President’s thoughts for the end of the year

After 40 years of keeping bees, with up to 60 hives, I finally decided that there comes a time when one can’t lift the heavy weights any more. I had always worked on my own and realised if anything went wrong at an out apiary then I could have been in trouble. Bees in the garden didn’t work too well as the garden is just a bit too small and swarms always cause a potential problem with neighbours. So now my last 2 hives have been handed on to a couple of new beekeepers that I have been mentoring. Now all I can do to is try to pass on advice to other beekeepers.

Firstly, if you are going to treat the bees with oxalic acid then do it sooner rather than later. Ideally it should be done when there is no brood, as the treatment works on contact with the mites, and does not kill mites that are in sealed brood cells. If treatment is delayed until early January then the queen may already have started laying and any mites would then be in the first of the brood cells. As for the recommended method of treatment; technically there is only one licensed and approved product – Api-Bioxal, it should always be used as indicated on the packet, either by trickle treatment or vaporisation. I have never used a vaporiser as I’ve
always thought it risky to produce fumes of a toxic acid. I always used the trickle method.

The application is simple:-

  1. Take off the roof of the hive and remove the crown board.
  2. Count how many seams of bees there are between the combs (use a torch
    if necessary to look down between the frames)
  3. Fill your syringe with 5ml of solution for each seam of bees and then
    dribble it directly down onto the bees. Don’t use too much – it is better to
    ere on the side of under treatment than over treatment .
  4. Replace the crownboard and roof and go on to the next hive.

Second thing to think about is the weight of stores in the hive, so whilst doing your oxalic acid treatment have a look and see that there are plenty of combs with sealed stores. Generally at this time of the year the bees are not quite up to the top of the brood frames as they gradually work upwards as they consume stores. If the bees are down a few inches from the top and there looks to be plenty of stores then everything is OK. If the bees are right at the top of the frames then you may need to keep an eye on them as the winter goes on.

The hive weights don’t reduce much between the time you finished feeding and the start of brood rearing, so it would be very unusual for a hive to be light at this time, but even so just check the weight of the hive by “hefting” it (just lift one side a feel how heavy it is).

This quick look under the crown board was always the first time I’d looked since taking off the honey at the end of July, so I never had any idea what to expect. If you knew that a hive hadn’t taken early autumn feed well don’t be surprised to find it has no live bees in it. It was probably queenless at the end of summer and just dwindled away. Not to worry though the loss will soon be made up next summer.

Last thing to think about is are the hives all secure for the winter. If worried strap them up so that they don’t get blown/knocked over. WBC hives are particularly prone to the roof being blown off! With the storms we’ve had recently this advice is probably a bit late.

Thinking about the coming months, some beekeepers worry about if the bees have sufficient stores, and what to do if they need feeding. If you fed your bees well (I always gave mine about 12 lt sugar syrup in September, which I’ve always found to be enough) then you shouldn’t need to think about an emergency feed. Having said that should you find the bees do need feeding then the only option you have during the winter is fondant. For the bees to get any benefit from fondant it must be in contact with the cluster of bees. If the cluster is not at the top of the brood box then they don’t need feed as there should be sealed stores in the top of the frames.

The fondant comes in a sealed plastic bag and to use it just make a small hole in the bag and place directly on top of the brood frames. It won’t always work if you just put it on top of the crownboard as the cluster of bees may not be central below the feed hole so they won’t get to the food.

Don’t try to feed liquid feed (sugar syrup) before the end of February, as they won’t be able to use it. As the temperatures rise in March we could give them a liquid feed, but only in a contact feeder. Any of the feeders such as Miller or English feeders are not suitable, as the bees have to leave the cluster and climb up into the feeder to get to the sugar.

A Lifetime of Beekeeping Mistakes book coverWhat other jobs are there to do. Well cleaning up all the equipment ready for next year is something we can do now, as would making up any new hive parts ready for any expansion planned for next year. It’s a good time of the year to do some reading and with any luck Santa might bring a new beekeeping book.

If you are thinking of doing any exams in the spring now is the time to start studying.

That’s it for this year, so a merry Christmas to all and hope that 2024 will be a good beekeeping year.