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