Amanda holds regular Beekeeping Training Courses at Mantel Farm and contributes regularly to our newsletters. Amanda is a professional ecologist who has been keeping up to 25 colonies of bees for about fifteen years. She has attained BBKA theory modules 1-7 with credits & distinctions and has also won prizes at the National Honey Show for honey & other products.
Preparing For Spring
Only a month to go before beekeeping starts again; time to make sure all our equipment is clean, there are some supers and frames ready to put on and some brood boxes and frames ready for the shook swarms and frame replacement which I always have to do on a few in the spring. You can leave putting the foundation in until the beginning of March to keep it fresh and fragrant. It will also be worth putting the insert in for a week at some point to see if they need a quick varroa treatment in March before the supers go on. Keep hefting the hives; the queens will be laying more now and the store’s consumption will go up. If necessary use fondant until March when it will be warm enough for syrup, but don’t overfeed or they will just move it all into your new supers as the brood area expands.
On bright days check that all the colonies are flying, if not then you should investigate and bring indoors for cleaning if dead. One of mine which had the worst varroa bomb from elsewhere, in November died at the end of December. In spite of dusting throughout November and December and getting the mites down to single figures the virus damage was done and there were dead brood, nibbled cappings and dysentery. I may have to consider a quicker treatment such as MAQS next year instead of the slower, labour intensive but gentler icing sugar. The rest are all active and even my apidea on two storeys seems very vigorous. Apidea are normally untreatable, but last autumn I removed the polystyrene floor and sat them on some open mesh floor with a block at the back. (See picture)
This meant I was able to dust them and remove varroa, also they had some ventilation. In some winters they have become damp inside in warm humid winters and died.
So this month is a rush for me, getting the last of my recycled frames boiled, getting the garden weeded (weather permitting) ready for all the bee flowers I will want to plant, preparing for bee courses and bat care courses starting in Feb, that I hardly have time to stop and admire my snowdrops and crocus, some violets, celandines and hellebores all waiting for a bit of decent weather for the bees to be all over them. The Viburnham tinus and V. bodnantense still have white and pink flowers on respectively. I have seen a lot of bees out gathering water to dilute their stores, rummaging deep in the grass after rain. (See picture)
News and Research
This has been a bit mixed this month. In early January a quarter of honey sampled in the UK still showed neonic contamination after a two year partial ban of these persistent chemicals. The residues were correlated with the area of oil seed rape grown nearby. This was down from half of honeys contaminated a year or two ago. However, 88% of rivers have been found to be contaminated by neonics, this is bad for freshwater life and all that depends upon it. It will continue to wash from contaminated farmland for years to come. Other research shows that neonics and poor nutrition act synergistically to kill 50% more bees than expected from the individual effects. Pesticides reduce their blood sugar levels. There is still a chance that neonics will be banned when the EU finally gets round to voting, supposed to be end of January but I have not heard anything yet. However, I think the ban we had did not include cereal crops so it will still be in the soil.
Gove is promising that the current unfair land and farming subsidies will be replaced with rewards for supporting the environment (but may not be in time to save our farmland birds which are still declining fast). May is talking about reducing plastics. I am fed up with words and want to see action!
Apivar is now available to buy in the UK. For those unaware, Apivar has long been used in the US and France but not allowed in the UK. The active ingredient is an organophosphate, for goodness sake! There have been a number of human deaths from inhalation, skin contact and oral intake as low as 0.3g can kill us. It should not be used as a flea treatment on cats because of its toxicity. There appears to be a very high correlation between DMPF (dimethylphenyl formamide a breakdown product) and nosema levels, also treatment with Amitraz frequently led to supersedure of queens in one study, possibly because up to half the queen’s sperm becomes unviable.
There are also reports of varroa developing resistance in as little as three seasons in some places. It’s residues and derivatives have been found in wax, pollen and bees, but apparently Amitraz does not survive long in honey – all well and good for US commercial Beekeepers – but the break down product DMPF, about which there is little or no toxicity data, is stable in honey for over 45 days. Amitraz acts synergistically with neonics making them 20 times more toxic to bees, with DMPF an even more effective synergistic. According to Scientific Beekeeping, one of its side effects may be to turn off the bee’s immune system to other agricultural chemicals (see Amitraz: Red flags or red herrings? On Scientific Beekeeping website). While the big manufacturers are bound to promote it, I sincerely hope that none of us is mad enough to use it. It is a serious backward step to the health of our bees and environment.
The good news is that a new organic varroa treatment is under registration in Europe and will soon be available in UK.