by Roger Chappel & Len Mutton
We are now approaching the end of the active year.All the honey supers will have been removed, except for those containing heather honey which may take another week or two. Most of us will have already considered what varroa treatment is required, having monitored the mite drops. If you are unsure about how to do this our recommendation is that you introduce something in to the colony which will cause problems for the varroa. At this stage it may need something a little more abrasive than just Hive Clean and we would advocate the first Apilifevar or, for weaker hives a tray of Apiguard. If you have been carefully monitoring the varroa over the summer you may already have a view about what infestation there is, if any. We use Hive Clean now on every occasion we visit the hives and we also regularly monitor the mite drop. We haven’t noted any significant infestation (i.e. 30 mites per day) for some time but, rather safe than
sorry, we decided to apply the first treatment and carefully monitor the mite drop. So far, there hasn’t been any and, in the majority of cases, we have decided to abandon any further treatment – there’s no point applying chemicals when it isn’t necessary. We are of course, aware that varroa may still be lurking within the deep sanctuaries offered by the brood cells but we are confident that our oxalic acid dose in mid-winter will put paid to these. It is also worth bearing in mind that we didn’t use any treatment at all in the spring – deeming that our oxalic acid treatment in mid-winter (December last year) was enough. It is worth noting that for the last 2 years we have cut our varroa treatments down to only one in the autumn and even this has only been partly carried out this year. Regular hive-cleaning plus the mid-winter oxalic acid dose is the only treatment we need to use now so this is great progress against the
debilitating effect of varroa destructor!
What else? There are certainly lots of wasps about and the weaker colonies are having their work cut out fending them off. For this reason it is essential that entrance blocks are reduced to a minimum to help the bees fight them off. It won’t be long before they are gone now however. Next weekend we start our marathon honey extraction programme – we seem to have a long order book full of potential buyers already so we don’t anticipate any problems off-loading our honey this year. With costs mounting (we’ll probably spend in the region of £100 on sugar – 20 colonies - this autumn) it is quite important for most of us to recoup some cash back.
We have turned our attention to feeding now because we only have a narrow window of opportunity. Most varroa treatments tend to be less effective if given at the same time as you are feeding syrup but if it is deemed essential that the bees need to build up their stores in time for the winter then this should be the priority. Remember, however, that the bees cannot take the higher water content in syrup so feeding 2:1 syrup as recommended must stop by the end of September. Preparations need to be made then for settling the colonies down for the winter. In our harsher northern climate we find it vital to give the bees a little extra protection and use wbc-style lifts to surround our nationals where they are in full view. For those hives we have tucked away we tend to use anything at hand but as long as they have some barrier against the fierce winds we get up here and insulation against the rain and cold then they usually seem able to survive. In addition to the syrup we feed to them we also try to give them frames of honey and a Jobs in the Apiary for September supplement of candy which we place under a plastic tray on the crown board. It’s worth remembering however, that when the bees go in to their tight winter cluster they will often ignore food which is not immediately above or near the cluster so it’s always worth trying to identify exactly where they are inside the hive and
ensure the food is placed accordingly.
The final problem to deal with are the mice. We had an amusing incident last year at our River Bank apiary then a family of mice secreted their way in to the hive roof before we’d had a chance to get the mouse guards on. We dealt with it by laying traps but not before they had wreaked havoc with the polystyrene insulation which we’d packed round the outside of the hive. Mouse guards are definitely a must certainly by the end of October especially if your hives are in a remote area. The only other decision to be made is the size of colonies going in to winter. Generally speaking the stronger and larger the colony going in to October the more likely it will be that it will survive. However, we have identified 3 or 4 colonies which are nuc-sized (i.e. on about 5 frames) which we feel will be OK to over-winter and thus be available for new beekeepers in our small relatively new association to make an early start in the spring. The crucial element which will help these smaller colonies through is to bring them inside and we have a small brick shed which will be ideal for this purpose. The new polynucs which were purchased earlier this year will also provide ideal extra insulation. If you don’t have this facility or you don’t require small colonies for use next spring you should consider uniting them as they will definitely have a better chance of getting through the winter.
We can all now spend the rest of the winter preparing for the spring – lots of thinking to do and piles
Roger & Len