Posts Tagged ‘colony collapse disorder’

So where do all the bees go over winter?

September is virtually on our doorstep, sadly it is beginning to feel distinctly autumnal in the UK with below average temperatures and continued bands of rain crossing the UK and I am now turning my thoughts to preparing my bees for the long winter period ahead.

I often get asked ‘so where do the bees go over winter?’ I would like to say that they escape for some winter sun, the Canaries are a popular destination …. but the reality is not quite so nice. The bees have worked hard all spring and summer, on the few dry and warm days when they have been able to fly, collecting the various different nectars from flowering plants and trees. The nectar has been converted into honey, then its water content has been further reduced to stop it fermenting before it has been safely stored away inside a ‘capped’ wax cell to help sustain the colony over winter. Along comes the beekeeper in August and a certain amount of this honey is removed from the hives, and although a fair bit is also left on the hives, it is necessary to give the bees something back to try and prevent them from starving over the winter, or far more likely during the early spring period.

Feeding the bees

Feeding the bees

The colony size increases early in the year, with a large workforce required to collect pollen to feed the brood and nectar to feed workers as well as process the stores, but as summer nears its end the queen slows her egg laying down and the colony size reduces again so that there are less mouths to feed over winter. The bees being produced now (all female workers) will have a longer life span than their siblings born earlier in the year, surviving for several months as opposed to about 5 weeks, as the flowering plants reduce and finally disappear these bees will have hive duties only so will not literally work themselves to death. Instead their lives will be about protecting the queen over the winter and preparing the hive for the colony expansion to coincide with spring next year. The job of the drones (male bees) was mainly to fertilise any virgin queens and with this task completed for 2012 their lives as idle layabouts with all needs being tended to ends abruptly, the workers don’t need extra mouths to feed during the hard months ahead, and they are driven out of the hives into the cold and wet when they will perish. The queen will produce more drones next year when they are required!

Once the honey has been removed the hives are assessed for levels of stores left behind and any shortfall is made up using a heavy sugar syrup (1kg sugar: 500ml water). This must be done in August and early September to utilise a workforce that is still large enough to process the syrup and generate temperatures high enough inside the hive to reduce its water content sufficiently, once the ambient temperature drops and the colony reduces in size it would become a much harder, near impossible task and there would be a risk of fermentation which would lead to approximately 12,000  bees with diarrhea being trapped in a small wooden box together for the next 5 months – not a particularly nice thought.

Contact feeder on the hive

Contact feeder on the hive

The sugar syrup is feed to the bees above the crown board on top of the hive. As it is ‘outside’ of the hive as far as the bees are concerned they work tirelessly to ‘rob’ this new nectar source and store it in the comb cells below. Different types of feeder are used, I have always used ‘contact feeders’, an inverted bucket with a gauze panel where the bees can access the syrup. The vacuum in the bucket prevents the syrup from pouring into the hive, this year I am also trialling an ‘Ashforth feeder’  which is about the size of a honey super with holes along one side to allow the bees to climb up into the box. The advantage of this is that you can put a large volume of syrup on the hive in one hit rather than having to keep returning to refill the smaller contact feeder, the disadvantages is that the bees have to climb up into the box and find it. I dribbled a little syrup through the holes when I placed it on the hive and it was near empty after the first week (3kg sugar syrup) so I am now happy that it works.

Ashforth feeder on the hive

Ashforth feeder on the hive

I try to disturb the bees as little as possible during this period, they are not likely to swarm (although not totally unheard of) but it is necessary to treat the colony for mite infestation. There is a lot already written on-line about Varroa Destructor, basically a bee parasite that is an Asiatic mite that breeds in the brood cells and sucks the blood from the adult bees. The mites reproduction cycle is only 10 days so is substantially quicker than that of the bees, they hatch from the bees cells as mature mites often mated and ready to lay eggs, therefore they can increase their number at a much faster rate. As the bees reduce their numbers for the winter the mites still reproduce, further weakening the colony. The mites prefer to reproduce in the slightly larger drone cells but as the queen stops laying drone eggs the mites move into the worker cells and if a critical level is reached they then have the potential to collapse (or kill) the colony.  This has become a widespread problem in the UK over the last 20 years and most beekeepers have an integrated pest management plan that they implement each year to reduce the mite numbers and colony stress.

