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Preparing for Winter


Although spring may seem a long way ahead in September what you do to your bees in the autumn months will have a marked effect on how they over winter, build up in spring and ultimately your honey crop next year.

In the UK it is important to have removed your honey crop before colonies are treated for Varroa - I am not going to get into the argument of ApiGuard vs Bayvarol vs Apistan vs Formic or Oxalic Acid. By treating all hives at the same time the theory is that cross infection will be reduced. There is now a strong body of feeling that a second treatment in March is valuable and I practice this with good results but it is important to get this over with before honey starts to come in from mid April on. The BBKA now suggest that it may not be necessary to treat in the Autumn depending on the level of infestation and further information and an interesting system of calculating the mite level is available from them. There is also a strong body of feeling that we should all be monitoring Varroa mite levels and not just be treating blindly. Others say we all have Varroa so treat all. I have some sympathy for this approach being one of the first in Somerset to find in April I had bees resistant to Bavarol and then being told the only product licensed in the UK, other than Bavarol, was ApiGuard which is Thymol based, only 60% efficient on a good day and that it would taint the honey and make it unsaleable. I ended up buying Apivar from Europe and managed to save the day. In Europe their governments don't treat their beekeepers as just "hobby beekeepers".

Because the treatment period is, in my opinion, very early and because so many of our mongrel bees have Italian/New Zealand blood and stay active up to December there is little to be gained by feeding before September/October. This opinion is based on Somerset bees and they may close down earlier in your part of the world. There is another article at this site covering feeding and I will only say that winter feed should be stronger - 2:1 white sugar and water - to give the bees a better chance of dehydrating it, and therefore reducing the risk of fermentation before the cold weather sets in.

Whilst feeding reduce the entrance to prevent robbing and put an old honey jar with a small hole in the lid on top of the hive with jam and water inside to catch all those wasps that are around in late summer. Don't worry about catching bees - they won't be interested.

With feeding and treatment over you can start to prepare the bees for winter. Open up the entrances and make sure ventilators in the roof are not clogged up with spider's webs etc. Ventilation is good for bees. Check all roofs are sound and place a brick or two on top if there is any risk of roofs blowing off.

Whilst in Holland recently I saw hives overwintered with perspex sheets as cover boards with no ventilation holes but on varroa floors giving through ventilation and the bees looked great. Check the base to make sure the hive is firm and steady. If they are on pallets make sure they are not rotting. I like to leave a super on over winter just in case the bees surprise me in the spring.

When packing away frames I wrap them in newspaper, I'm told the wax moths don't like the smell of the ink and todate I've had no problems.



Suggested further reading:
GET STARTED IN BEEKEEPING
URBAN BEEKEEPING
PRACTICLE BEEKEEPING - CLIVE DE BRUYN
HOW TO GUIDE TO BASIC BEEKEEPING

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