As we approach the autumn season, you may be planning what to do in order to successfully over winter your colonies. Remember the start of the 2018 beekeeping year begins now and anything you do or do not do to your colonies will have repercussions on their ability to overwinter successfully, and on their subsequent performance in the following year. To help you out, we’ve put together a checklist of tasks to carry out before you ‘put your bees to bed’ for winter.
Good quality stocks of bees
Colonies which have poorly performed during the season e.g. the queen has had a bad laying pattern, or any colonies which are headed by queens older than say two years should ideally be replaced by a good quality and newly mated queen. This will set the colony in good stead for next year as young queens are more prolific and produce a strong population of honey bees necessary for the colony to successfully overwinter. Younger queens are also unlikely to be superseded in the spring at a time when the colony is more vulnerable and if the older queen is killed, it is unlikely that a replacement queen will be available to keep the colony going.
If, in the following year you wish to use any of the older queens for breeding purposes and want to graft from her young larvae, then removing her from the main colony and over-wintering her in a nuc will increase the likelihood of her surviving into the following spring.
At the beginning of the “Healthy Bees Plan” a series of Best Practice Factsheets were produced, and we think it’s an opportune time to dig the one out about “Obtaining Honey Bees” as a reminder of the sound advice it contains The fact sheet, along with all of the others can be found here.
When buying bees:
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Many beekeepers will be aware that apiaries across the UK are being plagued by wasps. Inspectors are finding some apiaries where small and weak colonies have already been killed and robbed out and continuing harrassment by the pest is leading to attrition in some of the stronger colonies. This problem is likely to continue through to October and without action, could lead to further colony losses. With the prospective high levels of wasp populations and the possibility of earlier wasp colony collapse, be on your guard and take preventative measures. Generally strong healthy colonies can defend themselves but smaller colonies, nuclei, etc., are at a higher risk of robbing. The presence of varroa mites, especially if mite populations are over the economic treatment threshold, also increases the risk. There are three elements of control that beekeepers can use:
Following our post about bee starvation and what looks to be another few weeks of terrible weather, it is advisable to start thinking about feeding your colonies some form of pollen substitute. By now the winter bees will have started to die off and the production of brood to replace these loses are important. However, without suitable protein and nectar, the development of brood will be damaged and in some instances may not happen at all.
It is always better to source a pollen substitute from a commercial/ equipment supplier because the consistency of the product will always be assured and they are specifically designed to help boost a colony. However, if you cannot source a pollen substitute it can be made up by mixing 3 parts (by weight) soybean flour, 1 part dried brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and 1 part dry skimmed milk. Prepare a solution of 2 parts by volume of sugar to 1 part hot water.
Let the solution cool and mix one litre of this solution with 400 grams of the substitute. Form it into a cake and wrap in grease proof paper, if necessary they can be stored in a freezer. When using cut a small hole in the paper and place the package hole side down on the top bars over the cluster and preferably over open brood. The bees will tear the paper away and feed on the cake. It is important that the cake remains moist or bees will ignore it, so maintain the paper cover over the top or wrap it in several layers of cling film and pierce a hole big enough for the bees to get in and feed on it.
The amount fed is variable depending on the strength of the colony and external conditions. A small colony on three frames may only need 50 grams a week whilst a very strong colony may require more.
Maintain feeding substitutes until there is an adequate natural pollen crop as it may be detrimental to the colonies development to stop beforehand. This is because brood food production may be affected leading to the starvation of larvae.
Remember homemade pollen substitutes can be very variable in nutritional value due to the different ingredient brands. Generally it is better to obtain a commercial honeybee pollen substitute as the quality is assured.
Pollen substitutes must not be used if the colony is starving because it is more important to get feed into the colony rather than protein. One your hives have suitable food stores, you may then place a pollen pate on the top bars, if there isn’t already a natural source coming in.
Finally it is also worth noting that in some parts of the country, bees are still reluctant to take liquid syrup but will use invert syrups such as ambrosia. If you find that your bees are taking neither then stick to fondant until the weather warms up.
Beekeepers please remember that this is the time of year at which exotic species of predatory hornets will begin to emerge from hibernation and establish new colonies. The Asian hornet, Vespa velutina has increased it’s range in continental Europe and continues to pose a threat of arrival and potential establishment in the UK and we therefore need to keep it out. The message from the NBU is as follows:
• Monitoring for arrival of mated queens is strongly encouraged (NB. Southern coastal counties of England).
• Consider hanging hornet traps (See attached sheet about A simple monitoring trap for the Asian hornet).
• Key message from NBU – Spring trapping works; at this time of the year, the queen hornet will be flying about in search of sugary substances to raise her energy levels after hibernation.
• Know how to recognise Asian hornets (See attached file . How to idendtify Asian hornets).
• Know where to report sightings:
• Register on BeeBase.
With the continued poor weather looking to persist through to the end of March, colonies may be starting to run out of food (if they haven’t already). It would be advisable to check the food levels by opening the hive and making a very quick observation on their store levels. Key points to remember are:
• The colony may still have stores available which are at the other end of the brood chamber to the cluster of bees. If there are ‘empty’ frames between the two then the bees could still starve, despite food being in the chamber. Move the frames of food directly next to the outer frame where the cluster resides, ensuring that you score each frame of food (not excessively, but enough to stimulate feeding). Be sure not to knock or roll the bees when doing this and to be as quick as possible.
• If the colony has little or no frames of food then give them a block of candy or fondant. You want to aim for about 2.5 kg per hive and although this may seem to be a great expense, it is far less than the money you will have wasted should the bees die.
• Mini plastic bags that are used to store loose fruit in from the supermarket are perfectly acceptable for holding the fondant and cost nothing. Pack the candy in the bag and then pierce holes in the appropriate place once you get to the hive. If the bag seems fragile then you can double bag it (just be sure to pierce both bags).
• At this time of the year we would usually start feeding sugar syrup but with these temperatures it is still too cold. Place the fondant directly above the bees, turning the crownboard if necessary so that one of the porter bee escape holes is above the cluster.
Please be aware that this should be done as quickly and carefully as possible and although it may seem too cold to open the hive now, it is far better to do so knowing the bees are ok than not to and find later that they have died.
For more information please refer to Best Practice Guideline Number 7 – ‘Emergency Feeding’.