Monday, 5 October 2015

Putting the Bees to Bed for the Winter

The beekeeping season draws to a close at the end of September – from October the weather becomes too cold to open up the hives.  So the last weekend in September means the final inspection, and setting the hives ready for winter.

There’s not too much to do, but each task is important.  First, check the queens:  yes, Miriam and Florence are both present, and both still laying.  Secondly, is there enough stored honey?  Each hive will consume up to 20 kg of honey over winter, and they use this to maintain the internal hive temperature at around 20 °C. There’s plenty in both hives, so it’s time to put the roof on for the last time until spring.

Next, I take the Varroa (parasitic mite) trays out from underneath each hive – any Varroa mites that fall to the bottom of hive will pass through the mesh floor, and be unable to crawl back into the hive (this is a very good thing!).

Finally, I take out the entrance blocks, and replace each with a Mouse Guard. This is a perforated metal sheet that is pinned in place over the hive entrance, and each hole is large enough for a bee (and her cargo of pollen) to pass safely through.  I don’t want any mice getting in over winter, so this is a vital precaution.

And that’s it – I’ll next open up in April (the exact weekend will depend on the weather), but until then the bees will form into a cluster to conserve warmth.  They don’t quite hibernate, though they don’t move around much either, but they will vibrate their wing muscles to generate heat – the stored honey provides the energy for them to do this right through until spring.  Until then, I wait.