Karl Colyer

A new year for you and for your bees. Karl will share reminders, tips and ideas each month to help your bees and your beekeeping.

Hi Everybody. I am just an ordinary beekeeper who is conscious of the cost of beekeeping, excited by the wonder of nature and lives a busy life, as we all do, so I am always looking for simple and effective ways to keep my bees happy and productive, and my beekeeping sustainable.

Resources for your bees
Food stores in your hive(s) should still be abundant at this time of year, but do not be tempted to open the hive to check resources during these cold months. Instead, heft (lift) the back of the hive just a little to get an idea of its weight. Apart from the weight of the hive itself, most of the remaining weight will be food stores. If you are unsure how much food your bees have, place an opened bag (1kg or 2.5kg) of fondant above the crown board to give you a little reassurance. If the bees do not use it, it can be saved for next winter. If they do use it later, you may have prevented your colony from starving. At the end of each autumn, start hefting your hives so that, at the end of winter, you can tell if your bees have some food stores left.

Varroa treatment, if required
If you monitor your Varroa levels, you will know if you need to treat your bees. If you do not monitor your Varroa levels, now is the time to read up how to do it. Do not forget, it is still currently the biggest challenge to bees in the UK. If you trickle-feed oxalic acid into the cluster, ideally open your hive by parting the boxes rather than taking off the crown board. The boxes will tend to reposition themselves and reseal the gaps under their own weight. A crown board cannot be re-propolised back into position by the bees at this time of year. The propolis is too cold to work and the bees will not want to break cluster. 

Ideally, all beekeepers will treat for Varroa if they need to as opposed to treating because ‘it’s that time of year again’. If we collectively do this in the UK, the bees will progressively become more resistant and/or tolerant to Varroa and learn hygienic behaviours to manage Varroa levels. There is plenty of research and science that says we could get to a point of having bees that do not require Varroa treatments in the UK within a decade. 

Are your bees secure and safe?
Some people strap and wrap their hives. If your apiary location is pretty bleak, that can make good sense. For most beekeepers, it is wise to make sure the hives are stable and protected from the worst the weather can throw at it. That can mean as little as leaving the boxes and crown board untouched, secured together by propolis. If you have a heap of snow or storms coming through, please check afterwards to make sure your hives are still secure and that the entrances remain open.

Inspecting your bees
The simple recommendation here is not to open your hive unless you absolutely need to. Observation at the entrance is the way to inspect your bees (see the Beekeeping Year Planner, page 17). On a mild and sunny day, some of your bees may venture out for cleansing flights. If you see dead bees on the ground, do not worry too much. Some bees naturally die of old age over the winter.

Become a better beekeeper
January is a good time to plan. How many colonies do you want to have this year? Also, renew membership subscriptions and figure out what meetings, events, self-learning and training to attend this year.

If you collaborate and work with other beekeepers, your beekeeping and bees will both benefit. Support and encouragement can be given and received, especially when things do not turn out as hoped.

Get to know your bees
What temperature do your bees fly at? Bees that venture out in cold weather, (below 10°C) can be hardier and more resilient than the bees that do not fly; a very useful trait for early spring and late autumn forage gathering. Observe your bees and make notes of the temperatures if you see them out and about.

Some queens may die of old age through the winter and we may feel we have done something wrong to cause the colony to die out. If your queen is three years or older, please bear in mind that this becomes increasingly likely to happen.

Finally, remember that the brood is at its minimum size now and there may actually be a broodless period in early January.

Photos:  Karl Colyer