbs of sealed stores for a colony to survive a typical winter.

If your colonies still need feeding now or, at any time through to next March, it will be too late/cold to feed syrup & the only viable feed options are:… [Read more…]

October in Your Apiary

Honeybee on Ivy Flower

Remaining ivy (Hedera Helix) nectar flow will be the final crop for topping up winter stores. Despite spells of sometimes heavy showers and dropping temperatures, as long as the weather permits foraging, the bees will collect both pollen & nectar from ivy.

The honey produced is high in glucose and will rapidly crystallize in the comb … and it has a very bitter taste for human consumption!

The first half of October is probably the last chance to combine a small colony with a larger colony. Small colonies are vulnerable to cold winters since, they have problems maintaining an adequate temperature within the winter cluster.

Hopefully, by now, any 2021 Summer honey crop has been extracted, food stores have been replenished by feeding a thick sugar syrup & you have have completed varroa treatment…… it’s getting very late!

Generally the recommended stores required for the Winter is 40-50 lbs (18-22 kg), and a BS brood frame contains 5 lbs (2.2 kg) of stores, so your bees require at least eight to ten frames of stores. [Read more…]

September in Your Apiary

Apiguard Tray on Top of Brood Frames + An Eke

Apiguard Tray on Top of Brood Frames + An Eke

After the weather’s unseasonal highs and lows throughout the year so far, it can be no surprise that August has just failed to deliver any late summer flourish for our bees to enjoy. Tepid at best and autumnal generally, sources of late summer foraging may be later than usual, and maybe even too late to be foraged if temperature decline. 

  Autumn is feeling like it HAS  arrived.

The outlook throughout September is looking to be mostly overcast with some glimpses of sun interspersed with wet days and temperatures (hopefully) in the mid to high teens., Mild and occasionally damp!.

Regardless, of the weather, September is one of the busier months in the beekeeping calendar!

The honey crop should now be, or being, extracted, wet supers being cleaned up and returned to storage and importantly, we should already be preparing our colonies for winter.

Specifically for September, key tasks are:

 
1. Check all your colonies are Queenright & viable (i.e. large enough) for over wintering.
2. Be ruthless with a small colony. Combine it with another colony.
3. Complete the feeding of your colonies by the end September
4. If not already started, commence varroa treatment in the first week of September
5. Continue Winter preparations (Yes … they should have started in August!).
  [Read more…]

August in Your Apiary

How Many Supers Do You Have?

How Many Supers Do You Have? Leave a Comment at the foot of this piece.

The party’s nearly over!

By varying accounts, the flow is tailing off, if not already ended, after brief bursts of half decent weather.

The bees were certainly busy when conditions allowed during July and would normally now be easing back on the throttle. But it’s been far from a normal foraging season, so there may be more frantic activity this month if weather conditions allow, or the colonies require.

Meanwhile, for beekeepers, August remains a busy month of the year!

Preparations for Honey Extraction

To ensure you don’t extract “unripened honey” (i.e. the water content is too high & the extracted honey can ferment), only extract capped super frames. Uncapped frames should be consolidated into a single super and returned to the hive directly over the queen excluder. The supers with sealed frames still need to be cleared of bees before final removal for extraction. If there are only a few bees, these can easily be brushed or, shaken off each frame in front of the hive. However, the usual method is to use a “Clearer Board”.

When all the supers for extraction have been removed & securely stored (see ‘Robbing” later in this article) it’s time to plan for honey extraction, varroa treatment & also feeding to build up stores for the winter.

Honey Extraction

There isn’t a single way to extract honey. It very much depends on what equipment you have, how many supers need to be extracted and what facilities you have in which to carry out extraction. With this in mind read more on “Extracting Honey

Storing Your Supers

Once extraction of supers is completed, what do you do with the supers full of wet/sticky frames? A numbering system to associate each super with its originating colony and return the wet supers to their respective hives to clean them up is a good idea. Return wet supers to hives at dusk, to minimise robbing…to understand why, read the next paragraph on “Robbing”. After a few days the “dry” supers can be cleared of bees and then removed and stacked for winter storage. Supers can be stacked and stored outside (or, inside a shed). Although supers (which have not contained brood) are less vulnerable to wax moth than honey supers, it’s still wise to protect them from possible wax moth damage. Tape the joins between supers to seal them, add a crown board (and seal the feeder holes) and top off with a roof. Some recommend fumigating with acetic acid or, sulphur but, the personal health risks from exposure to acetic acid, in particular are significant. It’s wise not to store used brood comb, if possible since, these frames are particularly vulnerable to wax moth.

