When our resident beekeeper Andy Bailey shared his latest autumnal report of activity from the Rough Close Works beehives, the country was one day away from its second national Covid-19 lockdown. Fortunately, the latest restrictions will not affect his movements in terms of visiting the bees for the foreseeable future. So, here’s Andy’s overview of how life has been down at the hives…

Winter is coming

As we have done everything we can to ensure the bees are prepared for the winter months, there is little to do for them at the moment, other than visit the hives to perform the occasional check.

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Preparation pays

It’s safe to say that as a result of the preparations made earlier in the summer, the bees are entering the winter months in the best position possible. I have united weaker colonies with stronger ones, treated for varroa, and fed the bees to replace the honey we removed. Now it’s a case of placing mouse guards across the entrance to the hives and checking the food levels once a month.

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Mouse defence

Not every beekeeper uses mouse guards, but I don’t like to take chances. Contrary to popular belief, honeybees do not hibernate in the winter months. On cold days they form a cluster around the queen and move around the hive eating their winter food supplies. The queen will have stopped laying, or will only lay a few eggs, until the weather starts to warm up again. On warmer, dry and sunny days the bees will go on cleansing flights, as they like to keep the hive scrupulously clean.

On the days when the bees are in cluster the colony is vulnerable with no guard bees on duty at the hive entrance. Mice looking for a warm place to hunker down for the winter can find that beehives fit the bill quite nicely. There is an ample supply of food, it’s dry and the bees keep the hive warm. Whilst in the hive they will defecate and urinate, ruining the honeycomb inside. The mouse will ultimately pay the price, as the bees will eventually attack it and the lax beekeeper may well find a mummified mouse and ruined comb during the first spring inspection!

An ideal solution

So, to prevent rodent intruders from crossing the hive threshold in the first instance, it’s wise to fit mouse guards at the entrance. These consist of a strip of metal the length of the hive entry point with a number of holes of around 3.5mm in diameter. The guard allows the bees to come and go as they need, keeps the air supply flowing, but stops any unwanted intruders from sneaking in.

With the mouse guards fitted and each colony treated and fed, all we can do is wait until the spring to see if we manage to pull all four colonies though the winter months.

Let us hope that like the bees, we all make it through the winter unscathed and safe. I read something yesterday that struck a chord with me. “We isolate now, so when we gather again no one is missing.”

Until next time, keep safe.
Andy