bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, October 17, 2005

My (lack of) winter preparations -- not a recommendation!

Beekeepers in the northern hemisphere have been preparing for winter -- Rufus and Phang have told us what they do.

Me? I hesitate to tell you this, because I wouldn't like to encourage sloppy or careless beekeeping, but after ten years' beekeeping, I've managed to minimize cost and effort in this part of Southern England. Maybe one day I'll get my come-uppance. But I visit my apiaries every few weeks in winter and at the first sign of trouble I'll take remedial action.

I'm not recommending my efforts, but here's what I do and don't do.

What I do

  • treat for varroa (with Apiguard this year)
  • remove and store supers and check that all else seems fine
  • throughout the winter, check to see that hives haven't blown over or been pushed by vandals.
Err, and that's it!

What I don't do -- but maybe should:

  • install a mouse guard to stop little Jerrys squeezing their skulls and bodies through the narrow slit of a hive entrance. But my bees are about two feet off the ground and freezing temps don't usually last too long here, last very long, so the bees will soon break out of their cluster to chase any intruders.
  • put match sticks under the top cover-boards to promote air circulation -- all my apiaries seem to have a nice breeze blowing through them that probably airs the hives quite well. And my hives are always on a slight tilt to ensure that water (rain or condensation) won't sit in the hive. I'll leave the doors ajar a little as winter damp is a much bigger enemy here than cold.
  • dress up the hives in chicken wire and the like to deter woodpeckers -- there aren't many 'peckers around this immediate neighbourhood and in ten years only one has made any attempt to drill a hole in a hive body.
  • feed! Yes feed! I haven't fed my bees for about four years now. Our changing weather means that they get lots of late (and early nectar) and I noticed that they previously consumed sugar syrup in some sort of all-night rave and never actually gained much weight. But I do check hive weights as they go into winter and especially in February, March and April when stores are most needed. A couple of times I've given colonies a soggy bag of sugar in spring if they were a bit on the light side. I've never (yet) lost a colony through starvation. But vigilance and kind weather are key. Also, I use Langstroth hives which can hold lots of stores.
  • give them Fumidil-B -- I don't like to give my bees any treatments that may not be necessary and, to date, I've only had a slight case of Nosema which manifested itself with a slap-dash of bee-poo all over the front of the hive, but nothing much more than that.
  • protect comb against wax moth. Actually, I'd like to do this as most years I lose a lot of spare brood comb because of the blighters, but I'm not prepared to use the (now-banned, I think) PDB crystals. I'm looking forward to the arrival of B401, a bio control.
I know the bee books recommend all these and more -- and I used to do most of it, but experience has shown me that IN THIS AREA I can get away with a rather minimalist approach -- so long as I keep a keen eye on what is happening throughout the winter and be prepared to act quickly.

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