Robbing

Colony populations are at their annual peak but, we are now at a period when there may be little nectar around to keep your bees busy. If not already in place, it’s time to put in reduced entrance blocks to make it easier for colonies to defend their hives against robbing by bees from other colonies and also wasps. Weaker colonies are particularly prone to robbing. Make sure that there are no other ways for robbing bees to get into a hive. Look out for growing numbers of bees around the sides, rear ir underside of a hive. Have they found a ‘back entrance into the hive. See what happens when there is a serious case of robbing!

Consequently, it is essential to monitor the integrity of your hives, avoid spillage of sugar solution & ensure supers awaiting extraction are sealed up and moved to a bee and wasp proof location.

Wasps are now increasing in numbers around the hive and can be a particular problem for weak colonies. Early August is a good time to put out some wasp traps to control the population. Click Here for a cheap, easy DIY construction of a wasp trap. Don’t use honey in your wasp trap or, it will also become a bee trap!

Be also on the lookout for hornets, particularly the Yellow Legged Hornet. Find out more about them here. Asian Hornet Update.

Varroa Treatment & Winter Feeding

Yes, it is only August …. and preparations for Winter do already need to be talked about!

When all the supers have finally been removed and stored for the winter, it’s time to plan for varroa treatment of each colony. Apiguard is still the defacto standard for  treatment once the honey crop has been removed and no further crop (for human consumption) is expected. However, there are an increasing number of proprietary treatments so, check with your RBKA contacts which are the most effective. The most common treatment (Apiguard), usually starts in the first half of August so that winter feeding can be completed well before the end of October (when it can get too cold for bees to take down & process sugar syrup). For comprehensive information about managing varroa and it’s treatment read the FERA document Managing Varroa,

If all goes to plan, you are about to steal all or, most of the bees’ winter food stores. Some beekeepers leave a full honey super on the hive, others take all the supers off and feed sugar syrup for winter stores. There is no right or, wrong approach.

There are now only one or, possibly two, significant crops of nectar for bees to add to their winter stores before the onset of winter.

Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan Balsam

Honeybee on Ivy

Honeybee on Ivy

They are Himalayan Balsam (primarily alongside water courses) in late July-September and Ivy in September-October.

Due to the weather variability in October, the ivy crop can be unpredictable so, best to treat ivy as a bonus for your bees.

July in Your Apiary

Super Frame of Capped Honey

Super Frame of Capped Honey

NORMALLY in July, you are rewarded for all your careful planning, swarm prevention interventions and general husbandry of your colonies. This year, for many, planning and swarming interventions have seemingly counted for nothing. And its none to clear whether the on-off-on nectar flows have been late spring or early summer flows … or indeed all we might get this summer!

Weather forecasts for July are for daytime temperatures remaining pretty flat at between 19 & 21 degs C, under patchy cloud cover and dry until the end of the month. But take this outlook with a huge pinch of salt.

If your chosen swarm management methodology has worked, you should be rewarded with a a good number of full supers per hive to extract. If you have any small colonies covering only say, 3-4 frames of brood, it’s best to unite with another colony. Small colonies will not produce much of a honey surplus! However, this will need to be done early in the first week of July to take advantage of any remaining summer nectar flow.

[Read more…]

June In Your Apiary

DSC_0146

Hawthorne in Flower

The unseasonal wet and cool May is finally giving way to warmer and dryer conditions. Coming out of Winter, strong colonies would have been best placed to make the most of sporadic foraging opportunities. Weaker colonies will struggle, or worse. Check for useable stores and prepare to feed when otherwise expecting to be adding supers. For much of June, daytime temperatures are forecast to rise to low 20’s, with a welcome break from the rain.

