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Doula Beekeeper preparing for Winter

Here we are in mid October, the weather was wonderful and now its changing. Weather temperature and day light is everything for the bees and the beekeeper, both inside and outside of the hive. We as beekeepers will have done a few things to get the colonies settle for the autumn and winter months.

As part of the husbandry of beekeeping, you would have taken off any honey above the brood chamber. Most of this would have been done late August early September. Once extracted using a centrifugal extractor the empty honey frames would have been given back to the bees to clean up and then stored for the winter. The colonies would then be topped up, making sure they had enough supply within the brood to carry them through the winter. We give them sugar syrup at this time only. If the wintering bees do not have enough food source they could starve and the colony would die.

You would have also checked for varroa mite and any disease that might be present. At this time of year and sometimes in the spring a thymol treatment is given to the over wintering bees, helping them survive the winter hibernation to emerge strong for the spring.

The queen would have reduced her laying of eggs. The remaining eggs and brood she has laid would be the over winter bees who live through the autumn and early winter months, to keep the colony strong and healthy in preparation for new laying and new sisters being hatched ready for the whole season to beginning again come March.

Unfortunately, this year the honey we were able to extract was much reduced, especially for the hives in our garden. It seemed like an exercise in queen rearing for us this year. However we did get some off the apiary that we have some bees in up the road and as a result we got around 140 lbs of honey in total.

We have extracted and bottled in 12oz and 8oz jars and they have already been on sale at the farmers market in Walthamstow & Apple Day in October. But once its done its done folks.

However the activity of the bees in our garden have been extra ordinary. Since September they seem to be on a honey flow, which maybe from Ivy and Lime with huge activity happening. I think its because the weather has stayed mild unto mid October.

The queens are all still laying, although there is some signs of reduction, but in a couple it seems there are more bees than was in July.

There was a heavy varroa drop in a couple of colonies, but there is no sign of wing deformation (which would show that the colony has been attached badly by varroa on the emerging grub). The varroa queen lays into the cells, were the queen lays her eggs, so as the infant varroa grows, so does the grub, hence the parasite can already be seen attached to the underside of the bee on hatching from the sealed cell.

The bees look very healthy indeed. So I am hoping they will survive the winter. I have fed them some inverted syrup, and given treatment, but I don't do that in the spring, so all the honey that gets extracted is not from sugar and has no thymol in it at all.

A lot of beekeepers give two treatments, but I believe that nature is powerful, and less is more.

I shall be checking out the out apiary in our friends' garden and then leaving them alone to get on with things over the autumn and winter. There will be the occasional check to see all is well. Most years my bees have had more than enough stores. But it does good to just heft the hive to make sure they have sufficient supplies around Christmas. If they don't have enough you would then put on some fondant. Which is easy for them to convert.

When temperatures drop 8 degrees centigrade or below the bees stay within the brood chamber and in a cluster. This cluster keeps them warm and the hive temperature around 24 degrees. But to maintain that temperature they need to use up a lot of energy, hence the need for stores. Once the temperature raises, they will come out for a cleans flight and maybe get some stores from plants like Ivy.

It is crucial to protect the hive entrance with a mouse guard. A metal bar with ventilating holes big enough for a bee to get in and out of.

All mammals want somewhere nice and cosy to settle when the weather gets chillier and mice are no exception. They can be found sometimes within the cluster of a hive, having entered through the front entrance, which is often very small for a mice to get into, but somehow they are able to flatten there head and squeeze into the hive, via this entrance to seek out warmth. They do so at their peril as the bees will definitely sting any creature that is not meant to be inside.

Woodpeckers are also know to peck into the hive itself and get to the bees. So part of the husbandry is making sure practical management of these mundane but necessary activities take place.

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