In the last missive that I sent out to you I recommended that those who have wooden hives wrapped those hives in breathable roofing membrane. I am glad that I made this recommendation as November and December have been really really wet! Bees can put up with cold but wet always seems to lead to lots of fungal infections in the brood nest.

Colonies (unless they are very large) will have had a brood break. This has enabled those who were unable to get varroa under control in August, to do so now by sublimating the bees or trickling oxalic acid onto them. Those who have done this will have seen a huge drop.

It has been unseasonably warm and yesterday with the Sun shining the bees have been extremely active.

Video 1

Not a lot of pollen has been going into the hives but the bees are all over Mahonias (‘Charity’ or ‘Winter Sun’ are good forms) or early flowering camellias (‘Cornish Snow’ is the best as it produces a myriad of smaller flowers at this time of year each with a pollen and nectar reward). If you are going to plant these in your garden, make sure that the Sun at this time of year will be hitting the blooms and a sheltered site out of the wind is always preferable – it really does make a difference to the bees!

Mouse guards (if you have used them) need to be checked regularly. You can see from the following video that my bees are able to go in and out of their entrances easily.

Video 2

 Sometimes (in fact frequently)  bees die in the entrance and block it up, and if this happens you will need to remove the corpses. if you have an entrance block with several settings, then it may be sufficient just to use the smallest setting and no metal mouse guard.

This time of year is also good for assessing where you have sited the beehive/s. On a sunny day like yesterday it was clear which nuc boxes and which hives were being warmed by the weak winter sunshine. I have unfortunately placed two nuc boxes too close to each other and the front one shades the back one. Notice how few bees are coming out of the nuc box in this next video.

Video 3

And then compare this video with the number of bees going in and out of the nuc box which is being sufficiently warmed by the sunshine.

Video 4

It is amazing just what you can tell by watching the activity at the entrances of your hives. If you look closely at the bees, they look active and furry. This is an indication that they are young and this bodes well for next year.

What else can you do at the present time? Well now, it is a good idea if the hive is at all light to add some fondant. I always buy this from a bee farmer as they add something to the sugar which makes it soft and it doesn’t dry out too quickly. This makes it easier for the bees to eat. If you make your own fondant or buy it from a baker, make sure you wrap it in clingfilm, leaving a portion open for the bees to access the sugar.

Beginners always ask me how to put this on the hive. As with almost everything in beekeeping, it depends. If you have a national hive, then add an eke and place half a packet of fondant next to one of the holes in the crown board. Obviously the exposed sugar should be nearest the hole. If you need to feed a nuc box, then make sure you remove the centre part of your feeder, so that the bees can actually access the fondant that you are giving them. Each feeder has a different system so use your common sense. Below is a picture of what I have done with a Paynes nuc box.

If you have a national hive but a gabled roof, you do not need an eke. The gable of the roof gives you enough space to put your fondant on top of the crown board. With this scenario you will have no problem getting the roof back on the hive.

For the moment I have no other advice. Keith would recommend you hefting your hive, perhaps fortnightly. Fondant would need to be added if the weight of stores falls below 10lbs. This happens in March if you are not keeping a close eye and that can lead to a colony collapsing due to starvation.  Above all this would be something to watch out for if we had a particularly cold and wet March. As I have so often said every beekeeper needs to keep an eye on the weather and make decisions based on their observations of their own garden and what is happening to nature in their neck of the woods. If you have not ordered a pollen pattie (neopoll is the best in my opinion) for February, do so now. If February proves to be wet and cold a pollen pattie really does make a difference to the colony.

Finally you should be cleaning equipment and making up frames now (don’t add foundation yet as it will go stale). You do want to begin the season with equipment ready to be used. Don’t get caught out! Do as I say, not as I do! I really do need to get into that garage and start cleaning......

Malcolm Wilkie December 30th 2019

LINKS to news items:

Asian Giant Hornet Invasion Threatens Honey Bees in Pacific Northwest (USA)

24-Dec-19 – The Trends 24

UK insects struggling to find a home make a bee-line for foreign plants

17-Dec-19 – Inside Ecology

Rinse and repeat: Midwinter mite treatment is no substitute for a properly applied late summer treatment that protects your all important winter bees

13-Dec-19 – The Apiarist

Study sheds light on UK’s ‘overlooked’ bee species

12-Dec-19 – Inside Ecology

How bees could help lower your blood pressure: Mouthwash made from substance used to waterproof hives could help combat hypertension

10-Dec-19 – Daily Mail

'Bald patches in beds and lawns are good for garden wildlife,' says the RHS

10-Dec-19 – House Beautiful

Honey's ancient healing powers given modern twist to fight infection

04-Dec-19 – The Irish News

Ancient medical remedy: using Manuka honey in surgery

04-Dec-19 – Health Europa


Crowborough Horticultural Society

The Crowborough Horticultural Society are looking for someone to talk to them about bees on 23rd February 2021 at 7.30pm at the Crowborough Community Centre.  The subject could be anything you like in relation to bees as the topic is so important to any gardener.
Please contact me if you can help and would like more details.