The hot weather brings on the colonies. Normally, they would have been able to take full advantage of early spring flowering and should have rapidly occupied available space in their hives. With the consequence that the bees thoughts will have turned to swarming, and for the unwary amongst us, those thoughts became action.

Hopefully, despite the wet and cool  May, you should have managed to get into reasonably regular weekly inspections  so where swarming preparations were found, you have been able to divert their attention.

In a strong nectar flow it’s essential to provide space for the rapidly growing colony. by adding an additional super when the first is half filled. Hive congestion, particularly in a strong nectar flow, is a trigger for swarming preparation. Strong colonies filled up to 3 supers last month!

[Read more…]

NBU Alert – Spring Starvation

 

Urgent message from Our Seasonal Bee Inspector,  27/05/2021APHA logo

Stuart Westsmith, one of our seasonal bee inspectors has directly phoned Bob Maurer, as Chairman of SBKA, to say he has found a great number of hives around Surrey with no stores and starving bees in the last few days.

A circular recommending that we all check our hives as a matter of urgency and feed as needed will be issued by Apha/NBU but it has to go through their administrative procedures and Stuart thinks it is too urgent to wait.

Bob has never had a bee inspector make a direct request like this before so it must be serious. He thinks Stuart is absolutely right and has been feeding his own bees for a while.

So please check your bees as soon as you can.

Assume nothing … Inspect your colonies for useable stores and feed if needed.

If in doubt, feed anyway … what they don’t need, they won’t take.   

May in Your Apiary

May Blossom
(Crataegus Monogynus)

This time last year, we had been coming out of a mini heat wave during early/mid April. No such luck this year. BUT the cold nights, cold daytime breezes and off/on sunshine do not seem to have held back the bees expansion activities within their hives. And if you do have strong colonies … activity that will have barely slowed during the winter months, despite the occasional short sharp cold spells.

Of course, it’s not quite the same situation if your colonies were not so strong going into winter. Requeening, uniting or wholesale replacement may well be the order of the day.  

So expect your surviving stronger colonies to be doing very well thank you and bursting at the seams unless you are on top of their management. Whilst any weaker colonies my be struggling … particular after the more recent dip in temperatures and eventual return of the April showers.

Don’t be Caught Out

If you are not already, pay particular attention to swarming in May. This month is usually the month in the beekeeping year when activity accelerates very quickly, perhaps doubly so this May. If you are not well prepared, you will be caught out!

The first rape crops and fruit blossom has been much in evidence, and the recent hot spells will have seen any available storage space being filled with nectar… competing with space the Queen will need for laying.

Strong colonies will have expanded significantly during April whilst weaker colonies could still be struggling.  Brace yourselves for a busy ‘swarm season’. [Read more…]

April in Your Apiary

Flowering Currant

Flowering Currant

April usually signals the start of the new beekeeping year as the colony transitions from winter survival to colony renewal and growth. With March having been thankfully dryer even if with a cold wind on occasions, and ending up being unusually warm; many colonies are likely to be well advanced in their “growth” phase, provided their stores have held out or been supplemented by us as needed.

Weather during April can be highly variable and may impact on the rate of colony growth and the type of beekeeper interventions required.  And it’s the ability to provide timely interventions when required that will be OUR huge challenge this month and for months to come. 

IF YOU NEED HELP inspecting your own colonies due to self isolating requirements, get in touch with RBKA. Check the Who’s Who listing in this website for some contact details.

Weekly inspections, if not already underway, can commence … however, do not open up the hive unless the outside temperature is at least 15ºC, otherwise the brood may be chilled.

At the first inspection: [Read more…]

March in Your Apiary

Bee Hive & Daffodils

The Start of the Beekeepers Year

Prepare for a wetter than normal March!

After the last few glorious days in February of sunshine and welcome warmth, make the most of first few days of March that could remain sunny before plunging into three weeks of on & off wet weather and temperatures dropping back to around the 10degC mark.

Egg laying will have been prompted by the mild end to February. But a down turn in conditions will upset the bees planning. 

