The next two months are difficult ones for the Bees as this is when most colonies will die out as the Queens fail (not a lot you can do about that), they starve our to insufficient winter stores or a cold snap leaves them isolated from the food in the brood chamber. It is therefore time to remove the Woodpecker protection, take the roof off and test the weight of the hive by lifting the back of the floor to see what stores they have left.Those of us lucky to have more than a couple of hives will see the dramatic difference between weights and this can be an early sign you need to supplement the feed of lighter colonies. At the present time the Manufacturers of Bee Equipment are advertising heavily the sale of Bee-patties which have Pollen substitutes within in them and cost under £2.00 a pack. These are all that you will need to give them a boost over the next few weeks. Use either a pattie or place a good lump of Fondant on top of where the cluster is presently located. Place fondant in a ‘scored’ plastic bag or other container as detailed in a previous article on this subject matter. A word of warning though, wear your veil as even in the coldest weather(okay not below freezing) a kamikaze bee will come out to get you as they defend their colony to the last.
Those of you that have still got your Varroa floor slides in over the winter may want to take a look at the debris left behind. It is first a sign that all is good in the hive as fragments of wax capping will be found as the bees munch their way through the winter stores and deposit other ‘hive junk’ onto the Varroa screen which of course falls onto your painted white wooden or plastic screen. If on a warm day, which we hope comes soon, the bees will be out on cleansing flights and bringing out their dead for depositing away from the hive. If you have a hive where you see little of no activity and no debris on the varroa slide or under the hive stand, this should trigger warning signals that you may have a problem. If you suspect an issue its time to put on the veil and gloves and take a look to see what is going on in the brood chamber. If it has died then seal it up so the other colonies cannot rob it out and consider what has caused them to die. Even if it is clear from the few bees left behind that they have lost their Queen the remaining bees and certainly the comb may be full of viruses or diseases you don’t want spreading through yours or anyone else’s Apiary.
If it is due to starvation there will be no food above the cluster and workers will be heads down into the cells of the comb.
If the colony has died you can take some precautions to sterilise the hive and some of the frames so they are ready to be re-used later this season. The woodwork of the hive Floor/Varroa screen, Brood chamber, Crown board and roof can all be scorched with a blow torch until they go a golden brown then treat with a wood preservative and they are ready to use again. The combs depending on the age can be dealt with as follows. Black coloured ones with dead bees in are best burnt. Others may be sterilised for use in Nuc’s or a to attract swarms later in the spring. If you decide to try and save the better brood combs first you have to remove the dead bees, I find it is best to work with sheets of old newspaper of cardboard boxes taken from supermarkets to contain the dead debris. A dust buster works well to suck the bees out of the comb but remember to empty it onto you newspaper or cardboard box otherwise the resulting ‘domestic dispute’ will cost you more than Roses on Valentines day. It is no good trying to explain it was an essential tool for use in your Apiary!!!
The best way to treat decent but soiled comb is to use Acetic Acid which the Bee Manufacturers will be selling at Bee Tradex or try your local Chemist. Ensure you get the 80% strength. It is always fun explaining to a Pharmacy why you want them to order this product and what you are actually going to use it for. This is really corrosive stuff so you need to wear eye protectors and good quality rubber gloves(55pence at Aldi!). Prepare the place you intend to treat your comb/hive preferably at waist height outdoors, then stack your hive sealing all the joints with wide ‘parcel wrapping tape’ so the fumes cannot escape. If I am treating more than one brood chamber, as I had to last year with bad winter losses, I will put cotton wool strips x4( acquired from the bathroom not a word please) in between the combs and dribble a teaspoon of the Acetic Acid onto each strip. On the top brood chamber I use a plastic open top tray to pour in a couple of ‘egg cup full’ amounts of the acid. Then use an empty super or an Eke and seal the roof onto the brood chambers. Leave for about a week before opening up and leaving is open air for 48 hours. You can then put then kit away in a bee proof shed or leave sealed in the Apiary ready for use later in the season. Acetic acid treatment kills spores of chalkbrood, wax month and Nosema (also fries any surviving Varroa or so I’m told) but it can be corrosive to any metal surface it comes in contact with but does not appear to harm my metal Queen excluders. If you do decide to try this treatment indoors I warn you the fumes smell awful and linger for a very long time afterwards, so the shed, green house or garage could be a no go area for quite some time. Please remember your non Beekeeping partner will not understand any explanation you give and in the subsequent divorce proceedings so beware.
The active season is not far away so clear out the Bee Shed and decide what equipment you need to buy at Bee Tradex at Stoneleigh. At the start get yourself down to the ‘Pound Shop’ and buy some Oven cleaning kit which can be used to clean the inside of any well used smoker. It lifts the build up of tar and other debris. Get some leather supplement or dubbing onto the billows and you are ready to go for a busy season ahead.
Those of you who use ‘Book Sale’ I see they have some cheap Fly Screens in at the moment and I have used one on my Bee Shed door to retreat behind when things in the Apiary go a little wrong and they get very defensive.
There is a useful article on Hive Sterilisation at the following link: