Jobs for the Month
- Continue feeding if necessary if the colony has not started to form its winter cluster, use fondant if the weather is cold.
- Consider combining colonies if there appear to be any weak or small ones – size matters when survival through the winter months is needed.
- Fit mouse guards or entrance blocks with a smaller opening – no more than 8mm.
- Fit wire netting around the hive to deter woodpeckers.
- Ensure that woodwork is sound and that hives are clear of the ground to avoid dampness; clear away encroaching vegetation. Check entrances are kept clear.
- Store extracted comb securely, treated against wax moth. Look at putting it in the freezer for a while.
- Clean & sterilise hive parts, frames & equipment and store securely – use soda crystals in hot water (wear gloves) and scorch boxes, floors, crown boards and excluders with a blowtorch (timber/metal components only – not recommended for polystyrene!).
- Maintain vigilance for Asian hornets, particularly new queens, and scan trees and bushes for signs of nests.
- Update records and BeeBase especially if hives have been combined or split.
Suggested frequency of visits – move towards monthly
October is a month of transition: as the days grow shorter and cooler there is less forage for our bees and activity within the hives begins to slow. The foragers will still be working the ivy and late garden flowers such as Japanese anemones, asters and crocuses to add to vital winter stores – any pollen going in now will be for storing rather than feeding to brood as the queens will have greatly reduced their laying rate. The colony is still large but as there are more bees to do less work, each individual bee is able to live longer. The house bees will still consume large quantities of pollen but, instead of metabolising this to brood food, will store it in their fat bodies as a food reserve that will ensure that they live through to the spring and will be ready to feed the new larvae and forage for fresh pollen and nectar in the spring.
The survival of the winter bees depends as much on the beekeeper as on the natural order. Colonies need to be strong, well-provisioned and free from disease. If we have fed, medicated and possibly united colonies then we can begin to relax a little and look forward to a quiet spell before next spring. We need to ensure the security of the hive, protecting it where possible against physical dangers. In windy areas or where there are livestock it may be necessary to strap down hives or put a hefty brick on top of the roof – even erect some sort of fencing if needs be to keep out larger intruders. A hive full of bees and honey can attract badgers and woodpeckers and mice will find the well-provisioned and warm environment an ideal place to hibernate if they can get in. Green woodpeckers can wreak havoc with hives, drilling through wood and polystyrene to get at the larvae and honey inside. A framework of chicken wire fastened to the hive will dissuade them by preventing the birds finding a firm foothold.
If your hive entrances are deeper than 8mm you will need to fit mouse guards: perforated metal or plastic strips that allow bees in and out but keep out small rodents looking for a cosy and well-provisioned place to hibernate. Fitted too soon they can dislodge the painstakingly collected pollen loads from the returning foragers, so use your judgement as to when they should be fitted. Sugar syrup feeding and varroa treatments should be completed by the end of the month and any poor woodwork or leaking roofs remedied.
With the colder months approaching there must be no let-up in our vigilance for the Asian hornet, especially at the beginning of the month. Workers could still be hawking around our hives and new queens may emerge to feed on carbohydrate-rich foods prior to hibernation and will be attracted to fallen fruit, ivy and other late sources of nectar. Baits now should be sugar rich (not honey), changed frequently and monitored daily. As the leaves fall look up into trees for signs of nests revealed and report any sightings.
Our thanks to Nottinghamshire Beekeepers Association for some of the content above.