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January notes - take heed, cold weather ahead

Posted on 9 January, 2017 at 6:10

North Ayrshire Beekeepers Association

Austen’s Monthly Notes – January

Today, Sunday 8th January, has dawned with ridiculously warm temperatures for the month of January, which I fully intend to take advantage of to apply my second fumigated dose of Oxalic Acid to all of my colonies. Hopefully this action will remove virtually all of the phoretic Varroa mites which may remain from their previous treatment in December.

However readers should be aware of the cold northerly winds forecast for later this week. These will probably bring a couple of overnight frosts and then conditions may revert to ‘normal’, however ask yourself what action you might take if any of the Siberian air (intimated at minus 43 Celcius on the BBC forecast) were to come our way? Bee colonies can stand quite intense cold for short periods, provided they are of reasonable size, however prolonged cold may render them unable to move to food stores which are in close proximity and the entire colony may die from ‘isolation starvation’.

One solution is insulation, either in the form of polystyrene hives or similar material or old wooly jumpers etc located above the colony’s crown board or even better directly on top of the frames. Another more drastic solution may be to apply ventilated screens and move the colony into a garage or other outhouse, which even if ‘cold’ to the human senses, will effectively offer double walled protection to the bees, somewhat like the continental bee house.

If you have smaller Nucleus sized stocks from last summer, then placing them into poly nuc boxes may offer them a better chance of survival than being housed in poorly insulated wooden boxes, however if you should chose this action it is essential to minimise exposure to external temperatures for as short a period as possible. I would aim to pick up at least 2 frames at a time and quickly relocate them in their previous order into their new living quarters, ensuring that adequate store frames are included in the move.

With the odd exception we have had a very mild winter so far and therefore more active colonies will have consumed more stores. I even managed to witness a small group of bees at the hive front door on Christmas day. Therefore all colonies should be ‘hefted’ regularly over subsequent months….. That is gently lifted from the rear to assess the weight of the hive. Another sign that colonies may be becoming short of stores is seeing the bees clustered high up on the frames beneath the cover board. However be careful to look down between the unoccupied frames to see how many frames of sealed stores are present. Sometimes the bees just locate to the warmest part of the hive (top) and leave adequate stores in the bottom box, which might require the beekeeper to undertake a rearrangement later in the spring.

You may have some colonies which have a super abundance of stores and it may be an option for the beekeeper to ‘pinch’ a frame from one colony (with minimal disturbance) and add it to a neighbour in need. Some odd adhering bees will not be of consequence at this time of year but just be careful that the queen is not included in the process!

December 21st was the shortest day and now being almost 3 weeks into the Celestial New Year, there is a perceptible small increase in day length, although you could be forgiven for not having noticed this. The Queens in our hives will by now have registered this increase and will soon start to start or increase their egg laying to produce the new workers for the forthcoming season. More baby bees require more food, therefore store will diminish at an increasingly alarming rate over subsequent months, so beware of this and apply supplements if required. Lack of stores will inhibit colony brood rearing (and ultimately cause starvation) but the astute beekeepers who fed their colonies generously in the autumn will be able to sleep comfortably at night and not require to scramble about during the daytime trying to save their bees with applied cakes of candy and fondant. Note that bees will be reluctant to take liquid feed before the month of March partly due to temperature but also, for them, what to do with all the water which is contained therein. If they can’t fly to get rid of it and evaporation is difficult then it may result in scouring on the combs, which spreads disease and is any event undesirable.

Another aspect to consider is that a colony with massive stores of syrup will not rear brood if there is no pollen (protein) available to it. I formerly had a ‘made up’ colony in Sweden which was well fed in autumn onto foundation but could not collect any pollen until April when the cold relented, and had absolutely no brood when inspected at the end of March. As soon as the pollen came in the brood rearing started.

In some situations the beekeeper might consider adding pollen patties to help stimulate brood rearing, however I have tried this with questionable results as most of my colonies are able to fly a short distance to gorse bushes, which flower early and produce both nectar and pollen quite early in the season. In any event the bees should have stored considerable quantities of pollen along with their honey/ syrup in the autumn when, as you will recall we had some very mild and good flying weather!

It may seem like a long time till May when the first major nectar sources (Sycamore then Hawthorn) become available to the bees but time passes quickly and all of your equipment which requires replacement foundation or construction from new ought to be attended to now before panic sets in as you scramble about for supers then.

Anyhow, may I wish all of your bee colonies and their owners a prosperous 2017.

Austen Brown

(January 2017)

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