Amanda’s Beekeeping Notes – Winter Feeding, Varroa Checks, Hornet Control, Wax Moths

Amanda holds regular Training Courses at Mantel Farm and contributes regularly to our beekeeping newsletters. Our regular newsletter can be found here. 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.

Bees orange ragwort or pale balsam pollen
Ragwort pollen pouring in, in response to first feed in early September. Entrance (5.5mm high) reduced right down with sponge to help defend against wasps and robbers.

Feeding and Varroa Check for Winter

Feeding syrup should be completed by now, this is so the bees have time before the weather becomes colder, to reduce the moisture in it as they would with nectar so it will keep over winter. If they still do not have what they need, I expect that 2:1 syrup or invert syrup is still better than anything else such as fondant, until the weather falls consistently below 14°C, at which point they go into a cluster. The exception might be nuclei which are sometime slow to take sufficient stores. I am concerned by the number of inexperienced beekeepers I have spoken to recently who have not fed or not treated for mites even late in September. These colonies are less likely to survive the winter. Mite treatments should have finished by mid September if healthy winter bees are to develop, but do check the drop after the treatment has been removed, or do an icing sugar check this month. A couple of mine which had had Apiguard, still dropped 200 mites after dusting a week later. This may have been the remaining effect of the Apiguard though as it was much lower a week later. This month I normally receive a varroa ‘bomb’ as nearby untreated colonies collapse, necessitating a second round of dusting so I have to be vigilant.

In spite of leaving most of my colonies with nearly a super full of honey at the beginning of August, I discovered at my final brood/queen/health/stores check in the first week of September, that many had consumed a lot of this. There must have been little or no nectar around in August. A couple were down to 4 lbs of stores, but one big colony still had 30lbs, so a bit difficult to predict but the moral is be vigilant and check regularly. At my final check I first hefted the supers and estimated the stores, then quickly counted the exact amount on each frame. I was pleased that I was usually within 1-2 lbs by either method. This gave me confidence when I came to a grumpy colony that I could just lift each box and then throw it back together and run. The day after the light ones had a rapid feeder put on, nearly every bee came home laden with orange ragwort or pale balsam pollen (see photo). Feeding will have triggered a brood expansion. All the colonies had some sealed brood, and plenty of eggs but few larvae so the workers were restricting the brood because of the lack of incoming nectar. This new brood will develop in a low mite environment now and I hope will be healthy winter bees which will survive until March. When you have given them all the syrup they need and removed the feeders heft the hive again so you get a feel of its weight and have something to compare with later in the winter.

In my final check I also noted the colour of the comb and those with dark comb will be shook swarmed in the spring. I suspect several will move up into the supers, of which I have left them two in some cases (brood and a half plus super of honey/stores) and it will be a simple matter of removing the old abandoned brood box in the spring. It’s much easier and less stressful for them than shook swarming; I will then continue to run the colony on supers; uniform frame size and lighter to lift. Also easier to inspect for queen cells which they often put on the bottom bars of supers.

Hornet Control Measures

In August I put one of Vita’s Apishield boxes under one of the Divisional out apiary hives. In early September after a week in place we inspected the capture tray. There were about 30-40 wasps dead and alive in it (but no noticeable reduction in the many wasps flying around the hives) and sadly a small number of bees, presumably robbers from another colony or maybe guard bees from that colony, which I feared may happen. As suggested in a recent BBKA News, I had put the box under the normal floor, blocking off the Apishield front entrance, so I could continue to carry out icing sugar dusting. An update from Vita suggests that one Apishield per apiary, on the weakest colony should be sufficient, and left on between August and November. I am glad I can remove it in November when the risk of hornets etc has gone, as there is a build up of debris in it which would be a haven for wax moth. Of course the main purpose is to catch any Asian Hornets which may attack; so it remains to be seen how effective it is when they turn up.

Wax Moth

Because of an outbreak of Greater wax moth in my garage last month, I froze all the supers removed from my colonies as a precaution. Where they all pupated, usually together, I have yet to find in spite of going though all my stacks of hive equipment. Half way through freezing the supers I discovered that frames of just foundation shattered in the freezer, but drawn comb seemed fine, so will have to recycle these frames. Female wax moths give off a distinctive and not unpleasant pheromone to attract males, I discovered. After a bit, I had only to stick my head into the garage to know whether a female was out fanning. They mostly went to the window in the evening so were relatively easy to swat. I hope I got them all.

What to do in October

Now is the time to sterilise supers with acetic acid if there is a chance they will go onto different colonies next year and do any maintenance; repairing gaps etc. if required, and cleaning everything up ready for next year. Put on mouse guards, insulation, netting against woodpeckers if they are a problem and strap or put weights on the lids of hives in exposed areas. Don’t forget to check the entrances are clear on a regular basis. Then process that recycled wax to make candles in time for Christmas, rack your mead, make your cosmetics, get your best honey ready for show and generally enjoy the products of your (and the bees’) labours this year. Don’t forget to book your place at the SBKA Convention on 25th November at Uckfield.

Different honey colours from same hive
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