Firstly, thanks to Ed for helping Janelle out with the IT all day as our very own Richard Skinner tried gallantly to do it remotely from his COVID sick bed (He was really poorly). Many thanks to all the volunteers for a heroic effort.
What are co-formulants?
They are the product that make pesticides, fungicides and herbicides work and they aren’t tested at all. We concentrate our efforts on insecticides. So Ed Straw and Mark Brown researched co-formulants on buff tailed bumblebees (bombus terrestria) whose workers live for 28 days.
This was part of European Union funded research.
A bit about tests – what they miss and why neonicitinoides were declared ‘safe’
In the tests manufacturers conduct in accordance with legislation, the bees are subjected to a concentrated dose- if 50% survive then the manufacturer can write ‘safe for bees’ on the label. This is like us going to the GP having our pulse taken, confirming we’re alive and sending us on our way. It is not designed for longtitudinal study. Sub lethal effects are not picked up. So bees whose navigation is affected and die away from the hive over a period (neonicotinoids) are not picked up. Incidentally, to make matters worse nicotine is addictive so the bees actively seek it out.
But beekeepers knew something was wrong and kept at it. We can effect change. But we do need to broaden our tactics together.
Trying to test co-formulants
Manufacturers refuse to give detailed information about what is in their products, under commercial competition rules, so this makes testing and working out what is wrong very difficult.
Amistar came onto the market in 1999. It is a new class of chemical. It is the most widely used pesticide ever and says it is ‘safe for bees’. Co-formulants are benzisothiazol, napthalensufonic acid and alcohol ethoxylate (surfant and emulsifier) They have never been tested on bees – not at all.
It affected the bumblebees fat bodies and fat reserves and theynever recovered. We know from varroa how important fat bodies are in fighting viruses, providing the bees with food through the winter months. Fat bodies aid the liver and kidneys of bees.
Result of the tests
Why not testing the co-formulants is so dangerous. The co-formulant can be more toxic than the active ingredient. There are 280 ingredients in 2800 products; many untested.
Glyphosate itself, when used as the manufacturer directs is relatively OK, though we know that when Apis Cerane is present it makes the effects worse for our honeybees.
Roundup is terrible.
Its in fungicides, which are applied directly to open flowers such as strawberries
Herbicides are used routinely.
Going forward – what to do
Talk to farmers! If they are spraying herbicide or fungicide to open flowers. Keep the bees in for the day. Have farmers sign up to and use Bee Connected (https://beeconnected.org.uk/) to alert beekeepers in their area of impending spraying. Add a super for room and shade from the sun. Keep the bees in until such spraying is complete. The Bees will be unhappy but alive.
Advocate for all bees
There is 1 honeybee, 25 bumblebees and 250 solitary bees in UK. All essential for pollination. 7% pesticide effect is unsafe for solitary bee health. Let’s move the goalposts, we must unite our advocacy, education, information and lobbying. No division and rule distraction.
Meridian have for many years talked about the place of solitary bees, bumble bees and wasps in the environment on all our courses, this needs to become a standard.
European Union is moving ahead on the regulation of co-formulants. We are no longer part of European Union so will have to fight separately for legislation and fight for our bees and other insects.
A 2kg block of cleaned wax in our possession and the prospect of more energy companies collapsing – so what better way of spending a cold autumn afternoon and preparing for a cold dark winter than candle dipping –
How complicated could it be?
Having read the books and watched endless YouTube clips it seemed that all we needed was a double boiler arrangement, a melting container deep enough to produce a credible depth of candle and a length of wick ….
Not having an endless supply of wax, it was important to use something that gave us maximum depth whilst allowing us to create more than one candle at a time; we needed a deep, water container and a similarly deep melting pot.
The first attempt involved an empty five litre steel can with the top cut off and a deep, heat proof plastic container to hold the melted wax.
The plastic container seemed ok but the error of choosing something with such poor heat conduction soon became apparent, and we realised that it was going to take a long time to obtain the required quantity of melted wax – we continued, and eventually produced our first candles, but quickly realised that this method was not going to win any small business enterprise awards!
