Getting the bees ready for winter

The season is long here in a sheltered pocket near the south coast, much longer than in other parts of the country. Our bees are still putting honey away, the heather is still in flower, although it emerged rather early this year, and the ivy and other late season plants are yet to open. It will be quite a few weeks before our bees are ready for winter, but this week Dad and I began some preparations.

Two small feeders to help the colony put some stores away for the winter

First, we examined a colony we started earlier in the year to replace a terminal hive in which several queens were rejected. This was quite small to being with, but has made great progress in recent weeks, building up to a reasonable size to go through the winter, and with quite a lot of brood still being maintained. Whilst the colony is now a good size, they have not managed to put much stores away, so will need feeding. Ordinarily, we try to build up enough honey reserves so as to avoid feeding as much as possible, believing that it is better to allow the bees to keep their natural feed than to take all of the honey crop and replace it with sugar syrup and fondant. Obviously, though, we do feed when there is a danger that a colony might starve, so we put a couple of feeders on with sugar syrup, whilst they are still in a position to process it. When they have effectively stopped for the winter, we will put on a slab of fondant instead.

The second task was to place a clearer board between the next colony and the supers. This was barely necessary, as we have absolutely no honey in these, and there were just a few bees pulling out some comb. Next week we will remove the supers and add some feed to this hive also. They have filled quite a few of the brood frames with solid honey, which we will leave for them, but it looks like they will need some supplementary feeding.

We then rearranged the supers on the long deep hive. This hive is the only one to give us any crop this year. The long design hive supports two supers side by side, and we had them stacked two high, giving 40 frames in total. As only some of these were being worked on, we rearranged the frames with honey in them and removed two of the supers. As well as packing out quite a number of deep brood frames with honey, we have already harvested 10 frames, which we will extract later, once the entire crop has been taken. It looks as though we might get another 8 to 10 frames full, if they do not move the stores down. This colony maintained a huge brood area, and as it shrinks in readiness for the winter, space for stores becomes available, and they are quite likely to move honey from the supers to the brood area. We have enough for our own use, so this is not a problem for us.

Bees finishing a few super frames in the long deep hive
Bees finishing a few super frames in the long deep hive

Although rather later in the year, Dad was recently offered two untried artificially inseminated gold bees from the same person that supplied the virgin queen for the long deep hive. As we would quite like to breed some of our own queens next year, we could benefit from some good stock to start with. Dad had already prepared an apidea – a very small hive usually used for raising new queens – with some bees from home. We put one of the queens in the apidea, and will leave it here for a few weeks – if he took it back home, most of the bees would fly back to their previous hive. For the second queen, Dad had assembled a new nucleus hive, which we populated by taking some bees from the long deep hive. These were carefully shaken from a couple of frames – well, as carefully as one can shake bees off the comb – and sprayed with a little sugar syrup to keep them occupied. The new bees were placed in the hive with five empty frames, although with drawn comb. Dad took this one with him so the bees would not just go back to the long deep hive, and put the queen in at home.

These new colonies will need to be well looked after to have any chance of surviving the winter, but with a bit of luck we will have some good stock from which to breed new queens next year, along with several colonies in a good position to produce some honey. Dad has fitted out his shed so that he can keep small colonies warm, so they have a good chance of surviving if the queens are accepted and if they turn out to be viable.

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