Preparing for Winter
Last winter there were heavy losses of colonies in Cheshire. With the very poor weather we have experienced this summer it is vital that we prepare our colonies well for the winter ahead.
The first essential is to ensure that colonies are healthy. It is unlikely that diseased colonies will survive, and there is a risk that any disease will spread to healthy colonies. If you have family pets you would not allow them to suffer if they are sick, and you should treat your bees in the same way (no, I am not suggesting you take them for a walk!)
Have you checked your colonies for the notifiable brood diseases AFB and EFB? If you are unsure how to do this, ask an experienced beekeeper to help, or at least read the excellent DEFRA publications on the subject. If you have internet access you can download these from http://beebase.csl.gov.uk or alternatively, I have plenty of printed copies available. It is unlikely your colonies will be infected, but without checking how will you know? Assuming everything is OK you may still have a colony which is small and not thriving, so ask yourself why that might be. Is there some other disease present, or is it just that the colony swarmed earlier in the year and has since been struggling to recover because of the weather. Is the colony queenright? Colonies without a viable queen need to be dealt with quickly or they will soon dwindle away.
Small colonies should be combined, provided you are sure they are free of disease, in order to produce larger units with a better chance of survival over the winter. Even if a small colony does make it through the winter, it is likely to be so small next spring that it will not be a useful productive colony next summer.
I haven’t mentioned Varroa yet but I did write at length about this in the last issue. We have been dealing with this in Cheshire for the past 12 years, but things have now changed. No longer can you just put plastic treatment strips into your colonies for 6 weeks. If you are very lucky you might get away with it, but it is more likely that they will not work because there are now pyrethroid-resistant mites in Cheshire. So if you plan to use the traditional strips you are likely to be wasting your time and money, because the mites will still be there in your colonies. Colonies with a high level of mite infestation at this time of year will probably not survive through to next spring unless they are treated effectively. The viruses which are often carried by Varroa mites will spread through the colony over the winter, reducing the life span of the winter bees, with the result that many bees die in February/March leaving brood boxes looking empty. This may be the cause of what is being referred to in the USA as Colony Collapse Disorder. Before you consider treatment, you should estimate the number of mites in your colonies. Once again, details of how to do this are contained in the DEFRA publications. By checking numbers before and after treatment you can see if the treatment you have used has been effective. The only registered treatment available in the UK which will kill pyrethroid resistant Varroa mites is Apiguard. Apiguard can be used once the supers are removed and it is effective provided the temperature is not too low, so the earlier it is applied the better. If you are considering using Oxalic acid to treat for Varroa then this should be delayed until there is less brood in the colony, to avoid the risk of damage to developing larvae. The trouble with this is that if mite numbers are high in the colony then this delay can give time for viruses to get a hold. Oxalic acid is available ready mixed in a syrup solution which can be dribbled into the seams between the brood frames at a rate of 5ml to each seam which is filled with bees. If you plan to mix your own solution, the correct concentration is 75g oxalic acid crystals to 1kg sugar and 1L water.
Having done everything possible with regard to the health of the bees, then we need to be sure that each colony has sufficient stores to over-winter successfully. Each colony needs at least 30 lbs and preferably 40 lbs of stores. A full National brood frame holds around 5 lbs so a colony needs the equivalent of 6-8 frames full. For winter stores, you need to feed thick syrup – 2lbs of sugar to every pint of water. This concentration gives the bees less work to do to evaporate the surplus water before storing the feed as ‘honey’ at 18% concentration. An easy way to get the right ratio of sugar to water is to fill a container with dry sugar and then add hot water to about an inch above that level. There are two common feeders that are used for feeding syrup to colonies, rapid feeders and contact feeders.
Rapid feeders work on the principle of giving bees free access to a large reservoir of syrup. The feeder is designed to prevent bees falling into the syrup and drowning. The access is usually in the form of a narrow slot, either in the middle, as in the original Miller feeder:
Or at one end, as in the later Ashforth feeder:
Both of the feeders shown above are traditionally large capacity wooden feeders (often 2-3 gallons) with the same dimensions as the hive, so that they can be placed immediately above the brood nest and below the roof. Modern plastic versions tend to be smaller, but have the advantage that they are leak proof and easier to clean.
The main advantage of using feeders of this type is their speed. For Autumn feeding in particular, it is best if the bees take the syrup, store and cap it in the shortest possible time. A second advantage is that the feeders can be refilled in situ without disturbing the bees.
A contact feeder is a container with a tight fitting lid. The bucket is placed upside down above the feeder hole on the crown board and bees take the syrup either through small holes or a section of mesh in the lid.
They have the advantage of being cheap to buy (or even cheaper to improvise from old tubs or ice cream containers). Although they work well, they are not as fast as Miller type feeders. Neither do they hold as much syrup (just over a gallon at most), so usually they will need refilling at least once, which cannot be done without removing the feeder from the hive. They also need to be surrounded by an empty super to support the roof.
With the bees checked for disease, treated for Varroa and well fed, the only remaining task is to fit a mouseguard. Then your bee suit can be washed and put away and you should have plenty of time to catch up on all those jobs there wasn’t time to do during the active season, or perhaps just time to relax and dream of how much better the weather will be for beekeeping next year!!
- National Honey Show 2013
- BBKA David Aston Letter
- 2012 Wirral Convention
- Honeys and their origins
- Bees And Horses
- The Bee Dating Agency 2013
- Adopt a Bee Hive
- Heavy Winter Losses
- Queen Breeding V Importing
- Bees By Boat
- Bee Smoker Causes Blaze
- Forest Bees
- First Find the Queen
- Integrated Pest Management 2008
- Myanmar - Oldest Bee Fossil
- Nosema Ceranae
- Preparing For Winter
- Shared Experience
- The BBKA and Pesticides
- Varroa Research
- 2012 Spring Convention
- 2011 Autumn Convention
- Bob Parsonage 1934 - 2009
- Obituary Bob Parsonage
- 2011 Spring Convention
- 2010 Autumn Convention
- 2010 Spring Convention
- Around The Country
- Around The World
- Weather Warning - Check for Storm Damage To Hives
- Greater Wax Moth found in Cheshire
- Drone Brood Removal — just do it
- Drones and Varroa
- The Sugar Roll
- A Three Queen Summer
- Bee Research News: More on the Waggle dance
- Microscopy Day