Jeremy Quinlan

If you treated with thymol in August, I hope you mean to follow up with a dose of oxalic acid this month when the opportunity presents.

What to do now
Continue to heft; better with a luggage scale, weigh first one side, then the other, add the weights together and note the total. Check entrances are clear. Fresh debris on mite check boards will tell you that all is well. The queen will start laying as the day length increases, and when she does the bees need to provide a warm brood nest of 35°C, so food is consumed at an ever-increasing rate.

Check green woodpecker defences. Continue to prepare for the new season. Is everything ready? What notes did you make last year? I print my own note pages using a spreadsheet. Often, there is a need to replace old comb. One third of your frames should be replaced every year. So you are ready to do that, make up new frames ready for the spring. Do not add the foundation until early March, however, as it tends to go hard and stale when exposed to air, so keep it wrapped up until then.

When made up, frames of foundation are rarely as flat or as vertical as they ought to be. One of our beginners ordered ready made-up equipment. I was interested to see that the foundation came zig-zag wired as you would expect but was, in addition, wired horizontally. Horizontal wiring is the way to get flat combs. To get the wires really taught, the side bars can be compressed inwards during assembly, using a jig, or the wires can be later crimped. Really taught wires will cut into the side-bar wood so brass eyelets are used where the wire passes through them (see below). The foundation is then laid on the wires and a spur embedder used to get the wires into the foundation. See:

If you plan a Bailey comb change, why not make your own Bailey frame? The front lath is only half-depth to support the entrance block. You could also plan to make a nucleus in the spring from your best colony and, in the process, a new queen. My May article suggested one very simple way of doing this.

Avoid overcrowding
Over the earlier months of this year, I have written about what the beekeeper might do in the apiary. At this time of the year when there is not much to be done, it would be good to consider the bees’ point of view. For a start, I am sure that they do not welcome competition for resources from potential robbers and their diseases. Prof Thomas Seeley tells us that, in the wild, there is generally only one colony per square kilometre. How many are there in your apiary? Could you move some of them elsewhere? If your new apiary were three miles away, newly made-up nuclei could be put there without the risk of losing bees back to their parent colony. And if there is good bee forage close to home, but not just across the fence, you could bring the other bees there.

Seeley also tells us that scout bees look for a new nest volume of around forty litres (National hives are only 35 litres) and a small, defensible entrance of around 12.5 cm2, two square inches. He found that in the wild, 90% of nest entrances were more than five metres above the ground. We can provide the first two requirements, but not the third! Some have their entrance blocks out when there is a chance of a honey flow, others never. I am a ‘never’. For the winter, mouse guards are often mentioned, but an entrance size of only 7mm high excludes them, so is guard enough.

Improve your beekeeping
For those who want to improve their beekeeping, reading, study and attending the major meetings to hear the experts are inseparable from good beekeeping. There are many excellent Zoom talks available free online too, almost too many! The books I recommend are Honeybee Democracy and The Lives of Bees both by Tom Seeley, The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark Winston, The Buzz About Bees by Jürgen Tautz, and Celia Davis’s The Honey Bee Inside Out and The Honey Bee Around and About. Bee farmer, R.O.B. Manley, is certainly worth reading too. With some beekeeping friends and contacts you could form a study group and tackle the BBKA’s modules; this could be by Zoom.

I hope you have enjoyed my monthly ‘In the Apiary’ articles and found them useful. Certainly, I have enjoyed writing them; like most beekeeping activities, I have learned a thing or two from the research I did for them too. Karl Colyer will be writing them from January, so it is ‘goodbye’ from me.

Photo: Jeremy Quinlan