A quick search of candle making sites suggested that an aluminium “dipping tank” was what we needed, so a trip to Thornes and £11 later, we had acquired a 9” deep wax container which not only conducted heat really well but was also just over 3” in diameter which considerably reduced the amount of wax required. There are other, deeper melting pots available, but unless you are wishing to replicate the set of Phantom of the Opera, the smaller one is probably all you need.
The repeated boiling and cleaning of the wax demonstrated not just how far melted wax can travel across a wide range of kitchen surfaces and utensils but also how determined it is to remain there – so the candle making was moved outdoors using a portable gas stove supported with a few kettles of boiling water to kick start the process.
2mm wicks were cut to length and hex nuts attached to the ends to provide some initial tension; these were cut off as the candles grew.
After a few attempts that could only be described as slightly gruesome we established a routine of dipping, cooling and hanging that produced a candle of approx 6” long and 30g in weight (apologies for the mixed metric and imperial – but some things just don’t seem right).
Having struggled with melting larger pieces of wax on our first attempt, we grated wax off the cold block and used this to keep topping up the melting pot, again something that considerably speeded-up the process.
We reached a point where we could either grate all of the remaining wax and continue dipping candles or use the available melted wax to make tea lights – the end result being 24 “good candles”, 36 tea lights and 6 “odd” candles which will come in very handy for Halloween next year – and just over half a kilo of wax ready for the next project.
Was it difficult? – not once we had understood and corrected our mistakes.
Was it costly? – the melting pot, wick, and tea light containers; probably £16 or so but most of the outlay on the melting pot.
Was it worthwhile? – ABSOLUTELY!!! A sunny autumn day with friends, bacon sandwiches and something incredibly satisfying to show for it.
There are some useful resources on wax processing (reclamation and cleaning) and candle-making in the Meridian Knowledgebase
Our end of season apiary tidy took place today and luckily, the rain (just about) held off! Thank you very much everyone who gave up their time to take part.
Louise went through the hives with Catherine and Lisa and found everything to be more or less in order. The colonies seemed strong with an impressive amount of brood sill in evidence and two or three of them are well provisioned for winter. As feared however, some of the others were light on stores, and as we’re coming to the end of the time we can feed syrup, we’ll watch and keep them supplied with fondant as necessary.
Catherine brought along Eileen, a potential new member and she greatly enjoyed the opportunity to inspect the bees. Nicky, Ritchie. Chris and Howard built enough frames to fill three brood boxes and a super and Simon did a great job on the boxes.
We all enjoyed chatting about bees and other things too! Catherine brought along some delicious cakes which was a personal highlight for me!
Here’s a short film from our last apiary meeting of the season (Saturday 11 September). Although overcast, it was a warm, dry day and the bees were very calm! Thanks to them for being on their best behaviour and thank you to Denise, Robin and Louise for leading the inspections and to Zara, Tom and Richard for taking notes. As always, our gratitude goes to the Hammond family for letting us use their meadow and putting-up with us all!
The meeting was well attended and enjoyable and we encountered a few interesting situations too. Don’t worry if you missed it, we still have the apiary tidy on Saturday 25 September when we’ll be getting the bees ready for winter as well as cleaning, repairing and building equipment. This event is always good fun and provides the perfect opportunity to get together at the end of summer to have a chat and ask questions.
The colonies inspected on Saturday were generally light on nectar and honey but seemed to be bringing-in and storing an impressive amount of pollen. We can only speculate as to the reasons, but either they’re busy raising winter bees or are confused by the late warm weather. Certainly, all that rain means that summer flowers are still going strong, providing good levels of late forage. We noticed too, that a few of the colonies were raising an impressive amount of brood and still had plenty of drones in evidence.
Louise’s group did varroa counts and found mite levels to be low. This is something many Meridian members have reported this year and Louise outlines possible explanations for this good news in the video.
