THIS MONTH IN THE APIARY
By Bob Macgregor
Old Park and the Year’s Work
Although the “year” wouldn’t be considered as starting in December, if your bees have been fed and have adequate stores for the winter and early spring, there is little to do in October and November except to occasionally check the hives for wildlife damage, that mouse guards, (if fitted), are not blocked, (if so remove the dead bees, or poke them back into the floor with a small stick), and that roofs have not been dislodged by high winds, (a brick or large stone placed on the roof can help in exposed positions).
January – it is only necessary to check the hive(s) for displaced roofs, damage and blocked entrances. Little else to do except plan for what you intend to do later in the year. Starters may be concerned about the likelihood of swarms, how to prevent them, (impossible, but you can try to limit the possibility), and what to do at the first sign of queen cells. Get a good book and read up on it. Buy only what you think you might need, or make a list of where and who you might be able to temporarily borrow equipment from. A few “useful” telephone numbers in your mobile ‘phone can avoid panic reactions.
If it is necessary to move your colonies to a new or different site, then a suitable cold, dry day should be taken advantage of, remembering that the hive is still likely to be rather heavy, especially if wintered in a brood and a half arrangement, so two persons and a hive lifter are a better idea than trying to do it on your own.
February – if the weather is kind there may be early signs of pollen availability by way of crocus, snowdrops, willow and hazel, and if the temperature gets above 12 degrees the bees may start to venture further seeking this out. Queens should be starting to lay, but now is not the time to be opening up your hives. The end of March is usually the earliest likely date for this, when the temperature occasionally may reach 15 degrees.
If any available pollen is being gathered then the likelihood is that all is well. At the end of the month, if no further or immediate cold spell is forecast, it may be helpful to the bees to remove any mouseguards.
March - when considering the first inspection remember the saying of not opening the hive before the red current starts to flower, (and on the day of inspection that the temperature is around 15 degrees). If there has been pollen collected in February mouseguards should have been removed.
Any inspections should be carried out reasonably quickly, assessing stores, checking the levels of brood, and looking for any signs of disease either on the bees or brood frames. Staining on the frames or the outside of the hive can be a sign of nosema and a likely weakened colony. Any dead colonies should be closed off and the reason for failure assessed, (it does happen). Queenless colonies also have to be dealt with and where the colony has not yet reached the stage of "laying workers" might be united.
This is also the time to consider carrying out a comb change on colonies which have been on the same brood foundation for two years. Preparing the necessary equipment, and a bit of thought beforehand is preferable to rushing into such action on the first warm day of the season. Usually this is not undertaken in this area until the first flowering of the many fields of rape seed.
If you haven't already marked you queens, then now is an opportunity to do so before the colony really expands.
April - much is dependent on the weather, both current and forecast. Given anything like a "normal" spring, bees should be flying, queens laying well, and some drones being produced. Drone culling is practised by the writer on each colony for the first batch of sealed drone cells, (using a shallow frame in the brood box), but this is a personal choice.
Old comb in the broodbox should be replaced, by any of the methods advised including, Bailey comb change, shook swarm or partial annual replacement. Strong colonies should already have at least one super if close to an area of rape seed, and more if a sustained period of good weather is forecast. Less strong colonies may be helped by "spreading the brood" (not literally though!) which needs to be read up on.
Towards the end of the month the possibility of swarming may arise and what you may wish to do with such colonies should be considered before this occurs and not on the day. Artificial swarming, nucleus make ups, Demaree method, etc, are all better than just letting it happen, and re-reading such methods and having the necessary spare equipment available will avoid panic reactions.
May - Weekly inspections should have started by the middle of April if the weather is benign with the colony building up quickly in such conditions. If only on three or four frames, then it can be considered "weak" and reasons for this assessed. Where the queen is not thought to be the source of the problem, such colonies can be united or given an extra frame of sealed brood from elsewhere if there are sufficient bees available to maintain the brood nest, (and a further frame two weeks later), .
If varroa is thought to be a problem, a seven day treatment using MAQS strips is possible at this time of year, although the colony should have at least four frames of brood to limit the possibility of it absconding, (bees in the writer's experience do not "like" MAQS strips - at any time of year!).
Strong colonies are likely to be considering swarming and if already holding quantities of drones and queen cups, subsequent inspections should be focusing on this and the likelihood of queen cells, (usually, but far from always, around the bottom bars or "opened" areas of foundation). Your plans of what to do in such situations should have already been formulated and the equipment needed, be to hand (spare brood box/frames for Demaree, nucleus boxes, spare hives for artificial swarming etc).
Additional room for the colony in areas of rapeseed by way of further supers may be necessary and have been prepared. The weather and available forage will determine how well your bees are doing and a prolonged spell of cold or wet weather may require you to help sustain and build up the colony by feeding - unlikely but still possible in exceptional conditions.
June - What used to be known as "the June gap" when bees were supposedly short of forage seems to be thing of the past and most colonies should have sufficient stores for any prolonged period when collection is not possible. Rape seed flowering should be coming to an end and full supers of capped honey should be removed and extracted before it can granulate.
Most colonies will attempt swarming preparation and for those who do not wish to increase their numbers, the Demaree method uses less equipment, (one brood box), and gives the opportunity to remove old comb. For those wishing to increase numbers, then artificially swarming the colony, or taking nuclei from colonies with good traits becomes possible. Missing one queen cell during an inspection, (usually in your best colony), leads to great disappointment the following week when you become aware that it has swarmed, so careful inspection, and appropriate action is needed at this time of year.
Good weather and plentiful forage can catch you unaware as to the need for additional supers and taking one or two with you to your apiary at the time of inspection can save a panic revisiting. Usually at this time of year your bees will perform an action which you have never read of, heard of, or seen before, so don't be afraid to ask a more experienced beekeeper for advice - he or she may even not have seen "it" either!