Varroa Destructor - treatment

Varroa Destructor – treatment

Personally I treat the bees with an organic treatment called Apilife Var during August and September whilst I am feeding the syrup, I then return at the end of December when there is no brood in the hive and treat again with oxalic acid which kills the mite but doesn’t seem to harm the bees. The Apilife Var is a strip of material that is placed  into the hive directly above the brood and then releases strong thymol vapours. This is repeated on a weekly basis for a four week period so ties in nicely with the syrup feeds.

I also use open mesh floors under the hives, this increases ventilation and prevents water pooling in the bottom of the hive (a potential problem with solid floors if the hive is not level or slightly sloped forwards – damp is a bigger killer of bees than the cold!) but it also allows any mites that drop off the bees to fall through the mesh and they are unable to return to the hosts. I am not convinced that many drop off naturally but the main use of a mesh floor is to allow a ‘count board’ to be placed under the hive during mite treatment, or at other times of the year. This is left on for a number of days before removal and the number of mites are counted, divided by the number of days the board was in place and using an on-line calculator gives an indication of the level of infestation in the hive.

More information on managing Varroa can be found at the BeeBase website which also includes the current advisory leaflet.

Invaders must die!

Invaders must die!

Other pests are often removed from the hives by the bees themselves, like this optimistic slug that fancied some honey!

Once the bees have stopped flying for the year they will cluster in the hive, protecting the queen and maintaining a temperature, slightly lower than required for rearing young, but warm enough to keep them from freezing. 100 million years of evolution has allowed them to perfect this comatose state where very little energy is used and therefore very little food is required. However when the queen starts egg laying  at the beginning of next year getting ready for the spring flow the bees will break open their stores of honey and pollen and that is why this period poses the greatest risk for starvation to the colony. If the spring flowers are late again or it is particularly wet the beekeeper needs to feed a light syrup to the bees to prevent this.

With the current changes in the UK weather patterns that have been recorded over the recent years the bees need all the help they can get if they are going to carry on pollinating the crops that produce the  food that we require to survive – only a fool would think that they need us to survive long term, sadly the reversal of this statement is not quite so true.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog,  feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions or general feedback, click on the right column to subscribe and receive updates when I next have the time between chasing the bees to write again.

I can also be found at @danieljmarsh on twitter or British Beekeepers page on Facebook.


N.B. clicking on the images opens a higher resolution image in a new window.


April into May but where are my bees going …..

March was dominated by a high pressure system that bought unseasonably warm and dry weather across much of  the UK, continuing drought conditions were forecast for the year ahead and a hosepipe ban has been put in place across much of the country, meanwhile the bees have enjoyed early flying, foraging and the colonies have been building up their strengh.

As it was still early in the year I only carried out one inspection during the month, on a warm day, where the health of the hives, the amount of stores and the strength of the colonies was assessed. I was very pleased that all three of my colonies had survived the winter again. Two were strong healthy colonies but the other hive, named Snowdon, rang a few alarm bells as things weren’t quite right due to the sporadic and weak laying patterns and although there was no sign of the queen there was some sealed brood so I closed up the hives and decided to review the situation at my next inspection.

Workers bringing in pollen

Workers bringing in pollen between April showers

Then  April arrived and so did the the rain,  the UK met office has issued yellow warnings for heavy rain and local flooding in one or more area of the country virtually every day and the heavy rains have continued to pour out of the heavens. This wet period has not only hampered my ability to get down to the hives to check on the bees progress but it has also kept the bees in the hives, unable to collect the fresh pollen and nectar required for brood rearing and the adult bees and  they are using up the last of their winter stores  rapidly.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) and National Bee Unit (NBU) have  put out a number of warnings to check supplies and feed the colonies either with fondant or thin syrup as there is a real risk of starvation. I have given 1kg of thin sugar syrup to each of the colonies this weekend again in the pouring rain as it didn’t involve actually opening the hives fully.