Robin’s group found hive 1 has built-up strongly since it was created by splitting George’s hive (hive 5) on 2 August. Of all the colonies seen on Saturday, this had the greatest quantity of honey and nectar, with a fair amount in one of the supers. We will keep an eye on this though, as a change in weather could mean these stores are quickly depleted.
A couple of colonies were moved from West End recently to protect them from robbing and the video shows Denise inspecting one of these. The colony has built up strongly since it was transferred from a nuc a few weeks ago but it’s light on stores. Denise decided to move it back to West End to merge it with a queenless colony there. The queenless colony happens to have good reserves of honey and nectar and merging should create one strong colony and make feeding easier.
“Shall we go or is it best to cancel?” The now familiar pre-apiary meeting phone call. The weather for Ocknell Pond wasn’t looking good, but as we’d cancelled or postponed most of our meetings in 2021, we decided to risk it. “We can always sit in the tent and have a chat!” Members with children decided that was not a recipe for a fun day out and politely cancelled, and whilst sitting in traffic in the pouring rain, I had to agree, they’d probably made the right choice.
Thankfully, by the time we arrived, there was a pause in the rain, Phil and Richard had set up our new gazebo and the teas and coffee were flowing. “At least we can wander down and look at the apiary!” Said Louise stoically. So we did.
And when we got there, the Sun came out. So we went back to the car park and pulled on our suits. Here is a video showing part of the hive inspections.
In the end, we had a lovely day. Denise and Louise guided us through the hives, the bees were on their best behaviour and the heather this year is magnificent; a benefit perhaps of all that rain.
I haven’t yet taken my hives to the heather because I worried about unnecessary disruption to the bees but Louise explained the benefit to them. Their foraging season is extended by the heather and even in years where there isn’t a bumper harvest, the bees are able to add good quality stores to see them through winter.
Thank you to Louise and Derek, Denise and Phil and Richard for setting up (and for the drone pictures). Here’s hoping those who have bees at the Pond are able to harvest some honey. I’m looking forward to trying the Forest next year!
Taking bees to the heather
Strong colonies with a prolifically-laying queen should be selected. Any honey on the hive should be removed for processing before colonies are moved to the Forest.
That said, sufficient stores should be retained in the hive to sustain the bees (if bad weather persists) until at least your next visit.
Heather honey is thixotropic (jelly-like) and cannot be spun out, therefore it’s presented on the comb. Preparing Honey.
To ensure comb is pristine and edible, supers are fitted with frames containing only strips of foundation (which the bees draw down into fresh comb) or unwired foundation. Louise recommends strips of foundation in most frames but with every third or forth frame containing a sheet of foundation. This is to prevent the bees building wavy comb which would be difficult to process.
Louise fitted ‘bee gyms’ to her hives while we were there and is trying an adaptation to the original design. The device was developed on the principle that bees can be encouraged to groom themselves. For further information on the product, visit the company’s website.
Winter bees get the colony from autumn through to spring. They are sometimes termed diutinus bees from the Latin for “long lived”. Winter bees are responsible for keeping the queen warm through winter and rearing a small amount of brood to keep the colony ticking over. Here’s an interesting article from the apiarist.com which explains them. Winter bees
Sacbrood is a viral infection of the brood and occurs when a diseased larva fails to pupate after being sealed in its cell. Fluid then accumulates between the body of the larva and the unshed skin, forming a sac. It is a relatively common disease and can often go unnoticed, affecting only a small percentage of the brood. It does not usually cause severe colony loss.
Symptoms Infected larva turns from its usual pearly white to a pale yellow colour. The larva dies and begin to dry out, turning a dark brown to black colour, giving rise to the characteristic ‘Chinese slippers’ scales. The workers uncap and expose them, creating an uneven brood pattern with discoloured, sunken or perforated cappings scattered through the brood area.
The skin of the dead larva also changes into a tough plastic-like sac, which is filled with fluid giving the virus its name. The sac can be carefully removed by using a pair of tweezers.
Varroavectors Sacbrood virus and will spread it when feeding off honey bee larvae.
