Colonies are all ready for winter now with mouse guards, woodpecker netting and bricks on roofs. For my own peace of mind I like to visit apiaries occasionally during the winter to make sure nothing untoward has happened, e.g. tree or branch falling on hives.
However, there is a lot of maintenance I like to carry out in readiness for next year. For example, the top and bottom bars of supers frames often have brace combed built on them. This comb becomes brittle over time which means when used next year on a hive bees can be squashed between frames as the wax has become solid. So now is a good opportunity to scrape the top and bottom bars holding the super inside a wheelbarrow. The spare wax falls into the barrow and can then be easily collected (and rendered down to a block by using an Association steam melter!).
Personally I like to treat exterior hive surfaces of unoccupied equipment with Cuprinol (or similar) every few years as it helps to extend the life of this valuable kit. For hive stands I use Creosote as it is much cheaper but I don’t use this on hive parts.
It is also a good time to partially assemble new frames and pack them in empty honey jar boxes. Then come the season it is a simple matter of adding a sheet of foundation along with a bottom bar and wedge. If a complete frame is made up now the foundation will go stale over time and bees are less keen to utilise it plus the wax sheet could bend and / or be damaged over months.
So there is little to do with bees other than treat for varroa with oxalic acid. The season is approaching the shortest day of the year which is when I like to apply this treatment. The books say there should be little or no brood around now although I have never inspected a colony to confirm this. Oxalic acid does not kill mites hiding in cells – only those on adult bees hence the reason for applying it at around this time.
There are two ways of administering the acid – one by ‘trickling’ and the other by use of a vaporiser. Research shows that the vaporiser is more effective but requires specialist equipment, e.g. a car battery, face mask (the fumes are dangerous to humans) and the actual vaporiser. The Association does hold one to borrow but not the other items.
For many years I have used the ‘trickle’ method which I have found to be effective. Until about 3 or 4 years ago oxalic acid was my main varroa treatment along with the product Hiveclean which was withdrawn as it did not have VMD approval. Hiveclean didn’t actually kill mites but caused them to fall off bees as they don’t like the taste. This meant that mesh floors are needed so that mites fall through and cannot crawl back into the nest. My policy is never treat for varroa when honey is on a hive so that it cannot be contaminated regardless what the product literature tells us. My regime was to use Hiveclean late March early April before a honey flow and then again in August after the honey had been removed. The product allowed me to keep mite numbers down along with the use of oxalic acid.
I mention all this because Hiveclean has now received VMD approval and is now marketed as Varro Med (at considerably higher price!). Nonetheless I bought some at the National Honey Show to use again in springtime. Hopefully it will again prove to be effective at keeping mite levels low in my colonies.
If you are relatively new to new to beekeeping do consider signing up for the Workshop we are running in the New Year at Flitwick village hall where wintering and other topics will be covered. The date is Saturday 25th January and places can be booked online.