Jeremy Quinlan

There is a temptation to think that there is nothing to do in the apiary at this time of year. While it is true there is not a great deal to do, there are still some things that need attention. Ivy is in flower from September to November and is a good source of both pollen and nectar for honey bees and other insects, including wasps and Asian hornets, also known as ‘yellow legged hornets’. Check a few sunny ivy-clad trees and hedges nearby, and spend a few minutes in your apiary watching for Asian hornets. Also, remember to heft your hives to check your colony weight records are accurate. Are your mouse and woodpecker defences securely in place? Are your hives securely tied down to their stands? Bricks are often not enough to weight hives down.


If you have not fed enough, it is definitely too late to give liquid feed; the bees will not take it. So, remove your feeders and clean them. If necessary, bees will still take fondant. Put this on the top bars over the winter cluster and ensure there is insulation above it.

Wax moth

Well-drawn comb is valuable and well worth storing. It is not necessary to freeze spare supers; wrap them in newspaper or something similar to protect them. The only ones at risk are first supers above the queen excluder that have had pollen in them; the bees can extend the pollen arch over the brood into these. After extraction, I return supers to the bees for them to clean them out. Frames that have held brood are much more likely to be attacked by wax moth. ‘Certan’, also called B401, was used for this, but the changing regulatory environment means this is withdrawn. Certan is a suspension of Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium which, when mixed with a little water and sprayed on combs, kills any wax moth that eat it. This bacterium has a variety of strains; I understand they are all equally effective.


If you have any unused foundation, wrap it well, store it flat and it should be good for next year. If, when you unwrap it, there is a white bloom, it is likely to have hardened and the bees may not work it and draw comb. All is not lost, warm it very gently and carefully until it just begins to change colour. I use a hot air gun on its lowest setting; a hair dryer might work too.


Big colonies overwinter better than small ones. It is usually better to unite a weak colony to another than have it fail over the winter. Move the smaller colony in daily steps of three feet until it is next to another colony with their entrances facing the same direction. Remove the queen you do not want. It does not matter which colony is uppermost. Cover the lower one with a sheet of newspaper held down by a queen excluder in case it blows away, as shown in the photo below, and nick a few very small holes in the paper. Add the second colony on top and close up. Leave them for a week then re-organise, putting brood frames together with stores on the outsides.

Preparation for 2023

Check your colony records and prepare for next year, e.g. buy some foundation, plan to replace old black comb and rear a queen or two. Start repairing equipment. Andy Wattam, once the National Bee Inspector, used to say that all preparations for the new season should be completed by Christmas. It is too easy to put things off, and then spring creeps in and you will be in a terrible hurry to do all that needs doing.


Honey bees do not have a complete immune system and collect propolis which helps to compensate. It is a complex mix of many different resins, including phenolic bioactive compounds, waxes, ashes and, volatile substances from trees and plants, which the trees make to counter moulds, bacteria and viruses. The bees use it for the same purposes and varnish the inside of the hive, including the cells.

As it gets in the way, beekeepers scrape propolis off. I collect the scrapings and make a tincture of it. Propolis is a wonderful healer of cuts and scrapes, but some people do have an allergic reaction to it. Propolis tincture is made by dissolving propolis in ethyl alcohol and a little water. Ethyl alcohol is difficult to find because it is the basis for gin and vodka, so usually you can only buy the denatured version with additives, which make it poisonous, bad-tasting and foul-smelling. Instead, you can use vodka, the stronger the better; this already contains some water.

To make the tincture, take a wide-necked bottle and empty out your tub of propolis, about 300g. As the resins tend to coalesce into a lump, crush it into pieces small enough to fit into the bottle. Add the vodka, cork and leave for a month, giving a periodic shake. Filter through coffee filter paper into a bottle, then decant into small pipette dropper bottles and store in the dark.

Photos by Jeremy Quinlan