Re-queening the colony can help to alleviate the symptoms of sacbrood and controlling Varroa mite populations will help to control the spread of the virus. Beebase
Pollinators are responsible for one in three of every mouthful we eat. They pollinate our crops, and are essential to the very existence of the plants and trees that support our wild animals and birds.
Honeybees in managed hives are responsible for up to 15% of the UK’s insect-pollinated crops. That means the other 85% are pollinated by wild insects like bumble bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Moths and beetles chip in too.
Three UK bumblebee species have already been lost and all the others face extinction or are in decline. These losses are directly linked to changes in the way we live, pollution, loss of habitat and chemicals like synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. If we want to keep our countryside, gardens and even our way of life, we have to change. Here are ten things each of us can do to help.
1. Stop using chemicals
The single most important thing you can do is to stop using chemicals in your garden. All synthetic chemicals are harmful to the environment if improperly used but pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides are always deadly to bees and other pollinators.
Avoid treating your garden with synthetics. Instead, use organic products and natural solutions such compost to aid soil health. You can encourage beneficial insects (like ladybugs and hoverflies) into your garden to keep pests away by planting a good mix of pollinator-friendly flowers. Gardening for pollinators.
2. Take an interest
We don’t usually notice them, so next time you’re in the garden, take time to study the bees, wasps and buzzy things working there. When we watch them, it’s easier to appreciate what they do for us and caring for them becomes second nature.
3. Put out a drinking fountain
Bees work up quite a thirst collecting pollen and nectar. Fill a shallow dish or bowl with water and arrange pebbles and stones inside so that they can safely drink.
4. Go wild in your garden
One easy thing most people can do is change how we look at Dandelions and Daisies. Rather than seeing them as weeds, how about recognising them as the beautiful pollinator-friendly flowers they actually are?
Consider leaving them in your lawn and cutting down on feed and weed killer. If you have a bigger garden, why not leave wild areas in corners or around trees?
5. Plant a Pollinator Garden
One of the biggest threats to bees and butterflies is the lack of safe habitats. By planting flowers that are naturally rich in pollen and nectar, you’ll attract them to your garden. Our bees favourite forage.
This helps to create safe havens and corridors to allow pollinating species to move around. You don’t need loads of space; pollinator-friendly plants can be grown in pots, on patios and even on balconies. Gardening for pollinators
or plant a tree for the bees
Did you know that bees get most of their food from trees? When a tree blooms, it provides thousands of blossoms for bees to feed on, even if you don’t notice them. Trees are not only a great food source but also an essential habitat. Tree leaves and resin provide nesting material for bees, while natural wood cavities make excellent shelters. With deforestation and development on the rise, you can help bolster bee habitats by caring for trees and planting new ones. Friends of the Earth.
6. Learn about the Asian hornet
The Asian Hornet is a non-native, invasive species which has arrived on our shores several times in the past ten years. If it became established in the UK, as it has in continental Europe, it would wreak havoc on our bees.
In France where it’s spread has gone unchecked, it’s decimated wild and managed bee populations alike. It can also be a significant risk to humans where there’s a nest nearby. In the UK, a decisive response by the authorities and volunteer beekeepers has so far prevented this hornet becoming established. Members of the public can help with this, by learning how to recognise the Asian Hornet and knowing how to report it if seen. Asian hornet.
7. Put up a bee hotel
Unlike honeybees, most bee species are solitary and two-thirds of them live underground. Most of the others live in tree trunks or hollow stems.
Species like bumble bees build their nests in undisturbed land, and you can provide safe haven for them by leaving an untouched plot in your garden.
“Bee hotels” which are a collection of different-sized tubes, provide places for species like mason bees to nest. A bee hotel can be easily made or inexpensively purchased.
8. Become a Citizen Scientist
Join a world-wide movement to collect data on our under-researched pollinators by gathering photos and information about native bees and other insects. Why not make it a group activity for friends and family? Together, you can learn about pollinators and how they live in cities and rural locations. There are always scientific studies requiring assistance. Check out these examples; Insect week, BBC, Imperial College, or search Citizen Scientist (your chosen subject) UK.