I am very lucky to have a ‘beekeeping buddy’ who allows me to  keep my bees together with his own bees on his forest garden. He is happy to have an occasional look at my bees  if I have been unable to get there for any reason. He rang a couple of weeks back to say he had looked in my hives and that Snowdon now had no eggs, brood or sign of a queen and the colony was very small. There was no sign of an emergency queen cell as you would expect if it was a supercedure  and it is really too early for a healthy colony to be swarming, certainly not without leaving a new queen behind.  In order to try and save the colony he added a frame of young eggs from Ogwen (my strongest colony) to see if the queen-less bees would use these to draw an emergency queen cell.

Buckfast Queen

Buckfast Queen (marked with white dot)

I carried out an inspection the following week and discovered that the bees had capped the brood without drawing a new queen cell and now to add to my problems there is a second hive, Tryfan,  also without a queen, any brood or eggs…. so where are my bees going!

Once again I added a frame of young eggs into Tryfan to see if this colony are more successful at drawing out a queen cell than the inhabitants of Snowdon had been  but we cannot keep taking eggs from my strongest queen without eventually causing her colony to weaken so this is a last shot at queen raising for both these colonies.

The first colony, Snowdon, is now quite reduced in numbers and will not survive without a queen so it is likely that I will unite this with Tryfan when the rain stops, hopefully this hive will have also created a new queen but if not then it looks like I will be back onto to order another buckfast queen – I have checked with Paynes Bee Farm and they don’t currently have any queens ‘in stock’ as it is too early in the season any but they hope to have queens from mid-May … lets just hope the bees sort themselves out in the interim period and I don’t get laying workers again…..

As ever  I would welcome any thoughts from other beekeepers as too what has happened to my queens this year or to hear from anyone who has experienced similar losses. I place supers and brood bodies over an upturned floor when removed from the hive and frames are inspected over the hive and returned to the supers with great care to avoid damaging the queens, or indeed any of the bees, so I do not think that I have dropped or damaged a queen (I have certainly never done this before!).

Incidentally following up from an entry last year where I re-queened a colony with my first ever ‘purchased’ buckfast queen,  the queen is a strong egg layer and I now have the most docile and calm bee colony that I have ever worked with (she is the queen in the picture above). The eggs that I am using to try and raise a new queen with are from this colony and although I don’t know what their honey producing potential is yet they are a real joy to work with so I would be very happy if I could raise a queen from this hive with similar traits.

The National Bee Unit comes to visit

This blog update is a follow-on from my previous entry…..

Colonies infected with a bee disease called European Foulbrood (EFB) had been identified within 3km of both of my apiary sites in Kent and therefore the National Bee Unit (NBU) inspector contacted me in order that he could come and inspect the health of bees and the brood in my colonies. It was a nervous few days waiting to find out if my bees would get a clean bill of health or ‘be burn’t at the stake’ or in a pit of fire anyway.

Food and Environment Research Agency

Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

The NBU is part of The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) set up by the government to assist and educate beekeepers to help to protect the health of national bee stocks and also to  monitor and prevent the spread of serious bee disease, often caused through the bees ‘drifting’ between hives or deliberately entering other hives  as ‘robbers’ where there are weaker colonies defending them.

European foulbrood is caused by Melissococcus plutonius,  a bacterium that infests the mid-gut of an infected bee larva. EFB is considered less deadly to a colony than American foulbrood. Melissococcus plutonius does not form spores, though it can overwinter on comb and symptoms include dead and dying larvae which can appear curled upwards, brown or yellow, melted or deflated with tracheal tubes more apparent, and/or dried out and rubbery.

Opening up the hives for inspection

Opening up the hives for inspection

European foulbrood is often considered a “stress” disease – a disease that is dangerous only if the colony is already under stress for other reasons. An otherwise healthy colony can usually survive European foulbrood.

