I was reading an article about wintering bees and the author said any fool could winter bees, whatever the winter and however poor the beekeeper. And he has a point. The reason being that in order to successfully winter bees you just have to leave them alone. Leave them alone – they know more about it than you do. Well he might be right but if you keep an eye on your bees there are things to be done to prevent the losses we saw in the winter of 2012/13.
Once they are fed, dosed and tied down, all that remains is to visit once in a while to make sure they haven’t been tumbled by cattle or the weather. Now that MAQs strips have been made legal here we may never have to open bees midwinter ever again. We really may be able to Leave them Alone.
All that said, we do need to keep an eye on the stores. Go round and heft the hive and if they are feeling a bit on the light side, place a block of fondant over the feed hole and cover with clingfilm or a plastic box to prevent it from drying out.
In February, despite the weather, the bees will be aware of the lengthening days and will be starting their long spring build up. There should be a little brood in the nest and you might like to consider aiding the build-up by adding a pollen supplement. Neopoll is a fortified, fondant feed containing pollen – it looks like marzipan and costs about a fiver for a 1kg pack so it’s not cheap but if you add it now or perhaps a bit later in February and the spring turns into one like last year’s endless one you could save your stocks from starvation.
I should clarify – a pollen supplement is the addition of extra pollen, like Neopoll for instance, whereas a pollen substitute is something proteinacious like soya flour and malt extract. Not to be sneered at! Last spring when I couldn’t get Neopoll for love or money I bought soya flour and malt extract from the local health food shop and mixed up a substitute. It saved several colonies of bees which would have died otherwise. Click here for recipe.
If like me you haven’t finished cleaning your gear from last year – get on with it, before you know it you’ll be up to your oxters in queencells. Don’t forget your smoker. Smokers get all choked up with tar and dottle so dismantle it and give it a good going over. Alternatively – get out your blowtorch and set fire to it but mind you don’t torch the bellows. And don’t let it get too hot – I once heard of someone who melted his rivets.
Check the bellows for wear and tear, holes can often be repaired with a bit of common sense and some duct tape. Failing that, new sets of bellows are sometimes available from the suppliers.
If you are going to treat yourself to a new smoker – get one that’s fitted with a grille around the firebox so you can clamp it between your knees without setting fire to your beesuit. Grilles sometimes come with a handy hook so you can hang the smoker off the hive stand. Make sure it’s a model that will allow you to replace the bellows.
You will of course have worked out your strategy for the coming year especially regarding swarm control and queen rearing. Read, read, read. For swarm control I recommend L.E.Snelgrove’s Swarming – Its Control and Prevention. Click here for more on winter reading.
For queen rearing look up Cloake Board Method – good list of day-by-day instructions on Dave Cushman’s website. Every beekeeper should try and selectively rear a few queens – what a luxury is a laying queen mid-season! Plan now, set it up, get a couple of Apideas and the season will be a doddle.
If that’s all old hat to you – read this book: ‘Breeding Techniques and Selection for Breeding of the Honeybee’ by Friedrich Ruttner. Click here for review.
Examine your beesuit with care especially round the seams and over the veil – a stitch in time saves nine and perhaps a quantity of dignity. I know for a fact that there’s a seam I need to attend to soon or I’m going to be leaping about with bees in my bonnet later. When bees find a hole in a beesuit, they’ll all follow each other through in single file then you get that horrible feeling that you are not alone…
Don’t forget to check you have the correct queen marking pen for this year – Green for 2014. The easiest way to remember is ‘Will You Rear Good Bees’ – White, Yellow, Red, Green and Blue starting with white on years 1 and 6.
Consider your hive tool. Do you like it? Would you like to try a different type? If you only have one you might need a spare?
Prepare your order for frames etc. This used to drive me mad but now I have a spreadsheet to help me. I type in what I’ve got then I type in what I want and it tells me exactly what I need in terms of individual frame parts, wax, boxes – the lot.
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