Autumn in the apiary

Dipanju and Becky on the honey trail

For many of us, the wet weather earlier in the year held back our bees but with a bit of luck, you’ll still have taken a bit of honey at the end of last month. If you didn’t manage a harvest, let’s hope your bees have stored sufficient to see them through winter and if they haven’t, it’s not too late to feed.

One bit of good news, many Meridian members report varroa levels are lower than usual. Some queens stopped laying during the rain and other colonies were unable to raise viable queens and had to be merged. Whatever the reason, a break in the brood cycle means a reduction in mites. Perhaps a good thing to have come out of the poor summer weather.

Now the active season is coming to an end, it’s time to think about getting ready for next year with all the hope and promise that brings!

September

Any measures taken under Integrated Pest Management should have prevented a large varroa build-up but now is a good time to check mite levels and if your honey has been removed, apply varroa treatment if needed.

Any chemicals applied should be used strictly in accordance with the instructions. Some treatments can be continued until October.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to assess your colonies and unite weaker ones in preparation for winter. Merges can be done easily using the newspaper method and should be completed as soon as possible.

Place the weaker colony directly on top of the stronger one, separated only by a perforated sheet of newspaper. Full instructions can be found at Dave Cushman

Feeding

Feed thick sugar syrup to those colonies low in stores (1kg of sugar dissolved in 660ml of warm water is the desired strength) but Autumn feeding must be completed by the end of September to allow the bees to ripen the feed and seal it before the cold weather begins.

Non-ripened feed may ferment and lead to dysentery. Only use white, granulated sugar to make your feed as any other kind is harmful to the bees.

Feeding is best done whilst the colony is still strong, it’s warm enough for bees to move up into the feeder and take syrup down, invert it and store it properly in the comb.

An average honeybee colony requires about 20 kg of winter stores. A British Standard brood frame, when full of honey contains about 2.5kg. A 14×12 frame contains about 3.75kg and a super frame holds approximately 1kg. Hence your bees need the equivalent of 8 (or 6) brood frames of honey.

So, assess the existing colony stores and feed the required balance using sugar syrup. Beebase, feeding sugar.

Note: Beebase estimates that 1kg of sugar (plus an equivalent quantity of water) will create 1.25Kg of stores in the brood box.

Remember to wear a veil when you’re feeding your bees. They may not appear very active later in the month but they’ll still surge through the crown board if the feeder is disturbed or taken off.

Robbing

Watch for signs of robbing – bees fighting or trying to enter a hive without meeting the guards. If robbing starts, reduce the entrance to one bee space using an entrance block and/or grass. This enables bees to guard the colony more effectively.

Whilst feeding, care should be taken to prevent robbing. It’s a good idea to feed in the evening and to reduce the hive entrance to small.

Robbing

As if by way of a timely illustration, here is an example of robbing at our West End apiary. Denise visited the bees on Monday 24 August and found robbers gaining access through a leaky roof. Denise replaced the roof and and changed the floor; she didn’t have an entrance block to fit the original and a smaller entrance has now been provided. As the robbers already know the location of the hive, they will continue to attack it. If the bees still cannot defend themselves, the hive can be moved as a last resort.

Wax collected throughout the active season can be rendered and if preferred, swapped for fresh foundation ready for next year.

September is also the time to start hefting hives to assess stores. This should continue periodically until the end of October as this will help you decide if fondant will be required later in winter.

October

Fit mouse guards to all hives at the beginning of the month and make a final check for winter security. Are your boxes fitted tightly together? Are roofed well-fitted and dry?

Continue to watch colonies for signs of robbing by wasps and bees. Reduce entrances if they have a been set wide and move heavily-affected colonies as necessary as a last resort. Wasp traps may be needed.

Protect hives from woodpeckers by wrapping them in chicken wire.

Strap hives down and insulate.

Chemical treatments for varroa should be completed by the end of the month.

November

Winter provides a good opportunity to clean and repair your equipment. The National Bee Unit’s fact sheet on hive cleaning and sterilisation provides a useful checklist of things to do. The fumigation of comb for reuse is also best done in winter. Although cleaning equipment doesn’t always seem attractive in the cold of winter, having your equipment ready for the spring rush is always preferable.

Periodic checks should be carried out to ensure hives have not been disturbed by weather, critters or vandals. 

Do not disturb the bees.

If treatment for varroa with oxalic acid is selected, this is the month to apply it. If correctly used it involves minimum disturbance to your bees.

Winter

Hefting of hives is recommended throughout winter to monitor stores or a quick visual checks under the crown board can be made every three weeks or so.

If bees are short of stores and likely to starve, fondant can be placed over the crown board feed hole. The crown board may need turning to position a feed hole over the bee cluster. Bees require water, often taken as condensation within the hive, to make use of candy.

If there’s snow, don’t remove it from hive entrances but clear it off roofs. Bees are best left lightly imprisoned in bright snowy weather because sometimes they come out and can be chilled on clear frosty days.

Towards the end of winter, check natural varroa drop in case spring treatment is needed for heavily infested colonies.

Dates for your diary

Apiary meeting, Saturday 11 September,

Here’s a report from our last apiary meeting of the season.

Apiary and equipment tidy, Saturday 25 September

Making and cleaning frames and boxes, stores tidy, winter preparation and general apiary tidy.

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