David, the NBU inspector, arrived at the apiary and got kitted up in a very clean bee suit, freshly sterilised boots and proceeded to clean his hive tools in washing soda so there wasn’t much chance of him bringing infection in and I was hoping that he wouldn’t be finding any to take away.

We gently smoked the hives and David inspected the bees and the brood, paying particular attention to anything considered outside the ordinary.  David has a large number of colonies himself used for training and nuc rearing so not wanting to waste an opportunity of having an expert to hand both my friend Paul and I asked as many questions as possible relating to the health of our bees and we got very comprehensive answers.

Checking the brood frames for disease

David checking the frames for any signs of brood disease

The four colonies inspected on the day did not show any sign of EFB, this was a great relief both to myself (and the bees) as I had considered my bees to be relatively healthy, albeit with a touch of varroa mite that I had been treating over the last four weeks, and I hoped that I hadn’t simply missed spotting the symptoms of a serious disease through failing to recognise it or just plain ignorance. The hives were all active on the day with the foraging bees bringing in plenty of bright yellow pollen.

The brood inspections did identify a small amount of baldbrood, possibly caused by the bees removing cappings due to the larvae of the wax moth moving through the comb, and also a small amount of Chalkbrood. The infected larvae were removed from the comb for closer examination.

Chalkbrood or Ascosphaera apis is a fungal disease that infests the gut of the larva. The fungus will compete with the larva for food, ultimately causing it to starve. The fungus will then go on to consume the rest of the larva’s body, causing it to appear white and ‘chalky’ and it is quite sticky when removed from the comb which in itself is a useful field test for this disease. Hives with Chalkbrood can generally be recovered by increasing the ventilation through the hive but this should not pose a problem to my colonies.

Close examination of the larvae for possible disease

Closer examination of the uncapped larvae for signs and symptoms of disease

The experience of having David come to inspect my bees was a very positive one, he was friendly and approachable and able to answer the many questions that we put to him. I would recommend, in fact urge, any beekeepers not currently registered on BeeBase to do so. This may well help to prevent the spread of serious disease from your colonies to others, or from others to you, in the future at a time when there are enough environmental pressures working against the bees survival on a global scale.

The last week in September has had a warm start and it is set to get hotter into the weekend so it looks like the summer has finally arrived and I am hoping that the bees will take full advantage of the fine weather and late flowering plants to bring in further stores of pollen and nectar for the winter.

Further information regarding the Healthy Bee Plan and for registering your UK apiaries on BeeBase can be found at:

Finally the bee doctor (National Bee Unit inspector) comes calling …

My last bee blog entry was about winding down the beehives for the year and getting them ready for winter, checking for a healthy queen, bees and brood, feeding sugar syrup to make up for the honey removed in August and dealing with any diseases and parasites in the hive.

My new cross-mated buckfast queen

My new cross-mated buckfast queen

The last few apiary visits have been fine with healthy bees seen in the hive, good br0od (eggs and pupa) and plenty of stores for the winter (honey for the bees and pollen for early brood rearing) and I even got to finally meet my new queen in Ogwen (my hives are all named after Welsh mountains) introduced into the hive back in August by my friend Paul – she is much lighter in colour than my other queens and seems to be laying very well now and I have no doubt it is a good thing to increase the gene pool in the apiary!

My new queen in action

My new queen in action

There is still some evidence of varroa mite on the bees and I am hoping that my Thymol treatment (Apilife Var) has been effective enough to reduce the mite see the colonies through the winter. In the photos you will see that the queen is marked with a white dot (to help find her easily during the inspections) if you look at the picture below you can see that the bee to her left is carrying a red varroa mite in the middle of its thorax (I didn’t spot this when I took the photo).

New queen, varroa mite on thorax of bee to her left

New queen, varroa mite on thorax of bee to her left

There has also been a small amount of unsealed brood in the hive, known as ‘bald brood’ caused by the bees uncapping the developing pupa prematurely due to the presence of lesser wax moth larvae in the cells (they feed on the cell lining) but on the whole the colonies seem to be strong and healthy and very active in all three hives and on both apiary sites.