Regardless …. the beekeeping season definitely gets underway in March!

March is a critical time for the survival of the colony. Despite the mild February, some colonies may still be close to having consumed all their winter stores. Colony access to both nectar & pollen is critical in March as winter stores are depleted and pollen is required for the developing brood. Natural replenishment can be restricted if there is a prolonged period of either wet or, cold weather.
The queen should have restarted laying and the size of the colony should grow throughout March., even though the old “winter” bees will be progressively dying off. Smaller colonies will be absolutely dependent on good March weather to facilitate rebuilding their food store. [Read more…]

February in Your Apiary

fondant

Clear tubs allow fondant supplies to checked without opening the hive further.

Feed, Feed and Feed.

During last month, temperatures dropped, but only a few frosts and just a couple of days of lying snow to trouble our bees. And this year, February is starting, once again, with unusually mild and wet conditions. All this follows a couple of months of otherwise relatively mild weather … the new Winter normal perhaps? So you will have been seeing some activity outside of the hive and the queens could be into laying already.  So do heft or if needed take a quick peek under the roofs to confirm that the bees are making headway into their fondant, and that they still have some to tuck into.

Although this is usually the last of the quiet months for the beekeeper, things will certainly be stirring in the hive as the bees begin to respond to the longer and milder daylight hours. The queen will be coming back into lay, if indeed she every stopped, and will be depositing eggs in clean cells in the centre of the nest area to raise workers for the early part of the season.
Caretaker activities are important. February is all about making sure that your bees have sufficient to eat and drink, and protecting your hives from the continuing effects of cold wet wintry weather and animals. 

Outside even when the temperature may be in single or even low double figures; with brood to raise the workers need to boost the temperature in the inner nest to 33°C – 35°C, by clustering together and quivering using their large thoracic muscles to produce heat. This requires them to consume an increased amount of food, up to 500g in a week, so we can expect the stores to become depleted more rapidly now.

  • Heft the hives every two week by lifting them at each side, (or weigh them with a spring balance – see BeeNews November 2014 edition for advice about how to do this), and feed only if necessary.
  • If the hive is still well provisioned and you can see bees carrying pollen into the hive, leave the hive alone.
  • If no pollen is being taken into the hive, feed fondant or candy, (which can be made from caster sugar); if pollen is being brought to the hive, feed syrup.
  • If you have any doubts about the level of stores, a slab of fondant placed over one of the holes in the crown board is good insurance.
  • Pollen patties can be given at the end of the month on top of the frames. See BeeNews February 2012 edition for advice about how to make patties.
  • Do not stop feeding until there is a steady flow of nectar and pollen into the hive.
  • If the air temperature is over 10°C and the sun is shining you should expect to see a few bees venturing out in search of pollen or making a cleansing flight.

The bees will need water close to the hive.

  • Make sure there is a suitable water source. This can be a plastic container, filled with peat or wood shavings and water. An old car tyre laid flat also makes a good watering place. See BeeNews November 2012 edition for making a DIY water station. Any source should be about 10 m from the hive so that it is not contaminated by bees during their ‘cleansing’ flights.
  • Check all hives for activity.

If most hives are active but one appears inactive, inspect this hive to see if the colony is dead. Any hive which has died should be shut down and if possible removed from the apiary.

  • Ensure all hive entrances are clear, remove any dead bees and any snow.
  • If you treated with oxalic acid and monitored the varroa drop, the tray can be removed to assist ventilation.
  • However, the queen will almost certainly have started laying by now, so you may prefer to leave the tray in place to help keep the brood nest temperature raised. Remember to clean the tray regularly.
  • It is also important during February, if weather permits, to clean your hive floor or consider changing it for a fresh floor, especially if it is a solid floor. But remember to ensure the brood box does not chill, so do the cleaning or changing as quickly as possible, and it is best to have an assistant to help with lifting.
  • Check there are no leaks into your hive. Damp is dangerous, leading to chilled brood and mouldy comb.
  • Continue to check for the unwanted attention of the green woodpecker. They can be a particular nuisance if the ground is too hard for them to find ants.
  • February is often the most convenient time to relocate hives in the apiary that need moving more than 3 feet. If you move the colony after a week when the weather has been too poor for flying, then you can re-site the hive beyond the normal 3 feet restriction. The bees will re-learn their new location when they do emerge.
  • Complete cleaning and making equipment and new frames ready for the season.

