As summer draws to a close and autumn begins to make an appearance, beekeeper Andy Bailey reflects on the activities of our bees over the past month, whilst making preparations for a successful winter:
A calmer hive
The beekeeping year is now moving into winter preparation mode and the apiary has a slightly less urgent feel about it. All honey that has been extracted from the hives has been spun off and the empty supers have been returned to the bees for them to reclaim any residue honey and clean out. Swarming is now over and the queens’ rate of lay will reduce, allowing each hive to fill as much space as possible with stores for the winter ahead.
Strength in numbers
Rather than trying to take all the colonies through winter and running the risk of losing the weaker ones, I decided to unite several of the hives and nucleus colonies together. Some of these hives were queenless and some were too small to get through the colder months, but by combining them I have been able to create four strong colonies with four good queens.
I have already started to treat the bees for varroa mite and as soon as the second treatment is complete I will be focusing on feeding the bees as much as possible. The objective is to get the bees in the best possible condition for winter, with as much in the way of stores on board each hive as possible to help them through the winter months. So, from now, my time with the bees will gradually reduce as there will be less need to check each hive throughout September, other than to top up any feed when necessary.
Food for thought
Feeding the bees is quite a simple matter. I normally use baker’s fondant, which the bees take into their hive via a feed hole on the crown board, an additional covering which is placed directly under the main roof and provides a working space for bees. The bees will fill every spare cell with fondant and when, or if, they have used up the fondant, I simply provide another block.
Making the most of wild flowers
Each hive needs approximately 40lbs of stores to get through the winter. At the moment there is still a small amount of forage available for them, such as Himalayan balsam and, during September, the ivy wall flower, which is the last forage plant of the season. The bees will continue to work the wildflowers for as long as possible until there is nothing left for them to use, turning whatever they can into honey for the winter.
I am confident that thanks to the preparations we’ve made, all will go well over the winter period and with a little bit of luck I should get all the hives through the winter ready to start the entire process again by the spring.
Until next time.