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Report of the January 2018 winter meeting

Dead Bees don’t Buzz – Surviving the Winter
Report of talk by Roger Patterson at the joint meeting of West Dorset and East Devon Beekeepers, January 2018

Roger started off by reminding us that bees are wild animals with a yearly cycle of nest expansion in the spring and contraction in autumn, and although they are very adaptable it is often the case that beekeepers work against the natural cycles leading to loss of bees through beekeeping errors.

Beekeeping advice is very variable, possibly based on human perceptions, and there is therefore a need to consider the situation from the bees’ point of view. Simply put they try to maintain population stability and prepare for the future.

In the wild it is definitely a question of survival of the fittest. Weak or diseased colonies are less adaptable and will die out, so wild colonies tend to be strong, healthy and adapted to their environment.

Roger went on to show how a wild colony behaves through the yearly cycle, with the cluster moving up to fresh stores in winter then the queen starting to lay in the empty cells below the nest as the weather warms up.

Other characteristics of successful wild colonies that we should take note of are:

  • the bees tend to be dark
  • nests are well above ground level and are therefore less prone to damp
  • the entrance is defendable
  • usually well insulated in a tree or building
  • the interior is 100% propolised
  • they always have their food stores above or behind the brood
  • they tend to have the brood nest near the entrance

How can we copy them and improve our beekeeping and winter survival?

Allow the bees plenty of time at the end of the summer to arrange their stores where they want them. Consider putting frames “cold way” over winter to reduce the risk of isolation starvation.

Isolation starvation diagram
Isolation starvation in the winter months

With frames ‘warm way’ the cluster near the entrance (green area) will not move to stores at the back of the hive (red) during cold weather.

Make sure there is adequate air circulation round the hive to reduce dampness.

Ensure colonies going into winter are strong, healthy and well populated with plenty of young bees. A small colony can be given surplus frames of brood to boost numbers.

Unite weak colonies, especially those colonies with poorly performing queens.

When feeding in the autumn feed little and often to allow the bees to keep up with pollen collection and storage in proportion to the quantity of syrup, otherwise they will not have sufficient protein to produce healthy brood during the winter months.

Conditions are something the beekeeper can do something about. Remember that cold doesn’t kill bees but damp conditions do. Roger advised to always leave the tray out of the mesh floor for this reason. The beekeeper can also ensure protection against pests such as wasps, mice and woodpeckers.

Monitoring during the winter months usually involves hefting the hives. A word of warning! This only works if the stores are still liquid. Any honey which has solidified, such as ivy, will be unavailable to the bees.

Photo of dead bees due to isolation starvation

The picture shows solidified stores next to the cluster preventing the bees from moving to liquid honey, just a few inches away, during cold weather. If in doubt feeding a small quantity of fondant will let you know whether the bees are ok or need help.

Finally, remember that Varroa has not gone away. You need to monitor throughout the year and do something about high counts BEFORE it gets out of control.

 

 

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News & Events

Axminster Tools & Machinery
Free event
Sat 29 September 2018
11:00 – 14:00 hrs
at the Axminster Store – An introduction To Bee Keeping With East Devon Beekeepers

There’s a great deal of interest in bees these days … would you like to find out what it is all about?Our ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ event will be hosted by John Badley, Chairman of East Devon Beekeepers, who will cover the history of hive design, definition and importance of bee space and required materials for construction. This will be followed by a demonstration by the Axminster team, on how to build the key components of your own wooden beehives.

John’s presentation will start at 11am and should run for about an hour, and he’ll be available for questions and one-to-one discussions afterwards. This is a free event, between 11:00-14:00, with light refreshments provided so come and find out what all the buzz is about!

Scientists sew trackers to Asian Hornets to find and destroy nests before they kill honeybees
Britain’s beekeepers are turning to technology to prevent aggressive Asian hornets destroying their colonies. In a first successful trial, experts at the University of Exeter attached tracking devices to the backs of the voracious hornets and then followed them back to their nests.
Asian hornet information
The June edition of the BBKA News has extensive information about the Asian hornet threat. In particular, pages 209 and 210 have full colour reproductions of the Asian hornet alert document issued by the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) for you to cut out and use as your personal guide to identification of this invasive species.
EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides
More information can be found at:          https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/27/eu-agrees-total-ban-on-bee-harming-pesticides?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
LATEST ASIAN HORNET WARNING
The National Bee Unit has confirmed a sighting of a single Asian hornet in Lancashire. More information can be found in the Defra Press release:   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/asian-hornet-identified-in-lancashire