Out-Apiary Offerred

We have a member offering to host two hives on his land in a protected garden area in the middle of two acres of wildflower meadows, just south of Dallington.  He can keep an eye on the hives but doesn't want to be ultimately responsible for them. He would also like to observe how they are kept by a skilled bee keeper.
Please contact me if you can help.

Honey Warming Cabinet

We have a member looking for someone willing to lend or hire out a Honey Warming Cabinet.
Please contact me if you can help.


We have a member looking to purchase about a kg of beeswax. They are in Groombridge and will collect.
Please contact me if you can help.

LINKS to news items:

Campaign launches to ban pesticides, transform agriculture and save bees, farmers and nature

26-Nov-19 – EU Today

Ohio University professor claims insect-like beings are living on Mars

19-Nov-19 – Daily Mail

Leaf blowers deadly to declining insects, Germans warned

16-Nov-19 – WicNews

Chilean honey shown to have beneficial health properties

15-Nov-19 – Speciality Food Magazine

Strange case of man in Indonesia who can summon bees by meditating

15-Nov-19 – OneNewsPage - Video

Call for end to routine pesticide use to avert insect catastrophe

13-Nov-19 – The Scotsman

Huge deadly Asian Hornet nest in the Channel Islands has been discovered

04-Nov-19 – The Scotsman

Christmas is nearly here and finally it is a quiet time in the apiary for the beekeeper. Autumn has been wet and like many of you I have wrapped my hives in a breathable roofing membrane. This keeps my wooden hives dry but lets out any moisture that the bees are producing.

Above is what Helen did for her bees at the end of October. You have to cut out a section so you don’t block up their entrance, of course. Keeping the bees dry really does make a difference as wet hives encourages fungal infections to grow on the bees and colonies will suffer. Even at this late stage this is something you could do on a dry day. I just fix the membrane on with drawing pins and crudely cut a section for the entrance.

If you have a WBC hive or a poly hive then this is not something you have to do (the outer skin of the WBC keeps the inner boxes dry and a poly hive sheds water, unlike wood which can retain moisture even if you have been careful and treated it with linseed oil).

All may be quiet with the bees (although these exceptionally mild temperatures are encouraging them out ) but there is still something you can do to help colonies. Bees often decide to take a brood break between mid-December and very early January. Because this is so this enables one to treat a colony with bad varroa with oxalic acid, either by the trickle method or by sublimating them. Please refer to my article last January if you are going to sublimate them, and make sure you have the right mask. By doing it now when there is no brood you will kill 96% of the mites. There is no real difference in efficacy between the two methods although if you are using the trickle method a Queen can only be treated once in her lifetime so write down in your records what you have done in case you are tempted to use this method again next year. With sublimation the number of times a Queen is treated does not seem to matter.

I have found boxes of bees that have been treated with either method have done really well and have romped away in the Spring. Keith would encourage you to monitor your natural dead mite drop for a week and then to go on bee base and use the varroa calculator as he does not like bees just being treated prophylactically. And he is absolutely right. Count the drop, do the calculation and then only treat if you need to.

If you decide on the trickle method it would be best to buy oxalic acid already mixed in to sugar syrup. Let the bee farmer get the correct concentration for you as otherwise you could kill your bees. The trickle method works because the bees pass the syrup containing the oxalic acid between themselves via trophallaxis. However some bees will get a higher dose as they will have come directly into contact with your syrup and so inevitably there will be some casualties. But for the greater good of the colony........

Colonies should be going into winter with 40lbs of stores. You can heft your hives using luggage scales if these are robust enough. If each side registers 20lbs or more, you will be fine. The hive should still be difficult to heft as it will be heavy. If this is not the case, feed fondant above the crown board as although this is not as good as their own honey it will keep them going. No syrup though as this will give them runny tummies and the bees will suffer.

Finally an idea for a Christmas present. If you have been keeping bees for a year or two and have not read Bill Turnbull’s novel ‘The bad beekeepers club’ then you should ask to be given the novel for Christmas. It is hilarious. I suspect most of us will recognise aspects of our own beekeeping in what he recounts or even things we may have done ourselves. However on no account should it be given to the wife or husband of the beekeeper unless they have a good sense of humour!

Happy Christmas everyone and happy beekeeping.

Malcolm Wilkie - 30th November 2019