Karl Colyer

With the shortest day looming, followed by endless weeks of cold weather, the bees will be at their least active stage of the year.  Everything is now geared to on-going survival using stored resources until nectar and pollen are once more available.

And now we wait. And wait. Maybe a mild and sunny day will stumble by. If so, try to make it a priority to observe any activity at the entrance. If you treat for Varroa at this time of the year, choose the time of day wisely to minimise the impact on the bees.

Leave the bees alone
Winter has arrived and the bees instinctively know what to do to get by. We humans can be curious and inquisitive as to what is going on inside the box. If that curiosity turns into impatience, try to hold back the temptation to have a peep inside. The bees will be expending effort using their wing muscles (but not their wings) to create warmth through a process very similar to what we call shivering. Those on the inside of the cluster will be warm and resting. Those on the outside will be creating warmth and consuming the honey stores steadily. The queen will be laying eggs either seldomly or not at all towards the end of the month.

What needs to be done?
Ideally, nothing should be required now. Since the arrival of Varroa, many beekeepers will wish to schedule a dose of oxalic acid at this stage, either by dribbling 5ml of tepid fluid into each seam of bees or by vapour-dosing via the entrance. If there are dead bees on the floor, don’t worry. Clean them away from the entrance if you can. If they start to stack up inside the hive to the point where they block the entrance, hook as many out as you can. One way to reduce this risk is to turn the entrance block upside down so that a few dead bees inside the hive are less likely to block the essential exit. Other than that, it may be worth checking your stacks of stored boxes to see if there is rodent or wax moth damage. By doing this now, you may contain any damage to a small percentage of your boxes.

Winter as a selection tool
The bees are under their longest and most arduous test of the year while they are overwintering. If your bees are used to the UK climate, the risk of losses is relatively low. It’s all about ecology and sustainability; the relationship between living things and their environment. If you are going to lose some of your bees over the winter, do not despair. Your ‘survivor’ bees will be more hardy and/or frugal than the bees you lost. You can make more colonies from your survivors and start to improve your stocks. Look back at the article Jo Widdicombe wrote in October BBKA News to know a little more about bee improvement.

Looking and planning ahead
Each year, you should be able to know a little more about your bees and your beekeeping. This should give you the opportunity to plan to do things slightly differently next year. Perhaps even to try something that people may deem to be non-conventional. As long as it works well for the bees, it should be worth reading up about it and even giving it a try.

Assembling hives for next year

Get to know your bees
This section has aimed to give greater insight into what is happening with your bees and why various interventions and checks were done during the year. Try to get to know more about your bees every year. Even now, your bees will be working hard to maintain an optimum cluster temperature and to have the right level of humidity in the hive. The tighter cluster will also raise the CO2 levels slightly more than usual which will have a sedative-type of effect on the bees. There’s so much to learn!

I wish you and your bees a relaxing winter break and a warm and bountiful 2024. Happy reading, planning and prepping for the next season! Your bees will thank you for it.

Photos:  Karl Colyer