My hives are registered with the National Bee Unit (NBU), which is part of FERA, and they keep a database of beekeepers and apiary sites called  BeeBase in order that they can monitor for disease and colony loss in the UK and try to prevent the spread of diseases through either treating or culling infected colonies. This is very important at a time when the global bee population seem to have their very existence threatened with many factors affecting their survival.

I visited the NBU website last week and saw that they had been notified of a diseased colony within 5km of my hives and I was dreading hearing from them … well that call has finally come through today as they have had a case of European Foul Brood reported locally and as part of confining the spread they are now required to check my colonies for disease and then make a decision on their future. I am confident they are all okay and that my inspections and treatments have been effective but I am also aware that I am still very much a novice when it comes down to recognising bee diseases and I guess if they are infected that it’s better to find out now and deal with it rather than finding empty hives in the spring and not really knowing what happened.

Hive getting ready for the winter

Hive getting ready for the winter, will it survive or is it destined to be burn't?

If the hives are infected the bee inspector will decide on the best course of action – either treatment for light infestation in a strong colony or burning the bees, frames and even the hives in the worst case scenario.

After so much work in keeping the bees strong and healthy throughout the last two years I will be very disappointed if I lose all my bees now and have to start again in the spring next year but I guess that is all part of bee keepers life and the outcome of the inspectors  visit will no doubt be the subject of my next blog!

If you have enjoyed this blog feel free to tell me (or rate it)  it’s always nice to hear back from fellow bee-keepers and from those who love and want to support the bees but maybe don’t have the time or the opportunity yet.

Ten things you can do to help bees!

 1.    Plant bee friendly flowers and plants in your garden

Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based farming practices, pristine green (but flower-barren) sprawling suburban lawns and from the destruction of native landscapes. Just planting flowers in your garden, yard, or in a planter will help provide bees with forage. Avoid chemically treating your flowers as chemicals can leach into pollen and negatively affect the bees systems. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together, bees like volume of forage (a sq. yard is a good estimate).

Lavender in the gardenFeeding bee

Here are a few examples of good plant varieties: Spring – lilacs, penstemon, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria. Summer – Mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passion flower vine, honeysuckle. Fall – Fuchsia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax. great list

2.   Weeds can be a good thing.

Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is not just a good thing—it’s a great thing! A haven for honeybees (and other native pollinators too). Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for native North American bees. If some of these are “weeds” you chose to get rid of (say you want to pull out that blackberry bush that’s taking over), let it bloom first for the bees and then before it goes to seed, pull it out or trim it back!

3.   Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.

Yes, they make your lawn look pristine and pretty, but they’re actually doing the opposite to the life in your biosphere. The chemicals and pest treatments you put on your lawn and garden can cause damage to the honeybees systems. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom as they will get into the pollen and nectar and be taken back to the bee hive where they also get into the honey—which in turn means they can get into us. Pesticides, specifically neo-nicotinoid varieties have been one of the major culprits in Colony Collapse Disorder.

4.   Buy local, raw honey.

The honey you buy directly sends a message to beekeepers about how they should keep their bees. For this reason, and for your own personal health, strive to buy local, raw honey that is from hives that are not treated by chemicals. It can be hard to find out what is truly “local” and truly “raw”–and even harder yet to find out what is untreated. Here’s a few guidelines: If you find it in the grocery store and it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China. If it’s coming from the grocery store, but it doesn’t say the words “pure” or “raw” and you can’t read in the description that it’s untreated by chemicals, don’t buy it. If it’s untreated, the label will say, as this is an important selling point. We recommend a simple solution for most people. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. There are beekeepers at nearly every farmer’s market selling their honey and other products. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, then make a new friend and support them!

Honey for saleLocal 'raw' or 'pure' honey for sale

5.   Bees are thirsty. Put a small basin of fresh water outside your home.

You may not have known this one—but it’s easy and it’s true! If you have a lot of bees starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will appreciate it!

