Today ten beekeepers gathered here in Headington for coffee and tea and biscuits. We introduced ourselves and our beekeeping experience, as Peter at least was new to the group, and then we had a very instructive talk by Gareth on wintering bees. I learnt that the last bees to hatch from the autumn brood, who would normally be nurse bees, will instead (because there would be no more brood to nurse) gorge themselves with food, storing it like a sort of gilet under their outer coat, and then in the early days of next year they will have something to give to the first new hatchlings, without having to go out to look for scarce resources. So it’s important to finish feeding by the end of September, so that the colony goes into its winter state, because if the queen keeps laying, there won’t be these “winter bees”. Also that as well as drones being expelled, the workers which are too weak will be discarded, so the bees lying dead under my hive in the last couple of weeks are quite normal.
The bees which are left in the colony, being quite furry, will have great difficulty if they get wet, so keeping the colony dry is as important as keeping it protected from fluctuations in temperature. Having said that, if a little condensation does occur inside the hive, it will be a handy source of water for bees – which they need to access their honey. On ventilation, Gareth mentioned a tip he’d learnt, especially for Warre hives, of drilling 10mm holes at the top of the box sides, above the entrance hole, for ventilation. These can be propolised, or opened, as desired, by the bees, and in the spring a bee might be found sitting in the hole, to stop it up for the night. It was, however, important to close them with a dowel in the summer, or they would be used as handy entrances, and disrupt the brood position in the colony.
Mice can get through a surprisingly tiny hole.
When we walked up to my allotment and inspected my hive, we found that the synthetic-filled pillow I had made for insulation was a little bit damp, and I was advised to use wool if possible. So this afternoon three holey jumpers were stuffed into the vacant end of the TBH (not particularly easy replacing the top bars, with their pegs pointing downwards!) and an old sheepskin rug has also gone under the roof, rolled up on top of where the cluster is. I have also halved a cork and put it in my entrance hole, to reduce its size (the bees were very interested and several came out to have a look at this).
The visitors were interested to see that some drones were still in evidence, going in and out.
By the way, a note for Gino about allotment bee keeping: membership of the OBKA (Oxfordshire Bee Keepers Association) includes public liability insurance amongst other things see their membership form for more details.
It was a great meeting, with lots of interaction – we were still chatting outside my gate at 1 o’clock! Thanks to all who came and we look forward to the next meeting. I will ask Paul to add some photos.