September is here already and its time to wind down the hives for winter

July and August have been a couple of busy months, extracting the honey crop and getting it jarred up and ready to sell and now it is  time to start thinking about getting the bees ready for the cold winter months ahead.

But before the bees are securely wrapped  up with chicken wire in place to keep the woodpeckers at bay, and the metal guards attached over the hive entrance to keep the mice out, they need to be thoroughly checked to make sure that they have the very best chance of surviving the winter and into next year. This involves checking each colony for a healthy queen, healthy brood, treating the hives for varroa mite (a problem in virtually all UK hives these days) and any of the other bee diseases and hive parasites (of which there are many!) and at the same time feedback sugar syrup to replace the honey that was taken whilst it is still warm outside and there is a sufficient number of bees left to reduce it and store it before the winter period.

Spa Valley Honey

Spa Valley Honey

I carried out three separate honey extractions this year and this produced a total harvest of about 160-170 1bs of honey from just three hives, although one of these hives only yielded about 30lbs of honey so the other two did exceptionally well, but then it has been an exceptionally good year for beekeepers right across the country with the long dry spring being the main period of activity for the bees, unfortunately the summer was once again a bit of a washout being generally cool and wet.

Honey for sale

Honey for sale

The colony is now reducing in size quite rapidly and the queen is currently laying the workers that will join her for the winter and then help her to build up a strong colony early in the spring. Most worker bees only live for about five weeks during the spring and summer months and they literally ‘work themselves to death’ but over winter the bees will live for about five months in the hive, clustering around the queen and keeping her warm, but using virtually no energy in a semi-comatose state. When she starts to lay eggs again early January they will once again raise the temperature of the brood area and that is when they will need the honey and pollen stored in the hive. Bees don’t starve in the autumn or early in the year – it’s at the end of February or beginning of March when there are no flowering plants to supply nectar but the bees need the food that the colony is most at risk of collapse.

I took up beekeeping due to the environmental concerns over declining numbers of primary pollinators in the UK (actually make that worldwide!!!) and the collapse of honey bee colonies  so I leave my bees in two brood boxes over winter, one deep and one shallow, and this allows them to retain far more honey than most beekeepers, or honey farmers, would leave on the hive. This doesn’t guarantee that they will survive the winter or prevent starvation but I am sure that it helps. When the bees start looking for honey in the spring they move up through the hive and may still starve with several frames of stores on both sides of the brood area  so I feed candy in January to counter this.

Apilife Var

Treating hive for mite with Apilife Var

During the most recent inspections I have been unhappy with one hive in particular as the brood pattern seems more erratic than normal and there have been uncapped cells with the un-hatched larva exposed. This looks to me to be a problem called ‘bald brood’ that occurs when the hive becomes infested with the lesser wax moth larvae. Hopefully the colony is strong enough to sort itself out and eject these unwanted visitors that crawl through the capped cells feeding on the cell linings. This time of year also sees a reduction in the bee population and the hive easily becomes over-loaded with the parasitic varroa mites. I am currently treating all the hives with thymol (apilife var) and am hoping that this will be as successful as it was last year.

Treating hive for mite

Treating hive for mite above the brood area

The new queen is also laying well but obviously the colony suffered by having a prolonged period with no queen and therefore no new workers coming into service, I am hoping that the colony recovers enough to see the winter through. Ironically the hive that I was most concerned about losing back at the beginning of August, due to the lost queen and egg laying workers, now seems like the contender for being both the strongest colony and the one with the greatest chance of surviving the winter, funny how everything can change in just a period of 4 -5 weeks!

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Stumbled on your blog on a search through WordPress. I to am a new beekeeper in Texas. I began my adventures in March this year – am up to 6 hives. We only harvested once this year as our summer has been extremely dry and hot. We are about to break the all time record for temps over 100*. I am feeding my bees to give them enough to make it through winter – hopefully! I enjoyed reading about your bee adventures and will be back soon. Please take a minute to look at my blog and read about my Texas bees. At the top you’ll see home, about, “Bees & Honey”. I hope you’ll stop by!

    Reply

    • Hi Linda, glad you have enjoyed the blog – I had a return visit to Texas via your blog which I also enjoyed! I have never named my queens but inspired by your naming I think maybe I should – my active hives are named after Welsh mountains ‘Snowdon’, ‘Ogwen’ and ‘Tryfan’ so maybe I should have the queens named after celtic warrior queens from the region!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Jackie Whittall on September 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I love receiving your posts. I am a new beekeeper and it is good to read everything I can. I love the photographs and something I am keen to do for my own hive when the bees aren’t quite so aggressive!

    Reply

  3. Daniel – great idea naming your queens after Celtic queens! I acquired 2 new hives today and have named the queens Queen Leona and Queen Helmsley. I removed two separate hives from meter boxes in the ground. I’ve placed these two new hives on the farm of a neighbor. Naming helps me keep straight where they came from. Good day!

    Reply

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