6.   Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.

What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means eating seasonally as well, and buying local from a farmer that you know means you know if that food is coming from a monoculture or not. This is much easier in the summer when you can get your fresh produce from a local farmer’s market. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Keep in mind, USDA Organic Certification can be expensive and you may find many great farmers and beekeepers with excellent food and honey that isn’t USDA certified simply because they don’t produce a high quantity or opt for the expense of certification. Don’t let this get in the way of supporting them and if you’re worried about their products—have a conversation with them. (Ed. Note – A huge challenge for beekeepers is to keep their bees in an area where there is no chemical spray within 3 miles, as this is really what is required to guarantee truly organic honey. All the more reason for us all to avoid the use of harsh chemicals.)

Why not try Forest Garden Foods on the Kent and Sussex borders

Forest Garden Foods logo

7.   Learn how to be a beekeeper with sustainable practices.

Look up a local bee association that offers classes with natural approaches in your community and link up.

Checking the bee colonyChecking on the bee colonies build-up

8.   Understand that honeybees aren’t out to get you.

Honeybees are vegetarians. They want to forage pollen and nectar from flowers up to three miles from their hive and bring that food back to provide food for themselves and the beehive. Contrary to what the media might have us believe, they are not out to sting us. Here are a few tips to avoid getting stung. 1. Stay still and calm if a bee is around you or lands on you. Many bees will land on you and sniff you out. They can smell the pheromones that come with fear and anger it can be a trigger for them to sting you. 2. Don’t stand in front of a hive opening, or a pathway to a concentration of flowers. Bees are busy running back and forth from the hive, and if you don’t get in their way, they won’t be in yours. 3. Learn to differentiate between honeybees and wasps. Honeybees die after they sting humans (but not after they sting other bees!), wasps do not. Wasps are carnivores, so they like your lunch-meats and soda. Honeybees are vegetarians.

9.   Share solutions with others in your community.

There are so many fun ways to help and be a voice for the bees. Share about the importance of bees at local community meetings, at conferences, in schools and universities, and on on-line message boards and forums.

Kent Beepers Association

10.                        Let your local politicians know what you think.

Change has to happen from the top-down as well as from the bottom-up.

Information taken from the ‘Queen of the Sun’ webpages – go and watch the film when it is showing near you and keep supporting the bees!

A beekeeping library

Whilst it is quiet on the actual bee keeping front over winter it is the perfect time to catch up on some background reading, take onboard new knowledge that can applied to your bee keeping practise throughout the following year and increase your enjoyment and understanding of the actual bees themselves and not just the practice of trying to maximise a honey crop.

Bee library

Bee library

Since I started with the bee keeping about three years ago I seem to have gathered quite a few books on the subject, some bought by me and others given as presents. My first book on the subjest was ‘Bees at the bottom of the garden’ which seemed to be a popular choice for including in the bee keeping starter packs that the equipment suppliers provide. This was great introductory book but soon led onto more slightly  indepth books on the subject.

With the risk of being called ‘nerdy’ I thought I would briefly add a few web reviews the books I have here:

Bees at the bottom of my garden

Beekeeping is a hobby any interested amateur could explore - that is the message of this work which aims to take the mystique out of keeping bees. Alan Campion uses his own experiences to describe in plain terms how to go about setting up a hive, and what to expect from your bees.

Keeping bees and making honey

This is a comprehensive and attractive lifestyle guide to beekeeping - from finding your bees to getting them home, housing them, collecting honey and using their produce.It includes a detailed look at the history of bees and beekeeping, and an extensive introduction to help you to fully understand your bees and keep them happy.Whether you have a tiny balcony or acres of land; live in the middle of a city or in the countryside surrounded by flowers, this book caters for every situation, discussing the different types of hive available for every eventuality.It features a detailed section on gardening for bees, as well as comprehensive advice on how to safely collect your honey and wax, with recipes and ideas on how to use them."Bees" fuses contemporary lifestyle design and an authoritative text, to appeal not only to those who already have bees, but to those who are thinking of having them or even just like the idea of having them - it will 'sell the dream'.