Remember if you must open the hive beyond simply checking fondant stores over a crownboard, do it on a warmer day with minimal disturbance, (+13°C is the preferred temperature).

On warmer days the bees will still be housekeeping with mortuary bees removing dead bees and detritus from the hive…. so, make sure the entrances and mouse guards (if used) are clear even if there is no snow/ice around.

With brood already in the many colonies you may wish to buy or, prepare ‘pollen patties’ to help the colony feed the early brood. This is essentially an insurance policy against poor weather preventing pollen collection. Once started, feeding pollen may need to be  continued until there is a good flow of nectar and pollen into the hive. Click HERE to read how to make your own pollen patties and use them in your hives.

February is also the time to tidy up the shed, clean your equipment, prepare new frames and order supplies otherwise, you run the risk of panic in March! Surplus and no longer needed equipment can be cleaned up and put into our Auction – likely this year to be a rolling on-line auction as was run mid summer season last year. Look out for announcements during the next couple of months.

January in Your Apiary

Wishing You Happy

Bountiful Beekeeping in 2021.

Whatever you were able to make or your own Christmas & New Year festivities our thoughts now need to be turning to the approaching beekeeping season that will kick off when our bees decide, irrespective of Tiers or waiting for vaccinations. The winter solstice has already passed, the day lengths start to increase.

Although we can’t see, preparations for the forthcoming season will be in progress, and with few really cold spells during the last weeks of 2020, patches of brood, in the centre of the colony, will already be underway.

So what tasks should we be contemplating?

Regular checks on the hives are always recommended. Have you ensured they still have their lids on and haven’t blown over or been disturbed by winds? If your hives are in a new spot, is it a frost hole? Has the site flooded? Have the woodpeckers found it? Read on, for all the early season checks and what to look out for.

  • Now is a good time to review the hive positions in your apiary and move any hives to improve their Winter sun and wind orientation.
  • Heft regularly (lifting a hive side) to assess the weight of stores present without disturbing the colony. If in doubt gently lift off the lid and check visually. Choose a milder day to do this so as not to chill the colony unnecessarily but do not delay if you suspect they need feeding. The colony will die very quickly if there is no food available. If the bees are at the top of the frames and clustered and not showing any activity they may already be starving.
  • Feed with solid food placed right on top of the frames where the bees are clustering. Keep checking every couple of weeks and estimate consumption to plan top ups. Remember, if it is very cold they will not move to where the feed is, even if it is just the next frame, and will starve to death. Ensure the feed is always easily available.
  • Don’t assume that strong colonies need less looking after, they need more food !
  • Remember any solid food that you give your bees has to be diluted and that means finding water from somewhere. Not easy in a hard frost.
  • Ensure your bees will have a water source throughout the Winter.
  • Check that your hives have adequate ventilation.
  • Monitor the now small entrance regularly for the build up of dead bees. Remember to look particularly behind any mouse guards.
  • Bees are dying all the time and cold temperatures dissuade the ‘undertakers’ from fulfilling their duties. Use a probe (stick) to gently remove the deceased and keep the entrance clear, but be careful not to disturb all the others.
  • Even if you have mouse guards fitted, check for signs of a mouse getting into the hive, such as large pieces of wax on the ground at the hive entrance. If necessary lift the cover board and smell; an ammonia type smell may indicate a mouse.
  • If we have snow later, it can easily block the entrance in a dramatic way. So keep a watchful eye.
  • The bright reflection of snow can fool bees into thinking it is warmer outside than it actually is. If they come out from the cosy cluster for cleansing flights they will perish as soon as they meet the freezing air. Prevent this by placing a board over, but not blocking, the entrance to keep the bright glare of sun on snow out.
  • Rake dead leaves away from under your hives.
  • If not done so alreay, consider treating for varroa with oxalic acid if necessary. See the article in the October 2016 BeeNews about the use of an oxalic acid vapouriser.
  • Make up new frames, but leave the wax fitting until March, and clean old frames. Make other new equipment ready for the start of the season – a nucleus hive is always useful.