9. Inspire tomorrow’s eco-warriors
Get the next generation buzzing about bees with fun-packed lessons and activities. There are loads of engaging resources available on subjects ranging from environmental protection and ecology to pollination and food production. Many of these resources are free from a wide range of charities including the British Beekeepers’ Association’s Bees in the curriculum.
Teachers can use these free resources to bring nature into the classroom and into the hearts and minds of children of all ages. You can also contact your local beekeepers’ association who may be able to arrange a guest speaker at your school.
10. Get involved
Local beekeepers work hard to nurture their bees and the local community. The easiest way to show your appreciation is to buy locally-made honey and beeswax products. Many beekeepers use hive products to create soaps, lotions and beeswax candles. Local honey is delicious and is made from local flora which may help with seasonal allergies.
Or maybe you’ve thought about becoming a beekeeper yourself? If so, there’s a beekeeping club near you and they’ll likely run a beginner’s course to help you get started.
If you’re feeling generous you can donate to an environmental charity or give money towards research. For example, the British Beekeepers’ Association raises funds for essential research into the threats facing honeybees.
Some of the suggestions here are easy to implement, others are maybe a bigger ask but there’s a lot at stake. Our bees and other pollinators have never been more threatened and unless we make changes soon, our environment will be damaged beyond repair.
Here’s Esm’ee McConnell’s photograph. I think you’ll agree, it’s a definite winner! Esm’ee’s hoping her picture raises awareness in her age group, highlighting that hoverflies won’t hurt you (they have no stings) and are important pollinators and predators of garden pests.
Esm’ee took her picture while walking in one of her favourite places, Itchen Valley Country Park. The Hoverfly caught her eye and she won a competition run by the park. Esm’ee called her photo Think of me as a precious pollinator and not a pest.
Part of Esm’ee’s prize is that her picture will be displayed at the Park’s visitor centre. “It’ll be blown-up so big that it will make people stop, look and think and hopefully, learn how to identify different insects.
Esm’ee’s looking into how she can help pollinators to help save the planet! She loves taking photos and is studying GCSE Art & Photography. She wants to learn more about hoverflies and what role they play in the environment. Bees, wasps and buzzy things. She also wants to find out how these under-researched insects are being affected by viruses and other pathogens.
Esm’ee adores animals and takes a keen interest in her surroundings; taking photos and making art from nature. She also loves tennis and baking!
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this rising talent!
Esm’ee is Meridian members’ Zara and Phil McConnell’s daughter.
2021 was a terrible year. The dreadful weather in May and June led to heavy losses during winter and early spring this year. Sadly, some Meridian members lost all their bees.
For those who did bring their bees through winter, the long dry summer helped colonies recover; some lucky members even managed a reasonable crop.
Whether or not you managed a harvest, let’s hope your bees have sufficient to see them through winter. One positive thing we noticed, varroa levels seemed low this year, particularly in spring. At early-season apiary meetings for example, different monitoring methods were tried and showed lower counts than usual.
Maybe, this was down to the wet weather last year; some queens stopped laying, other colonies couldn’t raise viable queens. Whatever the reason, a break in the brood cycle may have meant a reduction in mites during 2022.
Now the active season is coming to an end, it’s time to think about getting ready for 2023 with all the hope and promise that brings! This page summarises the preparations you can make this autumn and winter.
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.
Chemicals applied should be used strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. When treatment has been completed, remove residues. Leaving treatments in place can allow mites to become resistant to them. Some treatments can be continued until October.
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
Feed thick sugar syrup to those colonies low in stores (1kg of sugar dissolved in 630ml 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 and it’s warm enough for bees to move up into the feeder. They need to take down the syrup, 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. A super frame holds approximately 1kg. Therefore, 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. Most bees, particularly stronger colonies, become more defensive in the autumn; they’re protecting all those winter stores. Even on warm days, it’s worth wearing a long-sleeved shirt and trousers under your bee suit.
