Karl Colyer

In October, colony activities undergo significant changes as they prepare for winter. The bees’ behaviour and overall hive dynamics are influenced by the changing weather and decreasing availability of food sources.

Changes occur within the hive to prepare for winter survival. The bees’ focus now shifts from rapid expansion and foraging to conservation and protection of resources during the colder, forage-scarce winter period.

Winter preparations
With shortening daylight hours and reducing temperatures during the days and nights, the queen will significantly slow her egg-laying rate resulting in a decreasing hive population. This smaller worker bee population helps conserve hive resources; fewer bees and a smaller brood area require less energy to keep warm in the cooler days and nights. Winter bees, being fewer in number, consume less food per day and, because of the reduced foraging activities, they live much longer than their summer-born counterparts.

Depending upon your latitude and altitude, drones may have already been permanently expelled from the hive. Once drones are gone from hives in your local area, there will be no options for the bees to replace queens through natural methods for about six months or so.

With reduced forage availability, bees will venture out less often, their foraging flight duration will reduce and their foraging range will become increasingly limited due to the increasingly marginal weather. As a general observation of the changing season, the hive entrance will usually be more heavily guarded during this time to protect the colony from opportunistic intruders and robbers seeking food resources.

Inside the hive
The on-going ripening of nectar into honey will continue, ideally until all the cells are capped. Cooler and damper weather along with a reducing population of bees means that evaporation and capping activities will take longer than in the summer. The bees normally also start to store a larger amount of pollen than usual to provide essential protein, minerals and nutrients to feed the brood raised over the winter period and to provide nutrition for the overwintering colony.

How to help your bees
Your options to assist the bees become increasingly limited at this time of year;

  • If you are aware of a Varroa issue, deal with it now before the mites overwhelm the colony.

  • If you need to feed the bees to get them through winter, October is probably past the stage where syrup is a sensible option. Overloading the hive with uncapped syrup will invite mould and fermentation. Fondant may be your only option from now until spring.

  • Clean up the comb; this is your last chance to remove old comb or burr comb. Note which comb is old and dark and buy the frames and foundation ready to replace them in the spring.

How to help your beekeeping

  • Clean, repair and store your equipment. Only the storage is essential just now, but getting everything sorted at the same time makes life easier in the long term. 

  •  Assess your queens, colonies, honey yields and the interventions you had to make to ‘help’ the bees. Keep records, even if it is only the basic chemical interventions implemented and whether or not you would like to replicate the colony in the spring.

  •  Sort out your diary. Your local BKA will have indoor talks and winter training opportunities. The National Honey Show celebrates its centenary (1923–2023) event this month. You can also scour libraries and second-hand bookshops for literature. Don’t forget to get that Christmas list started, which may include the latest book titles, some developmental training for next year and some inevitable bee-related trinkets from Santa. Don’t be afraid to order these for yourself, you know how busy you can get at peak bee season; give Santa a little relief by sorting out your requirements personally.

Photos: Karl Colyer