Enrol on the ‘RBKA Crew’  WhatsApp page for topical tips, suggestions and help.

Since this is now the fourth consecutive (relatively) mild winter since Adam Leitch first commented about the unusually warm weather. Much of his comments and advice then, still apply again this January …

It is day length, rather than temperature that is the key to reduction in laying of the queen. Thus even in a mild winter, a queen will reduce her lay rate, although she is unlikely to stop altogether, and even in more northerly parts of the country, it is not unexpected to find brood throughout the Winter even if it is colder location.

Warmer weather might mean the cluster breaks more frequently during the day, and isolation starvation can occur if it doesn’t reform as a single entity during the night. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to help in this case.

If bees continue flying so late in the day, they may succumb to the cold whilst out flying and never return. Also late flying bees may not be able to provide warmth to the cluster and hence the remaining bees will have to work harder to maintain the temperature. Young bees, which would normally see the colony through the Winter might start to use up their reserves if they start foraging during the Winter, rather than more normally early in the Spring.

Due to the higher flying activity of the bees ensuring that they have sufficient food will be particularly import. Regularly heft your hives, and feed candy if required. Additionally, if the colony is found to be small in the Spring, a small boost of fresh syrup in late February or early March may be sensible, and even a pollen patty to reduce the burden on foragers.

If a larger amount of brood has been reared during the winter months, we can expect varroa loads to be high, even early in the year.  So treat your hives with oxalic acid in January, and continue checking mite drop in February and March, and then regularly through the season.

It is likely that the March/April period is going to be even more critical than usual as the number of house bees struggle to cope with the potentially high amount of brood. So be ready to supplement the colony with food – pollen patties for the brood and candy for the bees.

Assess the Remaining Stores for Each Colony

Feeding Fondant via the Feed Hole in the Crown Board

Feeding Fondant via Feed Hole in Crown Board

If we have mild weather, the bees will continue flying and deplete their winter stores more rapidly than usual…..there is no nectar to collect, only pollen from early flowers. The gorse and mahonia are both in flower providing useful early pollen. Consequently, it’s important to assess the level of honey stores at intervals through the 1st Q 2020. For more information on how to assess winter stores click HERE.

Some beekeepers give their colonies a pack of fondant (placed over the hole in the crown board). If the weather permits (pick a still, sunny day), quickly open the hive, add an eke on top of the brood box and insert a pack of fondant (opened face down) directly across the frames….or, simply place an open face of fondant directly over the feedhole in your crown board (remove the porter bee escape). Some beekeepers give their colonies a block of fondant regardless of the level of colony stores in early January. It can be seen as an insurance policy, to ensure your colony doesn’t go short of stores & it also has the potential to kick start the natural growth in colony size ahead of the Spring foraging season. NEVER feed your colonies sugar syrup in winter. It can ferment, and in doing so cause dysentery.

Check Your Hives are Secure Against Predators

Woodpecker Protection

Hopefully you protected your hives against woodpecker damage as part of your winter preparations. If there is damage to the hive wall, temporarily glue a piece of polystyrene foam over the hole/damage or, if it’s a small hole, fill it with something inert like plasticine, until the box can be taken out of service for full repairs in Spring. If we get another cold snap, and the woodpeckers has learnt that your hives provide a bountiful food source, do get some wire net – agricultural suppliers, or gardens centres sell rolls of wire netting that can be formed to provide a protective cover. It needs to be place a couple of inches from the side walls, so that the woodpecker beak can’t peck through it, but not so far away that they can get underneath it.

Check the Hive Entrance for  any Blockage

Dead Bees at Hive Entrance

Dead Bees at Hive Entrance

Sometimes mouse guards can make it difficult for the colony to clear out dead bees which can create an entrance blockage. An entrance blockage can stop bees leaving the hive on milder days for cleansing flights, creating unhygienic conditions within the hive. An entrance blockage can also substantially reduce natural air circulation through the hive, causing mould & mildew to form on the internal hive walls & on the brood frames.

