Half way through November and it has to be said, the weather so far has been what can only be described as changeable. We’ve had days of torrential rain followed by days of intermittent sunshine, some more akin to early Summer than late Autumn. We’ve had our first flurry of snow and there’s a thin layer of frost adorning the parked cars most mornings. Today, by comparison, is beautiful. There’s hardly a cloud to be seen and the sun is very much in evidence and I shall be off to see my bees shortly. Even though there was quite a brisk frost this morning, I’m fully expecting to see plenty of flying bees in evidence. There’s not very much to be done around the apiary at this time of year other than making sure everything is secure. Like me, you should have finished feeding some time ago and your mouse guards should by now, be on. If you over-winter your hives with floor slides in and some form of woodpecker protection, then this should also have been sorted by now. Even though I’m happy in my own mind that all of the colonies are going into Winter with sufficient stores, I have still left them each with a block of candy just to be on the safe side. My local Baker kindly supplies me with fondant for ten pounds a box which is not only good value, in my opinion, it saves me an awful lot of messing about making my own and one box is enough tor each colony to get a generous portion. When I first started using candy as a winter supplement, I used to put it on a disused plastic margarine lid or similar placed above the brood frames. This works well enough but apart from the plastic lid limiting access to the candy, there have been occasions when, probably due to the heat rising from the brood, the candy has begun melting and dripping down onto the cluster. Following on from this I began experimenting with alternatives to plastic lids and hit upon the idea of what I now call My Candy Cage. This is a wire mesh box, for want of a better word, approximately 8″ x 4″ x1″. I have used the rigid mesh as used in my comb cages. ( See August’s post ).
MY CANDY CAGE
CAGE IN USE ON NUC.
This picture shows the cage on one of my nuc’s. It has been in place about a week and you can see how well the bees have been able to attack the fondant, apart from anything else, the cage allows the bees to access the fondant from all angles. This is the second or third year that I’ve been using these cages and I must say, they work for me! The one drawback with using the cage on a nuc., as in the pic. is that the eke needed, does make the nuc. appear somewhat top heavy. For that reason I always anchor any nuc. with an eke on board, to the hive stand. I prefer to use a hive strap for this purpose,
NUC ANCHORED TO STAND USING HIVE STRAP
for if nothing else, it enabled me to walk away with peace of mind in the knowledge that I’m not going to return to find a nuc. full of bees laying on the ground beside the stand where a strong gust of wind or some deer that has decided to use it as a scratching post, has deposited it.
I mentioned that thus far we have used a thymol based paste for our Winter varroa treatment and I must say, that we have been well pleased with the results. Until last year that is, and that was as much our fault as that of this product, but it does highlight one of it’s limitations and that is, it’s efficiency during extremes of cold. We always feed before treating, the thinking behind this being, if you don’t feed you will almost certainly lose your bees whereas, if you don’t treat for varroa, there is still a chance that you bees will emerge in the Spring when you will have a second chance to treat. Anyway, for whatever reason, last year we were late extracting which led to our feeding being later than I would have liked. Sods law dictated that Winter came early in our neck of the woods last year which meant that not only were the bees slow in taking their syrup down but that the varroa treatment was too solid to have any lasting effect. The consequence of all of this was that we must have come into the Spring still with a high level of varroa in our Mendip colonies, a fact that I failed to pick up on. My early inspections hadn’t indicated anything out of the ordinary and as we’d never had a varroa problem in the past, I just carried on as usual. I did spend a lot of time getting the new Station site up and running and maybe on reflection, I wasn’t as thorough with my inspections as I should have been. I did notice that the bees weren’t producing as much honey as I would have expected but I put this down to the move. It wasn’t until our season’s last apiary meeting, which was at my Station Apiary that the problem came to light. The meetings are always themed and we always have a guest “expert” to demonstrate. Half way through the first hive and those dreaded words, ” Geoff, you’ve got a brood problem here and I’m pretty sure that varroa’s the culprit, look.” Holding up his hand it was plain to see a varroa on his thumb-nail, and there was worse to come. The next three colonies were the same. At this point, and feeling sick in the pit of my stomach, we left the bees and adjourned for cream teas on the lawn. Had I invited all these people to my apiary to infect them with some horrible brood disease, at the first opportunity I cornered my guest. My first question, “is it foul brood”? He explained that while he didn’t believe it to be one of the foul broods, that there was obviously something amiss that needed to be kept an eye on. His advise was to get my varroa treatment on as soon as possible and check the hives again in a week or so. The following morning all of the hives, and the nuc’s. at both sites received a dose of Apivar. I haven’t used this treatment before but have heard glowing reports of it’s efficacy and so was eager to give it a try and glad to report, the results didn’t disappoint. In the space of a week, the drop went from high to practically nil. This, combined with the fact that all the colonies seemed none the worse for their experience and appeared to be performing well meant that I could once again start sleeping at nights. I had also taken the precaution of reporting the happenings of the previous week to our local bee inspector who suggested the problem was most likely sac brood with varroa as the likely cause and to keep a careful eye open and report any relevant changes. I have done as I was advised and thankfully, all seems to be looking good. The Apivar comes off next week when the hives will receive what will most likely be their, last full inspection for this season. The events of this last month have been a real wake-up call for me and I realise that I’ve probably become a bit complacent with my inspections so, my new year’s resolution, be thorough and don’t ignore anything which appears in any way out of the ordinary.