July - By now, if your bees haven't swarmed, you should be on a second super, and even those which have swarmed may be building up sufficiently to be needing more space, particularly if the weather and forage are favourable.
Varroa may be building up and treatments for August may need purchasing, remembering that Apiguard needs four weeks to be effective, and will taint any honey which has not been removed prior to treatment. MAQS reputedly does not taint the honey requiring only seven days of a single application and may thus allow removal of the supers at a later date, a consideration if there is likely to be a good flow in August.
Those considering taking their bees to the heather need to evaluate which colonies are suitably strong, (at least eight frames with brood), with preparation of unwired supers, or racks. Weekly checks for late swarming and any signs of disease are still essential although most thoughts of swarming should be at an end by the end of July.
August - For most beekeepers this is approaching the end of the season, with supers being removed from the middle of the month if you are intending using Apiguard/Api-life Var, or perhaps later if using MAQs. With the former the inspection board needs to be inserted in the floor slot to be effective; with the latter it is essential to NOT have the inspection board inserted, (also to have a reasonable sized colony with at least five/six frames of brood when using MAQs).
Preparations can be made for, (post varroa treatment), feeding to bring stores up to an adequate level to see the bees through the winter. 18-20 Kg or 35-40lbs is the usual recommended level of stores, but recent winters have seen an excess of stores in the spring so perhaps a little less may be "adequate" these days, although a reserve of candy or bakers fondant may also be advisable should we have a surprisingly hard/long winter. The writer tends to winter colonies on a box and a half, with the bees initially being fed on a normal brood box and super. Towards the end of September, the colony is given a clean floor, the super placed on this, and the brood box on top with no queen excluder. This also makes treating with ApiBioxal at the end of the year a bit easier as the bees will, by that time, usually be in the top box and can be treated quickly and easily. In the spring, the queen can usually be found in the top box, and the process reversed on, again, a clean floor.
Those who have taken bees to the heather will be bringing them back in early September and if treating for varroa may need to use MAQs to give time for feeding, or have frames of sealed honey which they can give to the bees to raise levels of stores and prevent starvation.
September - For those who have left taking off their supers until early September, varroa treatment using MAQs is probably a better option than using the four week treatments like Apiguard or API-Life Var, as by the time these are concluded their is little time for feeding. However colonies treated with MAQs should have at least five frames of brood at the time of application to prevent possible absconding. For those having to feed later in the month proprietary pre-prepared syrups take less time for the bees to store than home made syrups, (!Kg to 630ml of water - preferably warm water if you are dissolve at this ratio). Feed regularly until the bees decide they have had enough, (and the hive feels heavy enough). The writer prefers to winter on a brood box and super, so if doing this, post feeding, provide the colony with a clean floor, place the super on this, remove the queen excluder and place the brood box on top finishing with the coverboard and roof. The weight of the super and brood box should indicate whether the colony has sufficient in the way of stores, (your back will be telling you after lifting two or three colonies!), and if at all in doubt purchase a small supply of fondant for possible emergency feeding in the early months of the year (check the Online Store early in the new year for availability of fondant). Bees set up this way are quickly treatable with oxalic acid in late December as by that time they will normally be in the brood box, which is then on top. Consider fitting mouse guards to the clean floor before swapping boxes around as this is easier than trying to fit on later.
October - Colonies should by now be fully fed as the drop in temperature will limit their ability to take down and seal syrup, particularly home made syrups which usually need an amount of evaporation. If the colony now feels heavy enough, and most frames are fully sealed, bees can be given direct access to the feeders by removing the "cup" in rapid and English feeders and the bees will clean off any remaining syrup from a stand which might not have been quite level.
The writer winters his bees on a brood box and a super. A clean floor is placed adjacent to the colony, the super placed on the floor, excluder removed, brood box placed on top, cover board and roof replaced and bees wished a thank you for the year.
Mouseguards may be fixed if thought necessary, (to the clean floor before starting is best), although an occasional visit will then be needed to clear out dead bees which the colony has unsuccessfully tried to eject through the mouseguard.
Time to think of what you may need for next year, make a list, and arrange a trip with some of your fellow beekeepers to the nearest sale when this comes around.
November and December - although there might be little to actually "do" with your colonies other than occasionally checking for wind damage/movement and clearing any dead bees from entrances where mouseguards have been fitted, it is an opportunity to clean and service equipment and boxes. Drawn stored brood frames can be sprayed with "Certan" to prevent wax moth damage. Old or damaged comb can be placed in a steamer, (if you haven't one your association may be able to lend you one), and the wax collected for trading back for foundation. Frames can be boiled in a solution of washing soda after removing bottom bars and wedges, grooves cleaned with an old dish-washing brush and all allowed to dry outside. Re-assembling should be left until the spring when foundation is new and still has a fresh aroma. Wired queen excluders can be scraped and lightly flamed under a blow torch to remove the remaining wax and propolis. Plastic excluders can also be scraped and placed in a "bath" of hot water and washing soda which should remove most of the remaining wax and propolis. Empty brood boxes and supers can be scraped of adhering wax, propolis, crushed bees etc and lightly flamed in preparation for the following season. Spare timber mesh floors should be similarly treated. Polystyrene boxes and floors may need to be scrubbed gently with a strong solution of washing soda and hot water, (wear rubber gloves when doing this), and the meeting edges lightly smeared with a petroleum jelly. All of these can be quite happily stored outside, raised off the ground on bricks or blocks, providing no access at either the top or bottom, (coverboards are fine if the feed holes are covered by mesh), and topped off by a roof and several bricks.