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.
Here is a short film showing robbing at our West End apiary last year. Denise visited the bees at the end of August and found robbers gaining access through a leaky roof. She replaced the roof and reduced the entrance but as the robbers already know the location of the hive, they continued 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.
If you haven’t done so already, remove the queen excluder from your hive(s). Removing the excluder allows your bees to access stores in the super. The winter cluster will not move up into the super if their queen is unable to join them.
Remove empty supers from the hive. These can be stored in a shed if you have one or in a stack outside, tied down to protect from winds. Any necessary repairs can be carried out in winter. If any of the supers still has a little residual honey, place them under the brood box. Bees don’t like stores below them so will eat that honey first, cleaning the comb as they go! The empty super can then be removed before winter sets in.
If possible, it’s a good idea to reorganise the frames of stores in your brood box. If you have stores on either side of the brood nest, put all the stores together on one side. This helps to prevent isolation starvation*.
If you are using National equipment set warm way, put the stores to the back of the box (furthest away from the entrance) as this replicates how bees would store their food in a wild nest; i.e. at the back of the nest furthest from the entrance.
* Isolation starvation. There’s nothing more depressing for a beekeeper than isolation starvation. You open the hive for your first inspection of spring only to find the bees have starved despite the presence of plenty of stores. What happens is, the bees start in the middle of the box and move in one direction consuming the honey as they go. Then, the weather gets too cold for them to move back in the opposite direction towards the ample stores on the other side of the box. The result, a dead colony despite plenty of stores remaining. This can be prevented by placing all the frames with stores together.
Make sure your entrance blocks are set to the smallest gap. Some blocks can be placed upside down and if you can do that, it helps prevent the entrance becoming blocked by dead bees over winter.
If your hive entrance is no more than 7mm high, mice cannot gain access. Otherwise, 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? And it’s not too early to strap-down your hives.
Feeding of syrup should have ceased by now as your bees will need time to process the syrup into stores and cap. Unsealed stores can ferment and cause dysentery.
Continue to monitor the weight of your hives as warmer weather can keep the bees active resulting in them depleting their stores. If you have any nucs in your apiary, watch them carefully as by definition, there is less space in the box for the bees to store food. You can place fondant on the nucleus perhaps earlier then you might for your full-sized hives.
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.
You can insulate above the crown board with materials like foam or polystyrene but carpet underlay or similar can be used. This helps to limit condensation in the hive.
Chemical treatments for varroa should be completed by the end of the month. Mites become resistant to chemicals if the same treatment is used year after year or if it is left on the hive longer than recommended by the manufacturer, particularly for pyrethroid acaricides like Apistan and Bayvarol.
You can check your mite count by inserting your counting board and checking against the Varroa calculator on Beebase. Counting varroa. As a general guide, a daily mite drop of eight or above would suggest treatment will soon be needed. A shook swarm in spring perhaps or a treatment of Oxalic acid at the end of December (after a period of frosty weather) as the treatment is best applied when the queen has stopped or reduced laying.
October’s a good time to trim back vegetation which has been snagging your veil and generally getting in your way all summer! It’s not a bad time to start cleaning your equipment either as the weather’s not too cold but the cooler conditions make scraping off propolis much easier.
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 spring 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.
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.
Reusing comb saves the bees time and energy compared to drawing out new foundation. However it’s a good idea to sterilise comb before reuse.
Acetic acid can be used in late autumn or winter to sterilise combs against Nosema, chalkbrood and wax moth but it’s better to burn particularly blackened brood comb.
What about super comb?
It is considered that fumigating super comb with acetic acid has benefits in reducing the disease incidence of Nosema within a colony. Otherwise, one alternative is to render down super comb and exchange it for foundation.
How do I fumigate using acetic acid?
You will require 80% acetic acid and absorbent pads. The acid must be treated with care; it will burn the skin off your hands or anywhere else that it comes into contact with. It attacks concrete and corrodes metal hive parts. You must take proper safety precautions and use suitable protective clothing and containers when handling it.
