The Life of a Breconshire Beekeeper November 2020

As we enter the last week of November we have a week or so of cold and frosty weather. Some of these days are wonderful with the sun shining low in the sky, other days are misty and remain cold. As I walk around the lanes and in the mountains the hawthorn is still in full berry in some places whereas in my back field the blackbirds have long gorged on the hawberries and rowan berries and moved onto the windfall apples. The wasps have been pestering the bees, but with the cold weather they have gone at last. Finally a time when the bees don’t emerge from the hive, they have been out nearly everyday up until the 25th November.

Feeding and overwintering nucs

I regularly check the weight of the hives, especially the nuc boxes which I have been overwintering for quite a few years now, (watch Mike Palmer’s talks at the National Honey Show from 2013) and have added some fondant to a couple just in case they might be a little low on stores. I’d tried feeding smaller amounts of syrup to colonies in September and October to encourage them to forage for pollen and nectar with the idea that they would store pollen over the winter. This worked well and the bees did gather a lot of both, mainly from Ivy, but they also raised brood…so using the syrup to feed their young rather than storing it. This is the side effect of feeding syrup in small quantities at this time of year. To get the bees to take syrup and store it, it is best to feed it in one go in a larger volume. It’s a good experiment that I’ve learnt for the future, and I’ll continue again next year, but this year, I’m happy enough walking around the apiaries on most days observing and checking the weights from time to time. With nucs I think that feeding small amounts of syrup late summer into autumn encourages foraging, if indeed they need any encouraging. They’ll continue raising brood but they will also store pollen. Then give them a large feed after a break in feeding small amounts to encourage them to store it for winter if they need it.

It’s the end of November and the Mahonia is in full flower as is the Winter Jasmine, some ivy and the garden roses. I have seen some catkins out in the past week too…but most of the trees’ leaves have fallen finally….December marking the start of Winter….

Honeybee collecting water from a rose petal

There are plenty of things that need doing; cutting wood for the woodstoves, harvesting the apples for juicing and drying, making mead, cleaning old brood boxes, making repairs where needed, making up new boxes, erecting a greenhouse, the list is endless….

There are plenty of webinars and videos on beekeeping to watch, lots of advice to take note of and adapting to my way of beekeeping. Never satisfied always looking for ways to improve the way I do things. ‘The older I get the more I realise how little I know…’. Life really is about learning new things.

Sustainable Varroa Management

I have been watching lectures from the National Honey Show, those by Mike Palmer from 2013 and Ralph Buchler in 2019, so much to take forward from these lectures with regard to queen rearing, overwintering nucs, varroa control by caging the queen and/or making the colony broodless for a period mid season. I mentioned Ralph’s videos last month, he talks about how he removes all brood from the main colonies two weeks before the end of the honey flow, in his case early July. In my case this would be around mid July. This of course makes the colony broodless, but as there’s nectar and pollen coming in they build up good and strong. As the queen starts to lay in the new combs, Ralph puts a comb of open brood into the middle of the brood nest, the idea being that any phoretic varroa will jump off the bees and go onto the cells. Once the cells have been capped take the frame out and melt it down. These two actions are very effective in removing the vast majority of all varroa before the bees go into winter and you don’t need to douse them in chemicals. He uses the brood to create a last queen rearing colony and nucs to overwinter. He also talks about how Italian beekeepers are caging queens for upto 30 days mid season, Thorne sell them. The cage is embedded into a comb in the middle of the brood chamber, and the queen goes off lay. The result though is very effective varroa control. After 30 days you can give an oxalic treatment for the phoretic mites.

Making mead with Apple Juice

I picked a load of cider apples and got them juiced locally at 45p a litre (raw juice not bottled and pasteurised £1.26/litre). I started 20 litres of cider and 15 litres of Cyser. Cyser is apple juice mixed with honey and fermented. I have a fantastic book on cider making that explains everything about craft cider making, but in particular how acidity and sugar by weight (SG specific gravity) along with the many yeasts that accompany the apples can affect the final product in many different ways. ABV is alcohol by volume and a quick way to measure ABV is to take the SG at the start and subtract the SG at completion of fermentation then divide by 8. So if the SG at the start is 1.050 and after fermentation is 0.99, ABV = (1050-990)/8 = 7.5%

Rescuing a hive that had blown over

Earlier in the month I had a text from the owners of the orchard where the local beekeeping association has an apiary. One of the hives had fallen over. Not sure how, but it may have been caught by the wind, or nudged by a sheep. Anyway I couldn’t go that evening so went along early next morning to assess the situation. The colony was quite happy with the brood box on its side, luckily the weather wasn’t too cold or wet. I carefully reassembled the hive and as I did so the bees came up to the frame bars to have a look. The upper box was full of stores, plenty to get them through winter. I’ll return later to put a strap on it. the owners are also putting an electric fence around it to make sure the livestock don’t disturb them.

I keep my bees away from livestock, but there are badgers close by and they can be a nuisance with bee hives. My concern is that they would easily break open a poly hive if they wanted to. Its difficult to know what to do as they can climb up easily if I put them high up. So for now I leave them on stands close to the ground and hope for the best.

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