Well, at last the autumn days are with us. The clocks have gone back and the trees are losing their leaves more rapidly each day, though the temperatures are still relatively high for this time of year. A rather confusing time for the bees since the ivy flow has just about finished (the flowers are still open on the plants but the lack of sunshine and warmth prevents them from yielding nectar) yet the days are mild enough for some of the bees to want to fly to check it out. Unfortunately, once outside the hive, there is little for them to do and we can’t do anything to help that situation.
We should have stopped feeding by now, as the bees cannot seal any new stores. Without being sealed, these stores will absorb moisture from the air and eventually ferment. When eaten by the bees, such food causes dysentery but since the bees’ opportunity for flying out to void their faeces is reducing almost daily, they defecate inside the hive. This is then a repository for disease which the house cleaning bees then contract. So no more feeding!
What we can do to help in other ways is ensure the mouseguards are still in place on the entrances of the hives (mice love nothing better than a nice warm, dry hive in which to over-winter) and check that the hives are upright with their roofs in place.
The trouble with mice inside the hive is that their moving about prevents the bees from settling down into their winter cluster and so they get stressed, causing endemic pathogens to come to the surface, killing them off before spring arrives. But just think of the human analogy of hundreds of people inside a room, all huddled together to keep warm. The air would rapidly become rank and humid, just right for spreading germs around from one to another. Without any ventilation, we would likely start to suffer from colds or viruses and because of our close proximity to one another would pass these on to our neighbours, until everyone in the room was coughing and sneezing and feeling very sorry for themselves! It is exactly the same for the bees.
What we beekeepers have to ensure is that our closed-up, weatherproof and mouse-proof hives still have enough ventilation to draw off the dampness and the airborne viruses so that the bees do not succumb to such pathogenic ailments. Most of us do this through the use of what are called open-mesh floors. These were introduced as a means of combating the Varroa parasite, allowing Varroa mites that drop off the bees to fall to and through the floor into the outside world, where they will perish away from their hosts. Such floors provide ample ventilation for the winter months and if the floor has a skirt around it, into the bottom of which can be slid a mite monitoring tray, then this skirt will reduce the effect of draughts (you see the problems we beekeepers have to cope with; adequate ventilation without draughts, a tricky balancing act!).
For those beekeepers still working hives with solid floors (as all floors used to be), the answer is to raise the crown-board above the colony by about 1/8” by inserting a matchstick at each corner. It is too late in the season for the bees to propolise this gap, so an upward air-flow is produced, sucking air in through the entrance, at the same time drying the inside hive walls as the airflow passes over them and wafting any moisture-laden air out through the top.
It is also time for us beekeepers to start planning the coming season (which will be the best ever, won’t it?!). It is the time to repair broken or damaged spare hive components, to make up new frames for the bees to fill with honey next year and a good opportunity to re-paint any woodwork that has lost its protection.
Finally, if we had added any supers to collect the excess ivy honey brought in during the past month, it is time to remove these and to cut out the combs filled with the granulated ivy honey and melt them down. Once liquefied, the wax, being of a lower density than the honey, will rise to the surface and on cooling will solidify, thereby allowing its removal and the bottling of the liquid honey (which will re-solidify within a day or so). There’s never nothing to do when you’re a beekeeper!
Colin Rees firstname.lastname@example.org