Category Archives: Things to do in January

Bee Basics – Apiary Site

For anybody thinking about getting bees, an important consideration is – where to put them?

There is no perfect site for bees but there are points to consider – some affect the summering and some affect the wintering. It’s all swings and roundabouts (or snakes and ladders) with bees. Continue reading Bee Basics – Apiary Site

Winter Feeding of Bees

This autumn was a good one for the bees and they seem to have brought in plenty of ivy honey and the hives are very heavy now – at the end of December 2013.

However this is not always the case and December and January are months when the beekeeper needs to keep an eye on the winter stores. It is not possible to feed bees with syrup in the winter because they are simply unable to ripen it so instead if the hives seem light and the bees are clustered close to the top of the frames it will do no harm to put a lump of fondant over the feed hole in the crown board and cover it with a sheet of plastic to stop it from going hard.

If they seem on the edge of extinction, fondant should be placed directly onto the bees. You need to use your imagination and/or ingenuity here if the bees are not directly beneath a feed hole. It may be possible to turn the crownboard so that they are, or fondant can be flattened to a patty which can be placed under the crownboard.

Alternative place an eke on the brood box, then a cake of fondant covered in plastic is placed directly on the bees and the eke is filled up with old jumpers, blankets or sacking and the crownboard is put onto the eke.

Swienty are now selling 15kg blocks of Apifondant which can be set directly over the bees inside an eke as described above. Click here for details of those things

In February you might like to consider giving the bees a pollen supplement such as Neopoll which will give them an early boost. This is especially useful if you are considering taking bees to the oilseed rape as it should prompt the colony into early build-up. Click here for details of Neopoll from Swienty.

You can feed a light 1:1 (1kg:1litre or 1lb:1pint) sugar syrup from St.Patrick’s day onwards using a contact feeder. If you are using a specially prepared beefeed such as Ambrosia you could water this down with a little water for spring feeding.

Click here for how to prepare Wintering Bees

Click here for Michaelmas, bees and wintering

Click here for Which Feeder

Click here for how to feed a wintering apidea

Click here for mid-winter feeding of bees

Click here for mid-winter oxalic acid Varroa treatment

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Bee on Snowdrops

Early spring bulbs are beginning to show in sheltered places. The first flower for the bees is usually the snowdrop. There are many species but the native in these parts is Gallanthus nivalis – coming into bloom perhaps as early as December but more commonly from January through to March. While not an important crop, the bees will visit snowdrops any mild or sunny day for a little nectar and of course pollen which is good for the bees but also cheering for the beekeeper to watch. Pollen loads are orange.

Copyright ©, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Easy Beeswax Handcream Recipe

This is a really simple and nourishing handcream recipe – in fact you could probably eat it.

If you’re not planning to eat it you could add fragrance but it’s lovely as it is. Just apply sparingly as possible and try and keep it off your palms because it doesn’t contain those chemicals that make it vanish into your skin.

If you do get greasy palms – rub it on your head. Your hair will be glossy as a colt’s back and even on a very windy day – it’ll hold it all down nicely.

Weigh everything including the water.


  • 50g spotlessly clean beeswax
  • 200g jojoba oil
  • 200g almond oil
  • 200g soft water
  • 10 g borax


  • This will make 9 x 50ml pots so get them ready first;
  • Measure oils into a pyrex bowl;
  • Break up beeswax and add to oils;
  • Set pyrex bowl in pan of hot water and set on low heat to melt wax;
  • When beeswax is melted put water and borax into a jar, mix then warm this mixture so it is the same temperature as the oil etc;
  • Pour oil/beeswax mixture and boraxed water both together at the same time into a bowl and stir;
  • A creamy mixture will form and you need to get it into pots before it sets and it will set quite quickly.

Click here for how to render beeswax

Click here for simple beeswax wraps

Click here for beeswax facts

Click here for beeswax lipbalm recipe

Click here for beeswax furniture polish recipe

Click here for beeswax soap recipe

Click here for beeswax candlemaking

Click here for emergency home  dental repairs with beeswax

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Book Review: ‘Breeding Techniques and Selection for Breeding of the Honeybee’ by Friedrich Ruttner

This is a book for the winter; it is a slim volume – a mere 150 pages – but like a nutritious meal with plenty of fibre it requires time, concentration and a lot of chewing. When you read a book like this you realise just how little you know about bees – it really is packed with information.

