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Jobs for the Month  

  • Check that your hives remain secure against predators, weather and flooding, and look out for evidence of water ingress through roofs and corners.
  • Check your hives for damage after strong winds and adverse weather.
  • Consider insulation on hives in exposed positions and insulate all deep roofs.
  • Check that hive entrances are clear of leaves, dead bees or other such debris.
  • Cut back grass and foliage under and around your hives to reduce dampness.
  • If you have them, keep varroa floor inserts clear of debris that may allow wax moth to breed.
  • Continue to monitor varroa drop and plan further treatment if needed.
  • If you haven’t already done so, remove queen excluders.
  • Complete cleaning, repairing, sterilising and storing your equipment.
  • Check that any stored comb is well protected against damp, mice and wax moth.
  • De-coke your smoker, clean your hive tools and wash your bee suit.
  • Complete your colony records and your varroa treatment record card if applicable.
  • Continue to evaluate your beekeeping season and make plans for the new one.
  • Read or re-read those beekeeping books and maybe enrol on a course ready for next season.
  • Melt down and clean all those bits of wax and make candles, hand cream, soap.
  • Check out any attractive hibernation places for Asian hornet queens and look out for old nests.

**Check out the Tip of the Month**

Suggested frequency of visits – monthly

November is a quiet month in the apiary. As the days shorten, activity within the hive lessens as forage is scarce. If the weather is benign there is perhaps a little pollen from late-flowering plants such as Michaelmas daisy and ivy but hardly any nectar. Because of this reduced activity the lifespan of the workers increases dramatically. Most of these bees (now known as winter bees) will survive until early spring, ready to take up their duties when the colony begins to expand.

Unlike other insects such as wasps or hornets, honey bees do not hibernate but simply slow down their metabolism. They therefore require food in order to survive and to provide the energy needed to regulate the temperature and airflow within and around the winter cluster. In mild weather the cluster expands and the bees fan their wings to cool and ventilate the hive. In cold weather the cluster contracts and the bees vibrate their powerful flight muscles to generate heat. All of this activity requires energy and this comes from the food stores that the colony has built up, supplemented of course by the beekeeper if a late honey crop has been removed. It is vital therefore, that each colony has sufficient stores to see it through the winter season and that these stores are close enough to the winter cluster for the bees to access if the weather becomes very cold. It is too late now to feed home-made sugar syrup as the bees are not active enough to process it for safe storage; they must convert the majority of the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which is much easier to digest, and to remove excess water. Unprocessed syrup may ferment and lead to dysentery, but this will be avoided if you use commercially produced, ready inverted syrup such as Ambrosia or a fondant-type product.

Keep hefting or weighing and, if you have them, regularly check the varroa floor inserts for signs of uncapping of stores. This will give you a guide as to how quickly the colony is consuming stores and also help you locate the cluster. After a prolonged cold spell it may be advisable to quickly open the hive to check that the bees have not become isolated from their stores and, if that is the case, to move combs of food right up against the cluster. If the bees are at the top of the frames with no food above them, place some fondant over the feed holes in the crown board if the cluster is below those, otherwise place the fondant straight on top of the comb where the cluster is, taking care not to trap bees whilst doing so. You will need an empty super or eke to give space, and this should ideally be filled with some form of insulation such as polystyrene or bubble wrap (some materiel that will not hold moisture and therefore keep the top of the hive damp). Running out of food shouldn’t really happen in November or December if the bees have been properly fed, but accidents can happen and a really quick check should do no harm. Check you have removed the queen excluder as the bees will not go through it to access fresh stores if it means leaving the queen behind, in which case they will almost certainly starve.

As you carry out your essential apiary management – anchoring hives, weeding and brush clearing, general tidying – keep an eye out for any evidence of the presence of Asian hornets. Look out for signs of old nests in trees and hedges, possibly but not always high up.  Any new queens that may have emerged from unseen nests will be looking for a good place to hibernate for the winter and therefore it is advisable to check sheds, garages and leaf litter.