IScrape the wooden frames to clean off propolis and other excess material. Clean out the relevant brood box or super, coat any exposed metal parts with Vaseline and replace the combs in the box.
Begin treatment by stacking the brood and/or super boxes containing combs to be sterilised on a solid surface such as a board or solid hive floor. It is also important to block off hive entrances, as acetic acid fumes are heavier than air and will travel from the top to the base of the stack, leaking out of any gaps or holes at the bottom.
Place a non-metallic dish (saucer or similar container) on the top of the frames of the top box.
Very carefully, put 80% acetic acid into the dish, allowing 120ml acetic acid per box (e.g. 600ml would therefore treat 5 boxes).
Place an empty hive box on the top of the stack, closing off the empty box on top with a crown board and hive roof. Seal any joints between the boxes with wide adhesive tape to stop fumes escaping.
After a week the stack can be opened, and the boxes aired for at least two days before using.
Acetic acid does not affect food stores, but any honey should be returned to the same colony from where it was taken.
I was first introduced to beekeeping in 2013 by my employer, who wanted to build our business biodiversity and events opportunities. I took a basic beekeeping course and what began as a skill acquired for work purposes quickly became a passion. One that my whole family has become involved in.
I was thrown in at the deep end right from the start, looking after 13 hives in 5 apiaries spread across 5 counties. These hives belonged to clients, so I couldn’t afford to make rookie mistakes.
During this steep learning curve, I was lucky enough to be mentored (from a distance) by a veteran beekeeper. His learned advice, at the end of the phone, was invaluable to me as I developed my new skills.
I realise now, 8 years later, that sometimes this is all a new beekeeper needs. Just the positivity of an experienced voice to push their confidence in the right direction. The opportunity to talk through concerns and ideas and the encouragement to commit to a course of action, rather than catastrophising on the multiple probabilities of failure. It is only in occasional circumstances that physical intervention is required by the mentor.
I joined Meridian BKA in April 2019, shortly after setting up my own personal hives (one in the New Forest and one at the Swanmore apiary). The association has given me the opportunity to meet with other local beekeepers and improve my own knowledge through contact with those with greater experience.
I had run educational beekeeping events for clients for a few years, so was happy to accept the opportunity to mentor for Meridian when they asked me. I thought it a privilege to support local people on their beekeeping journey but somewhat daunting. I was no longer telling a group of children and parents how many bees it took to make a teaspoon of honey, or educating them on the parts that make up a colony and hive.
I now had the responsibility to enthuse and guide novice beekeepers at an early stage of their new interest and put the knowledge and experience I had learned to the test. I could now advise on the fundamental need for bee health checks, record keeping, provisioning for winter and potentially technical manipulations of artificial swarming, swarm management and colony uniting.
The opportunity to mentor is a great learning experience on both sides. It allows you to confirm what you know 100% and pushes you to learn more about what you don’t.
Things I look out for when mentoring in the apiary –
* Has the trainee done any online research/basic beekeeping training? Do they have awareness of beekeeping ups and downs?
* Have they got the correct equipment to safely attend an apiary or open hive?
* Do they have any known allergic reaction to be aware of?
* Are they comfortable throughout the hive inspection? I feel this is hugely important for the first few encounters with 20,000+ buzzing sources of potential harm!
* Are they willing to handle the frames with bees and look up close at the cells?
* Are they calm and gentle when handling the bees?
I encourage them to identify what they know and ask about what they don’t. Everyone has a first day at something new. If I don’t know the answer, I defer and get back to them with the right one, rather than giving an inaccurate answer. If there is no right answer, I explain the options.
I thoroughly enjoy helping people.
What I enjoy about mentoring
I love seeing people enthused and inspired.
I hope to enable people to link what they are doing with their captive bees, in order to benefit other pollinators in their local natural environment.
Being asked questions makes me search for the right answers and improves my own knowledge.