As the country enters a new period of lockdown, which will hopefully help us all to stay safe until nationwide vaccines are successfully administered, we hear again from our resident beekeeper, Andy Bailey. Regrettably, Andy and his wife both contracted Covid-19 over the Christmas period and were in isolation until January 4. We are pleased to learn of their progressive recovery and send them our very best wishes.

Despite facing health challenges, Andy has still taken the time to post his latest diary entry from the Rough Close Works’ hives…sharing news on nature, to help inspire us all.

His hive updates have generated an increasing fan base over recent months and we’re always grateful to him for his fascinating and uplifting reports.

Down at the hives…all is calm

December is always a quiet time for beekeeping and this year has been no exception. The bees, as I have mentioned before, do not hibernate as some believe, but rather cluster around the queen on cold days.

To ensure the bees survive the winter and enter spring in the best possible health, two things need to be done: First, a beekeeper needs to ensure that there are sufficient food stores on board so the bees do not starve over the winter months, and second, checks must be made to make sure that varroa mite levels are as low as can be.

A winter visit

Fortunately I was able to visit the hives on December the 10th, some days before I contracted Covid. This gave me the opportunity to ensure the bees had everything they needed to secure their best health chances for Christmas and the New Year.

Interestingly, winter bees are genetically different to the more typical ‘foraging bees’ we see in spring and summer. They do not need to fly for forage and they carry a gene that keeps them “forever young”. To all intents and purposes they are juvenile bees. They cluster around the queen on cold days and when it’s warm enough, they move around the hive eating up their stores. They also fly out of the hive to clean themselves and deposit any dead bees.

Stock check/ health check

It is vital to ensure that sufficient food stores are available to the bees throughout the winter; although in the past, I have still had experience of colonies dying out through starvation despite ample food being available. Starvation can occur because sometimes the bees just don’t move around the hive, which increases fatalities even if they’re just inches away from a food supply. 

The varroa issue is a keeper’s other key concern at this time of year. When bee colonies are effectively at their weakest, varroa mite can prove devastating. To mitigate the potential for problems, I treated all the bees at Rough Close Works with oxalic acid during my December visit. A naturally occurring, organic substance, Oxalic acid occurs within plants such as rhubarb leaves and is a great tool for beekeepers in combating varroa. 

At present, there will be little or no brood within the hives, so I’ve treated each seam of bees with a 5ml solution of ‘directly dribbled’ oxalic acid to kill off any varroa. Doing this in a broodless period is important, as oxalic acid would kill any open brood present within the colony. Secondly, any sealed brood could well have varroa on it and would be protected from the oxalic acid.


Longer days deliver new eggs

Now we have passed the winter solstice, the queen will start to lay a few eggs most days; with laying numbers increasing as the days stretch out before us. In normal circumstances I would have visited the site again at the end of the month to check food levels in the colonies, however I will have to postpone my trip until the 4th of January when my isolation period comes to an end. I’m sure however that all “should” be well. 

I wish you all the very best for 2021 and with luck the vaccine will change things for the better in the year ahead.

Until next time, keep safe.