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November Beekeeping Notes

Posted on 28 November, 2016 at 14:10

Austen’s November Notes

I was tempted to write this month’s notes in very large type; just to fill the page, because as you will probably have realised, there is now a considerable diminution of observable bee activity. The ‘warm’ time interval during the day during which bees can profitably fly has all but shrunk to zero as the daylength has declined. That’s not to say that there will be no flying as on a sunny day in winter the bees will attempt short ‘cleansing flights’ to relieve the build-up of faecal material in their bowels. Those who chose to hang out washing beware!, as it may end up with ‘spots’ on it. We will all be hoping that the ‘spots’ are of semi dry material as wet splatters might indicate a problem of dysentery within the offending colony.

This condition may be the result of the bees consuming fermented stores or more worryingly that the colony has a build- up of Nosema. If it’s Nosema, then there isn’t much which the beekeeper can immediately do, other than hope that the colony makes it into spring when the most seriously affected bees have the opportunity to fly out and possibly never return, taking their infection with them. However inevitably they will have left deposits of infective material behind them splattered across the combs and which subsequent generations will require to clean up; with equally disastrous consequences. In this event, the best option for the beekeeper is to remove these combs in the early summer and sterilise them with full strength Acetic Acid or Formic Acid when warmer days return. There is no longer any medication approved for the treatment of Nosema and the former Fumadil B had questionable efficacy.

As for the uncapped stores, well the beekeeper will require to reflect whether they ought to have been feeding earlier and whether the colonies being taken into the winter were sufficiently strong to deal with a large volume of liquid feeding. - The consequences of earlier summer failures will still be reflected at this time of year and probably into the following year.

I have two colonies which were set up with new virgin queens and which failed to become mated in the poor conditions during July and subsequently became drone layers. They were replaced with mated queens and the offending colonies given some brood frames (pinched from their neighbours) however these colonies are still noticeably smaller than their peers and my consideration is that they might be better off by being transferred into poly nuc boxes once their winter cluster has been formed. I always try to do this task quickly and lift more than one frame at a time to reduce the inevitable chilling effect. Standing in the snow in mid- winter looking for the queen (as some beginners might be tempted to do) is not likely to promote colony survival !! In the unlikely event that there happens not to be a queen then there is nothing which the beekeeper can do about it, so you just require to let fate take its course.!


Whilst we may not be able to observe much hive entrance activity, there is still a great deal going on unseen within the colony. New brood will still be hatching out and the queen will still be laying some eggs, even if in ever decreasing circles (queens usually lay in circles) and of course the bees are now consuming some of their winter stores as they both feed the brood and themselves. This they do frugally and minimise their metabolism until brood rearing begins with a vengeance in January, at which time food consumption rises dramatically and heat from the new brood may be detected at the crown board of the hive. So when you look at a blank hive entrance, you require to build up your own mental picture and imagine what is actually going on inside.

If your bees have been well fed they should have sufficient stores to see them through to the next active season and save the beekeeper the added effort of making up candy cakes or cutting up slabs of fondant to supplement a dwindling food store.

For those who still have entrances of greater than 5/16th width, a reminder that the mice will move inside you hive for a cosy and destructive winter, especially as these chilly days set in and colony vigour decreases. Beware, as they may already be there!. The noticeable result will be larger crumbs of wax comb debris on the floor and at the entrance and perhaps small black mouse faecal pellets on top of the frames. And for those in doubt, won’t hurt the bees too much to have a good peek inside to ensure that no mice are present. Don’t haul the hive apart frame by frame, but you can peer through between the frames in each box to look for them. Usually mice will scuttle out quickly with the disturbance but if they have decided on your hive as their winter home then they will come back tenaciously and may even try to chew their way back in.

Whilst active beekeeping will require you to wait for lengthening days, there is still much which the beekeeper can be doing in preparation for the forthcoming season. There are frames to make up and fill with foundation, new boxes, floors, roofs etc to construct and other equipment to wash or clean out ready for 2017. That should include the bee suit which if dumped in a corner of the bee shed in soiled condition will inevitably become contaminated with mildew due to damp winter air.

We can all indulge in a bit of education too by attending monthly Association talks, reading The Scottish Beekeeper or other books and literature to widen our knowledge. Even the most experienced beekeepers learn something new each year, and of course the bees never seem to have read the books themselves!

None of us know what the winter weather might bring to us. Recent winters have been relatively mild and with the old adage of “ As the days lengthen, the cauld strengthens!” we can expect the coldest months to be at the start of 2017. Those of you with poly hives need not fear, however the owners of wooden single walled hives might have a little concern IF we a have prolonged period of very cold weather which can lead to isolation starvation amidst plenty as the bees are unable to make the necessary transition to new store combs. By cold, I mean very cold, with significantly sub- zero temperatures. Most strong colonies will be OK but there is always the option to shift weaker colonies into a shed or garage where they will have no wind chill effect and are then effectively in a double walled situation, much like the continental ‘bee house’. Of course to do this you require to install ventilated entrance closures and strap the boxes together. However I am now getting a little ahead of myself and the season so that is just a parting thought which hopefully does not materialise and all of your colonies make it to spring in tip top condition.


Austen Brown

(November 16)

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