Varroa Treatment

If you haven’t already administered an oxalic acid trickle, or ‘vaped’ your hives, early January is normally the last opportunity, before new brood begins to appear in the hive as the queen restarts laying.

Normally in early January, most colonies usually have little/no brood so, any varroa in the hive will be exposed, on the bees, rather than in the brood. This makes the whole population of varroa highly exposed to varroa treatment. (Note: It may already be too late for an oxalic acid trickle, if there is very early brood in your colony. If this is the case you may need to use MAQ strips or, dust brood frames with icing sugar …the latter on a mild day!). Sublimation (heating oxalic crystals from to a gas) is particularly effective at controlling varroa, see their website, and remember to take any recommendation precautions for personal health and safety.

Stored Brood Comb

If you have any stored brood comb, January is a good time to again check for wax moth (Note: wax moth usually only infests comb which has had brood in it. Consequently, stored super frames are not usually subject to infestation unless the queen managed to get inside the super, & lay eggs). Acetic acid fumigation can be applied but, this is a chemical which is hazardous to humans if not handled correctly. Sulphur strips can bee used to fumigate a stack of over wintered brood frames. The latter does not require the removal (or, greasing with vaseline) of metal parts to protect against corrosion. However, you will still need to perform this operation outdoors & evacuate the area to avoid breathing in sulphur fumes.

And finally …

… this time of the year usually produces some high winds, so, make sure your hive roofs are strapped or weighted down!

December in Your Apiary

Your colonies should by now, be well prepared for the months ahead; housed in weatherproof and pest (e.g. woodpecker and mice) proof hives, with low varroa loadings and ample supplies of winter stores.

Although damp and dismal, the day time temperatures during November have only in the last few days failed to rise above 10 degrees in Reigate & Banstead and Mole Valley regions. So your bees may well have been out and about on occasions and your preparations may only now being put to the test. 

Do take notice of the NBU Starvation and Varroa Alert, issued on 27th November. 

If you did not receive the alert directly by email from the NBU … REGISTER YOURSELF AND YOUR  APIARY SITE(S) WITH BEEBASE NOW.

All of December looks set to deliver low single figure temperatures, with only occasional wet days, but maybe a snow shower on Christmas Eve.  January may start off wet for the first few days and then settle into being generally sunny but with temperatures only between 6 and 10 degrees.  (AccuWeather – Reigate as forcast 28/11/20)  So do keep checking your colonies stores and topping up feed supplies as needed.  

December may be the quietest month for bees and beekeepers alike, …. but what ARE the bees doing during December ? 

Your bees are in their winter cluster – secure, warm, dry and well-provisioned if you have done our job properly – and will not be seen outside the hive unless on a cleansing mission or to collect water. The population of each hive is now very much diminished, as few as 5,000 bees and these form a cluster with the queen and remaining brood at the centre.

Their priority now is heat conservation and the protection of queen, brood and hence colony through the coldest months of the year. The cluster is formed with an outer shell of bees facing inwards, abdomens outwards, creating an insulating layer against heat loss. The bees can also protrude their stings should an intruder threaten the cluster. Within this outer shell the bees can move freely and can access their stores – vital as they maintain heat in the centre of the cluster by eating honey and vibrating their strong flight muscles. Larvae also produce heat by consuming food.

During a broodless period the temperature within the cluster is generally between 20-30°C and the cluster can expand or contract to maintain this range and to ensure that the outer wall does not get too cold. Bees from the centre will change places with bees from the outer layer to give them some time in the warmth and the cluster will loosen from time to time in order to move to a new area of stores. (Read the December 2016 edition of BeeNews article about the ‘Winter Cluster’ for more insight.)

In very cold weather the bees may be unable to move far enough to reach available stores and can perish through isolation starvation.

… and what should or could you be doing ?

Firstly, do log into and join the Winter Virtual Meeting on the 2nd December, when Adam Leitch will be talking about Winter Feeding.

