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.
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.
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.
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.
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