Wintering Bees

(Compiled by Peter McFadden & BBKAAim to complete your winter preparation by late September.

Step 1

Mid August. Check that the colony has a laying queen. Look for eggs, larvae and sealed brood. If there is no queen, unite the colony to a queenright colony, or call for help. Your colony should have at least five deep frames of bees. I winter my hives on a brood and a half and one part-filled super of honey, with no queen excluder.

Unite Colonies if necessary
Two weak colonies may perish, unite them in the Autumn and they might survive. See chapters on uniting, which usually involves killing the oldest queen first.

Step 2

End of August. Remove any part-filled supers for re-fitting later. Check the weight of the hive by hefting, lifting one side from the stand. The hive should feel as if it is nailed to the hive stand. I leave all the honey in the brood box and half brood box for the bees.

Inspect colony to assess stores
Strong colonies in November need the brood box to be full of stores if the colony is to survive. If you decide to use sugar buy about 11 kilos of white granulated sugar per colony to feed. The colony may not take it all. Thorne’s sell a special ready made product called Ambrosia which is ready for the hive and possibly the best artificial feed for bees.

For Autumn feeding about one pint ( ½ litre) of water mixed with 1 kilo of sugar is usual. Put the sugar into a container, note or mark where it comes to at the side, and fill up to that level with hot water, then stir. Feed when cooled down. Using ready made up feed like Ambrosia is obviously less trouble.

When to feed
Feed in evening when flying has finished or you will cause excitement. It is a good idea to reduce the size of the entrance when feeding. Keep feeding each evening until the bees are no longer taking sugar syrup down. 

If your hives feel heavy enough without feeding, go straight to step 3. A colony will need the equivalent of about 18kg of honey or sugar syrup to survive the winter. Any late honey stored in September is a bonus. Feed any light hives with a rapid feeder, preferably a Miller or Ashforth tray feeder. These allow you to feed up to 10 litres of syrup at a time. Winter feeding should take only a few days. Your hive stands must be level if using a tray feeder, or bees may drown in pools of syrup. Make the syrup with one electric kettle full of hot water to 3 x 1kg bags of sugar. You can buy sugar in 15 x 1kg packs from Bookers, Llandudno Junction. Contact us for the Conwy BKA Bookers membership number. Reduce the hive entrance when feeding, and feed in the evening to prevent robbing.

Step 3

Remove the empty feeder when the hive weight is OK. Place an eke, a 25mm high square wooden frame, on the top brood box. Place a tray of Apiguard on the top brood frames, open side up, and refit the crown board on the eke, with the feed holes sealed.

If using an open mesh floor, fit the mite catch tray and put a square of old carpet or a slab of expanded polystyrene or Kingspan on the crown board. This stays on all winter.

Get hold of the defra (csl) booklet ‘Managing Varroa. Without some treatment your bees will probably not survive. Probably the minimum treatment is with Apiguard, as directed, between August & October & possibly top up with treatment with Oxalic acid in December. Both products are available from Thorne’s. Ask other beekeepers for advice if in doubt.

Aim to fit your first tray of Apiguard by early September. You want a hive full of healthy bees going into the winter. If you wait until October, it’s too late. You will have a hive full of bees damaged by varroa, and very little new brood to replace them.

Step 4

After 10 days, remove the mite catch tray and note if the mite drop is low, medium or high, compared to your other hives. Scrape the catch tray clean and refit it.
Check if the Apiguard tray has been emptied. If yes, fit the second tray. Leave first tray in place, to remind you that you have fitted the second tray. If no, wait a further four days and then fit second tray.

Step 5

After two weeks, remove both aluminium Apiguard trays for recycling. Scrape any remaining Apiguard onto the top frames. Remove the eke and the mite catch tray. Clean and store them for winter.
Note: If there is a late flow of honey you may find that the eke has been filled with wild comb and honey. Remove this.

Step 6

Optional, same day as step 5. Fit a super of drawn combs, including any part-filled combs or combs wet from extracting, to store late season honey from Himalayan balsam or ivy. No queen excluder is needed.

Step 7

Remove entrance block and fit a mouse guard. If using a wooden floor, open up the feed holes in the crown board to increase ventilation.

Store spare hive parts and supers for winter
Drawn supers are very valuable for beekeepers and should be stored against the action of wax moth as well as making sure mice do not invade. PDB crystals are no longer available so try Certan, available from Thorne’s.

Weatherproofing hives
Hives made from deal need some sort of proofing treatment from time to time. Creosote substitute seems to be the cheapest option. It smells a lot but the bees do not seem to suffer or dislike it. Hives get blown over or lose their roofs in gales. Bricks on the lid keep them more stable.

Feeding in the new year – Fondant
Hives should be hefted, (lifted at the front) from time to time. If there is a suspicion that the bees will consume all their stores before Spring , they can be fed from early January with a fondant mix.

Winter feeding – Bee Fondant
Recipe: One part water to five parts sugar (1kg sugar, 200ml water)
heat to dissolve the sugar and then bring to boil stirring until a temperature of 112C  degrees.
Remove and cool the saucepan quickly by immersing saucepan in cold water.
Stir until mix becomes cloudy and crystallises at boom and edges.
Pour into containers.
No need for glucose syrup at all, no kneading hot mixtures

Bags of ready mixed Icing sugar can be purchased in supermarkets. Split the plastic and place over the feed hole in the crown board and the bees will come through, take the fondant down, and consume it.

Mid Winter Varroa Treatment
Oxalic acid treatment is advisable in December. Handle carefully.

It is vital the hive is well ventilated during the winter months. Ensure holes in crown board are open, or close them off completely and place a match stick under each corner of the crown board. This gives a 2mm gap all round the top of the brood nest.

Now you can relax and go on holiday!