Guide To Bees And Honey

Intended for both new and experienced beekeepers, this invaluable and highly illustrated volume provides answers to virtually every beekeeping question - from avoiding swarms to setting a hive up for winter."Guide to Bees and Honey" also presents expert advice for readers who plan to maintain a few hives for personal, recreational use, as well as those who want to expand an existing colony into a commercial venture.Also included in this volume is a section on the Varroa mite - a particularly nasty parasite that has proved fatal to many British hives. It explains what it does, how it spreads, and effective ways to treat and prevent infestation.

Hive Management

Offers concise, up-to-date information on beekeeping tasks, including how to prevent, capture, and control swarms, when and how to harvest honey, and dealing successfully with queens.

Honey Farming

This is one of the great beekeeping books of all time. Manley draws on his commercial esperience to explain all aspects of beekeeping. This is a book which is a joy to read, you read it, then reread it. As your experience improves you will understand more & more of the value of Manleys words. STRONLY RECOMMENDED

Bees And Honey - From Flower To Jar

Bees make honey; we all know that. But what happens between the bee buzzing around our garden, and the sticky knife in the jar, is a mystery to most of us. Based on careful observation and years of experience, Michael Weiler here reveals the secret life of bees. He looks at all aspects of a bee's life and work and vividly describes their remarkable world. Did you know that it takes approximately 12,000 bee-hours to make one jar of honey? (At GBP5.30 per hour, that would mean one jar should cost around GBP63,600.) This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in the intricacies of nature and our world.

Honey - natures golden healer

There is growing evidence to show that honey is hugely beneficial to our health, from its antibacterial properties to helping relieve hay fever to even inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Drawing on her background in the biological sciences, Gloria Havenhand reveals how we can harvest the beehive for anything from reviving tonics to beauty treats. Not only does she demonstrate how honey is essential for healthy living, but tackles other under-appreciated and lesser-known bee products such as propolis, a sticky resin, which can help skin conditions such as psoriasis; pollen used to relieve hay fever and boost the immune system and royal jelly and beeswax uesd in cosmetics to rejuvenate the skin. With increasing numbers of people interested in ditching drugs for natural alternatives to combat health problems from allergies to acne, this book is a timely look at how the beehive can help us look and feel better.

The Honey Bee - Inside Out

This book is designed to present detailed information about the anatomy and physiology of the honey bee in a clear and concise format. Each of the eight chapters covers an aspect of bee biology and all are copiously illustrated. The author has drawn most of the diagrams from her own dissections, giving a realistic, rather than idealistic impression of the parts involved. Also included, are an appendix giving the background to scientific terminology, a wide-ranging glossary including phonetic spellings and suggestions for further reading. This is a book that will inform anybody who is interested in this fascinating insect. It is based on the examination modules set by the British Beekeepers' Association, but this text will prove interesting for anyone wanting to know more about our honey bees.


On top of the books membership to the British Beekeepers Association also includes a monthly magazine called BeeCraft. The local branch of the BBKA also have a book library with some of the rarer books as well as newer titles.

What happens to the bees over-winter? Putting the bees to bed.

The beekeepers year is pretty much over once the honey has been extracted, the bees have been fed sugar syrup and treated for varroa mite. Now it is a matter of good housekeeping to give the bees the best chance of surviving into the next year and to encourage early build-up of the colony.

The hive is checked again on a warm day in October to make sure that there is still a queen and there is no evidence of disease before packing the bees up for the winter months ahead. Once the last flowering plants, such as ivy, no longer have a nectar supply then the bees stop the foraging flights and entrance activity in the hive drastically reduces, with only occasional flights for toileting purposes.

The colony itself is shrinking in preparation for the winter months ahead with the remaining 20,000 workers living for 5 months or so in order to cluster around the queen and maintain the hive temperature. This number will decline even further, maybe as few as 10,000, before the queen starts laying again in February with the bees emerging as adults in time to coincide with the start of the spring flowers and spring nectar flow.

