Karl Colyer

By now, you should have done all that you can to prepare for winter. The occasional warm day could allow for some checks or interventions if absolutely required.

If you need to do anything to your bees in November, understand why it needs to be done. Most importantly, could or should it have been done earlier; is it even really required?

What can or should be done?
There shouldn’t be much, if anything, to do now in the apiary, but for your peace of mind and to ensure the bees get their best chance to hunker down for the winter, it may be worth considering the following:

  • Make sure the stand is level, the entrance is properly in place, the boxes are aligned, the queen excluder is out and the crown board is in place. If you heft your hives, now may be the time to get an indication of those light colonies who could run out of food in early spring. Don’t heft the same hive many times or too many hives a single time – they all feel heavy after that!
  • Remove your record card(s) and look through them to consolidate your knowledge and understanding of each colony. Has it taken a lot of effort to manage? Is it behaving in the way that suits your needs and preferences? If you can, write a one-line summary of the condition of each colony on the record card and copy this onto the top line of next year’s card. Make a note of what you would like to achieve with the colony next year, especially if it is to make increases from the stock.
  • When you put the roof on, ensure it is securely positioned so there is no risk of the bees getting wet due to an issue with the roof condition or placement. This may be the last time you touch the roof for a couple or more months and there will be several cold, dark, wet and windy days in between.
  • Pull up any stubborn perennial weeds and note what pruning chores should be done before the plants spring into life next year. Make sure the ground behind each hive is fairly flat and free of holes or protruding stumps/rocks.
  • Observe your bees. Note in particular, which colonies are flying at what temperature. Most bees stop flying at about 10°C but some colonies may happily forage at 7°C or even lower. The lower the temperature the bees are out flying, the more hardy they probably are. 

What else looks necessary?
If November still has you doing tasks for the bees, consider what has led to this so late in the season. You have a responsibility for your bees and being too busy earlier on will do your bees and your beekeeping no favours. Avoid any need to open the colony unless it is absolutely necessary. Prepare what you need beforehand and spend as little time as necessary inside the hive.

The health of your hive is important and any unnecessary interventions now will be, at best, unproductive. At worst, it could make the colony more vulnerable to starvation over the winter. If you need to feed, even if only for your own reassurance, put the fondant on top of the crown board covering the hole.

If you are fiddling around with entrance sizes, mouse guards etc, it may be a little too late. A rodent may already be in your hive.

If you are insulating at this stage, limit it to adding a layer onto the crown board only unless you are sure it won’t disturb the bees. If you suddenly feel they will need protecting from the wind, put up an external windbreak close to the hive rather than wrapping and stapling things to the hive body. The vibration will disturb the cluster.

If you are taking away unused equipment, make a note to yourself that you left this too late in the season. If your equipment isn’t all cleaned and properly stored at this stage, it might be worth deciding on some forfeit for yourself! 

It is time to take stock of your year
Overall, it’s a time to reflect on the last year of beekeeping. We’ve had some hot and dry weather and some weeks of seemingly endless rain during the season. How did your bees fare with this?


Get to know your bees 

Your bee numbers will still be reducing but stabilising now at their overwintering levels. The bees in your hive are almost all winter bees. Unlike the worker bees in the summer, they won’t work themselves to death in six weeks. Many will be five or six months old when they are doing their foraging forays in the spring.

Some dead bees may appear on the ground outside the entrance during some milder days. This is normal and the bees are just doing their housekeeping when the temperature permits.

Forage is sparse at this time of year with ivy being the main form of energy available to them.

Photos:  Karl Colyer