Around New Year there is often a broodless period when oxalic treatments can be applied: on a still day put on suit, gloves and veil and work quickly with warmed solution, and upwind of vapour applications. For advice about the benefits of using sublimation read the article in the October 2016 edition of BeeNews.

Winter is also a good time to move hives as the bees aren’t flying so you can ignore the ‘less than three feet or more than three miles’ rule, the bees will re-orientate when they start flying again in warmer weather.

Be prepared for gales and make sure your hives are secure and protected. Do not leave spare supers on the hives as the taller they are the more they are susceptible to being blown over.

Snow may attract the bees to come out, especially if it is sunny and the snow reflects warming sunshine onto the hive. The bees then try to fly but are lost due to becoming chilled. Keep landing boards clear of snow or lean a wide board against the front of the hive.

Hive security and the comfort of your bees should be the objective.

  • Optimum winter conditions for bees are a constant cold temperature and dry conditions.
  • Continue to visually check your hives on a regular basis.
  • Check your hives are watertight and stable, and ensure they are on secure ground.
  • Take measures to ensure hive roofs cannot be blown off – use bricks or secure with wire.
  • If you have solid floors ensure that if water does get in it runs out of the hive, tilt the hive forward by placing a small piece of wood under each rear leg.
  • If you have open mesh floors some beekeepers advise to insert the varroa boards, so that less cold air can enter the hive.
  • Ensure you have woodpecker protection and mouse guards in place.
  • Ensure entrances are reduced to minimum width.
  • Monitor the now small entrance regularly for the build up of dead bees.
  • Remember to look particularly behind any mouse guards.
  • Bees are dying all the time and the cold temperatures dissuade the ‘undertakers’ from fulfilling their duties. Use a probe (stick) to gently remove the deceased and keep the entrance clear, but be careful not to disturb all the others.
  • Snow can easily block the entrance in a dramatic way. So keep a watchful eye.
  • Rake dead leaves away from under your hives.
  • Heft your hives to estimate the remaining stores; feed if necessary.
  • Feeding should not be required yet, but keep an emergency block of candy just in case because most  colonies that die out, do so because of starvation.
  • Ensure your bees will have a water source throughout the Winter.
  • Remember any solid food that you give your bees has to be diluted and that means finding water from somewhere. Not easy in a hard frost.
  • Many beekeepers give their bees a present of fondant on Christmas Day, and why not – they will ignore it if they don’t need it and it will be welcome if they do.
  • If you have mesh floors, you can try checking the occupants of the hive without disturbance, by placing a mirror underneath and angling it so that you can see up into the hive. A torch shone on to the mirror can help shed a little more light.
  • Check that stored comb is protected from mice and wax moth damage.
  • Inspect stored brood frames for signs of wax moth. Wax moth eggs and grubs can be killed by leaving overnight in a suitable freezer.
  • Repair and clean hive parts and other equipment – soda crystals and a blow torch are good friends.
  • Make new frames ready for next season, but don’t fit the wax sheets unless you can store them in a secure place safe from wax moth.

Review the past year and make plans for next…

When all is done, it’s time to put your feet up and go back through your 2020 apiary notes. Look at the successes/failures you experienced in 2020 and make plans for 2021.

And finally, create that wish list of books, equipment and beekeeping accessories you would like for Christmas and leave the list “accidentally’ but, prominently on display!

Ho Ho Ho!

Attending Out Apiaries during Lockdown conditions

With Lockdown conditions being reimposed during November at least, members may wish to refer again to the NBU Guidance provided in March this year and to avail themselves of the SBKA letter, provided then by Bob Maurer (SBKA Chairman), if concerned about necessarily attending to colonies at an out-apairy.

SBKA Letter

NBU Guide

“In case any of our members are concerned that they will be stopped and questioned about their legitimate journeys to maintain out apiaries, I have attached a letter that could be shown to any enquiring police officer or other official with the latest Defra/NBU advice….”

The letter and NBU notice “… should only be presented by members with a genuine need to reach one of our, or their own, apiaries.”

With kind regards and best wishes to stay safe

Bob Maurer