The October checks are also to assess that there are adequate stores of honey in the hive to feed the remaining bees over the next few months, as well as a good supply of pollen for feeding to the young and encourage early brood rearing in February.

Hives are undamaged and soundHives preparing for winterThe crown board is propped upFeed holes in the crown board are coveredMouse guard fitted over the hive entrance

The hives themselves need to be sound and undamaged. Back in the summer any holes in the hive would have been heavily guarded and just used as an additional entrance or exit, but now the bees are beginning to cluster this will be left unguarded and leave the hive open to robbing, particularly by wasps. It will also let in the cold and wet. Bees are far more likely to be killed by the damp then by the cold. The hives should be sloped slightly forward to allow the bottom board to drain (obviously not a problem if you are using a mesh floor!) and the entrance should be faced away, or at least protected from, the prevailing wind. The crown board is propped on two corners with matchsticks or similar size twigs and the feed holes (or porter escape holes) are covered, this is to prevent too much condensation building up in the hive. The warm moist air rises to the crown board and is pushed out of the top of the hive, rather than condensing on the crown board which can then lead to the outside frames becoming mouldy or even to the death of the colony.

The roof is then replaced and the hive can either be strapped (but the straps will weather and perish and will definitely not be suitable for moving the hives later on – they are bound to fail at the most inconvenient moment) or use the traditional method by placing a brick on top to avoid the roof being blown off in strong winds – if the apiary is in a very windy location then use two bricks!

The hives attract attention from several unwanted visitors over the winter months when other food sources are scarce. The hives are very inviting to mice, they offer a warm, dry shelter with honey on tap and the mouse is unlikely to be evicted by the bees until the spring by which time the damage to the comb has been dome. A thin strip of metal with 9mm holes is pinned over the entrance as a mouse guard (check there are no mice in there before attaching it). I have tried to align the bottom set of holes with the hive floor to make it easier for the bees to carry out their hive duties and eject any debris and dead bees before it is removed in spring.

Woodpecker protectionLittle entrance activity in NovemberHives now ready for winter

If green woodpeckers are known to nest locally the hive is wrapped in chicken wire with a 13mm mesh or alternatively strips of plastic sheeting are placed over the hive (this prevents the woodpeckers from getting a grip on the hive). Apparently beekeepers who have had no history of problems at an apiary site for many many years with the woodpeckers being present then find one learns a trick and they break and enter the hives, damaging the brood boxes and destroying the frames, comb and colony very quickly.

Occasional visits to monitor the entrance activity and check the hives have not been ‘nudged’ by deer or badgers are useful. The bees are then left to their own devices until spring. Some beekeepers feed a fondant candy to supplement the honey at the end of December (a form of Christmas offering) and others treat the hive using a weak solution of oxalic acid in sugar syrup. This does not affect the bees but helps to attack the varroa mite and removes their ability to ‘cling on’ to the bees. This should only be administered to the hive when there is no brood present (as it will not affect mite sealed into the brood) and there is no honey in the hive that will later be extracted for human consumption.

In the event of a heavy snow fall the hive entrance should be cleared to allow a free flow of air and the light shielded away from the entrance or else there is a risk of the bees flying and becoming chilled and unable to return to the hives.

Finally the hives components not being used over winter should be cleaned and stored. Supers and brood boxes should be scorched internally to kill any parasites and eggs buried in the woodwork. This is also a good time to repair and treat the boxes. The comb should be stored, either wet or dry, so that it is not accessible to wax moths. Sheets of newspaper placed between each super helps. The wax moth lay their eggs of the wax and when hatched feed on the cocoons of the bees so they are most likely to occur in the stored brood comb. A healthy colony of bees will not tolerate wax moth in the hive but the pose a threat to your stored comb.

Finally time to relax and wait for that warm day in early spring where you get to see if all those preparations for the winter have paid off and your colonies have survived the British winter – good luck!