Preparing for Winter
5th Zoom meeting, 05/09/2020
A talk by David Chambers
David started by reminding us why we prepare the hives for winter. Everything revolves around keeping the bees alive and healthy through the cold period and ready for the start of the new season.
There are three causes of colony loss:
- Varroa damage
This can happen to anyone, and for a variety of reasons, e.g. poorly mated queen during bad weather. Now is the time to ensure your colonies are headed by a strong queen. Any colonies that are underperforming should be united with queenright colonies. Using the newspaper method is the simplest. Ideally, remove the queen you don’t want before uniting. Always ensure the colony above the paper has sufficient ventilation by poking holes through the paper with your hive tool.
First and foremost, beekeepers should monitor their hives for natural mite drop at this time of year. Once you know what state your colonies are in, then you can plan appropriate action dependent on the level of threat.
Normally, there are two times of year when Varroa treatments are considered. First, in August after the honey crop has been removed, to ensure the winter bees being produced now are healthy and will last through the winter. Second, around Christmas when there is minimal or no brood so that treatments such as oxalic acid solution can be used. Oxalic acid does not kill mites inside brood so is more effective in midwinter.
During the autumn, David uses MAQS (formic acid), but only on large colonies. Smaller colonies are treated with Apiguard (thymol based) as there is less likelihood of killing the queen. Remember that there are a limited number of varroacides available legally (see BeeBase website) and any treatments given to your bees should be recorded and the record kept for 5 years.
Once you have taken the honey crop off it is time to think about feeding the colony. David recommends rapid feeders in autumn, up to ½ gal at a time, and monitor to see how it is being taken down. If leaving a super on the hive then it is advisable to remove the queen excluder so the whole colony can move upwards during the winter to access stores. Best to feed in the evening to avoid robbing. Don’t forget that there will inevitably be wasps around so all entrances should be reduced to a minimum. Be tidy. Sugar syrup spillages will attract both wasps and robber bees!
Feeding should be completed by October as the temperature will be lower and the bees will have difficulty converting the syrup to stores. Looking ahead, if your bees run short of stores in Jan, Feb and March then use fondant as this will not ferment. If feeding is required in late March, early April, then David uses a contact feeder that can be placed directly over the hole in the crown board. Use a super as an eke.
David then went on to discuss ventilation of hives over winter and other aspects of good husbandry. Essentially, hives should be off the ground and protected from cold winds. It is generally agreed that open mesh floors are preferable but whether you use a tray insert during the winter or not is your choice. Now that we have open mesh floors it should not be necessary to insert matchsticks under the crown board, as advised by some older books.
Make sure you have some form of protection against mice entering the hives as they can cause a lot of damage and may even lead to the colony dying out.
There were many questions asked during David’s talk, clarifying issues as they arose. At the end of the talk there was a lengthy discussion and exchange of views on using brood and a half over winter. David explained that he uses 14×12 brood chambers which provide ample space for over wintering, without the need for any other boxes. However, a National brood box can be a bit too small for a strong colony to store enough for overwintering. A lot of beekeepers play safe and leave a super with stores above the National brood box, having first removed the queen excluder as explained.
Problems may arise in the spring when the colony has moved up and is laying brood in the super. In this case, David suggested that you may as well leave the super in place and run the colony on brood and half, as they obviously need the space. Giving plenty of brood space this way will probably reduce the urge to swarm early next year.
Another issue that was discussed was partially filled frames. One solution is to leave these frames in a super above the hole in the crown board. Hopefully, the bees will take these residues down and store them in the brood box below. The empty frames can then be removed before winter.
Our thanks to David for a constructive talk, and also thanks to Mary for her slick organisation of the meeting.
View the talk on YouTube.