The nights drawing in and the very noticeable drop in temperature tells us in no uncertain terms that Winter will soon be upon us. A fact which has not gone unnoticed by the bees. The absence of drones combined with the reduction in brood confirms that fact. So what should we be doing to assist our bees in their preparations for what might be a very long Winter, and of course, this is always a problem in as much as their is no definitive way of foretelling just how hard or how long Winter is going to be. Experience has shown, and of course it’s something which common sense should already have told us, and it is that one strong colony will stand a far better chance of over-wintering successfully than two weak ones. For that reason any weak colony should by now have been united to a stronger neighbour. So, to help ensure successful over-wintering, the first requirement must surely be, strong colonies. Honeybees, in my experience, will cope quite happily with even the coldest Winters so long as their hives are weather tight and draught proof so, that is the second requirement here at Mendip. If you suddenly notice that any of your hive sections have developed a suspect joint, seal it with a band of Gaffer Tape or similar. We always try to commence feeding as soon as we have finished extracting our honey, as much as anything, to take advantage of what warm weather is left but also, to leave plenty of time to get the thymol based treatment on, which has up until now, been our chosen Varroa treatment. One thing that we are invariably left with, following extraction, is a number of supers containing shallow frames which are either partly filled with honey or have been capped on one side only. They can’t be extracted because they aren’t sealed so what to do with them. The obvious solution is to give them back to the bees to clean out but, how best to do it. These supers can be placed below the brood chamber into which the bees, instead of cleaning out the frames, will continue depositing honey. Great if you intend to over-winter on brood and a half but not if you don’t, or like us, use 14″x!2″ brood boxes. We find a better way, and one which soon has the bees emptying the supers into the brood chamber, where after all, is where we need the honey to be at this time of year, is to place the super to be emptied, above the brood chamber. If you place your super above a queen excluder and either an eke or empty super you will find your bees more than happy to empty it for you. A word of caution when deciding how much stores a colony needs to see it through an average Winter. It’s generally accepted that a colony needs a minimum of 40lbs. of stores going into Winter and that hefting a hive will give a pretty good indication of how much stores they have managed to save, leaving you to make up the difference with thick syrup.( 2 kilos sugar to 1 litre water ). As I said, hefting will give you a pretty good indication of the stores situation but you still need to have a look at the individual frames. A word of warning, and I speak from personal experience, don’t assume that all capped frames are filled with viable honey. If your bees have been foraging heavily on ivy it is just possible that they will have a brood chamber filled with stores which will have set by the time they need it and which they will be unable to access. I remember some years ago, losing two colonies like this. Take it from me, it’s a heart-breaking sight opening a hive in the Spring to find that every comb has the bottom of a dead bee, looking at you. A bee that spent it’s last moments desperately trying to glean the last vestiges of honey from an empty comb while all the time flanked by combs filled with unusable stores. If you’re in any doubt, score the combs with your hive tool and if you don’t see runny honey, discount them. Having said that, make sure you leave enough empty comb for your bees to store their syrup in.