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.

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