He begins with queen rearing. Every aspect of queen rearing, from the selection of a queen rearing method, selection of starter and rearer colonies, queenright versus queenless, selection of eggs and larvae or queens and drones, even selection of the right bees for mini-nucs all is gone over with meticulous attention to detail, logical consideration and backed up with scientific study.

Detailed information on the mechanics of the various queen rearing manipulations is also supplied.

After pointing out the difference between queen rearing and bee breeding he moves on to consider which bee to breed from and points out that only breeding within a pure species will result in traits which are heritable. Good qualities often found in hybrids are not passed on reliably to the next generation so: “The starting point in breeding must therefore be the race, that is to say, a combination of genetic qualities sieved and tested by Nature herself.”

There is variability within each race, the performance of colonies can be evaluated and stocks either included or excluded from the breeding program depending on their characteristics. He gives six factors to be evaluated –

  • Honey production;
  • Spring build up;
  • Urge to draw foundation;
  • Absence of signs of inbreeding – gappy brood;
  • Gentleness;
  • Steadiness on the comb.

The identification of the chosen species is vital of course and much information is given on the methods such as observable characteristics such as colour, size and hairiness and less obvious features which can only be detected by more scientific methods such as wing morphometry.

I’m not going to go into wing morphometry here except to say that it is the study and and measurement of the veins and panels in the wings of the honeybee. From a distance this can look like a bottle of smoke until when you realise that these measurements are calibrated against those of preserved museum samples of bees from as far back as the Vikings – long before the importation of bees was thought of.

A chapter on bee genetics is never going to read like a bodice ripper but there should be a better way of getting this message across. Simply put – inbreeding is to be avoided or you’re going to get sluggish bees with gappy brood that don’t build up, can’t be bothered to go out to work and don’t overwinter with thrift or efficiency. Ring any bells?

This book is no walk in the park, nothing containing this level and amount of detailed information could be, but it is a vital reference-section occupant for the beekeeper’s bookshelf and for anyone serious about conserving their native bee it is essential reading – however difficult.

Good luck!

Copyright ©, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Do Bees need Insulation?

Personally I don’t think there is any need to insulate the roof spaces even if you are using mesh floors. And even if it turns colder.

I only did it one year – my first year with bees – I cut up one of those tin-foil survival blankets and put a piece over the crown board of each hive; it did no harm anyway. Since then we’ve had two very severe winters with temperatures below minus 12 degrees C at night for several weeks at a stretch and I lost hardly any bees. Bees are well able to thermoregulate so long as they have the stores – with or without mesh floors. Keep an eye on them and heft regularly. Try not to disturb them but if they seem to be close to the top of their stores put a cake of fondant over them.

If you make your own equipment it is possible to construct a hive stand which provides the hives with a 10cm deep ‘skirt’ which will prevent a lot of drafts.

Copyright ©, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Weather Warming Warning

The bees were very active over the weekend in the unseasonably mild weather. It is nice to see them so busy on the Mahonia and the late ivy, which is still in bloom here, but it is possible that it could scupper our hopes of a successful midwinter mite-cull. The bees will be bringing in nectar and little packets of fresh pollen which could get the queen laying. Should this occur then sealed midwinter brood would act as a refuge for Varroa and when we come along with our oxalic acid in a couple of weeks time they will be safely tucked away and the effects of the treatment will be minimal. Continue reading Weather Warming Warning

Honey Marmalade Recipe

Mid-winter is the time to be thinking of marmalade.

If nothing else it’ll take your mind off that other old rubbish that happens towards the end of December.

Seville Oranges
Organic Seville Oranges

Seville oranges are in season from December to February so you’ve plenty of time to be thinking about it. If you have some indifferent honey you’d like to use up, here’s a good target – oranges and honey together develop a superb depth of flavour.

Click here for more on cooking with honey and honey in preserves

Continue reading Honey Marmalade Recipe