Aoife Nic Giolla Coda An Beachaire Vol 71 No.1 January 2016
For the month of January it is still important to check on your hives the odd time particularly after a storm. Make sure the roofs are weighted down with rocks or bricks. If you haven’t carried out oxalic acid treatment in December, you may need to carry it out in January. I covered this subject in December (2016) issue. The weather has been quite mild and I would imagine that many beekeepers are leaving it until January to treat. Heft the hives for weight (with the roof and blocks off). If they are light, you should feed with some bee fondant (ambrosia and apifonda are two brands). (More about hefting in the next issue.)
As beginners, I’m sure many of you are becoming aware of the many bee pests and diseases which are out there. Some of you may be unfortunate (or fortunate – depending how you look at it ) in spotting some of them in your colonies during the summer. However we also must be vigilant against pests in winter time, the most common being the wax moth and mice.
Proper storage of empty supers is essential – The most common method of storage is to store them dry. When you have extracted your honey, place the supers of empty comb on top of your hives, over the crownboards, to allow the bees to lick out the remnants of the honey for up to a week. They remove and store away for the winter. Place a bee proof base on the floor (something metal like a queen excluder is best) and then stack the supers on top, ensuring there are no gaps. Then place a spare crownboard on top – sealing off the feedhole. Place a roof on top of this and weigh down. These can be stored in a shed of if you have a safe, sheltered corner outside where thy cannot be knocked over.
I have heard of people with a small amount of combs storing them in a deep freeze. It works but would not be very practical for most. At Galtee Honey Farm we do not store combs dry. We store them away as soon as they have been extracted. In this instance, the combs are still wet. We stack them with tow or three layers of newspaper between each super. They are kept in a very big draughty shed. We usually have over 600 supers to store every Autumn and applying this method over 40 years, we have rarely had an issue with wax moth.
When stacking supers, it is always important to make sure the stack is bee proof, so check every crack. If it is bee proof, it will also be mouse proof. Also do not store away old brood combs. Old brood bombs which are removed out of the colony should be cut out and disposed of as soon as possible. This is generally through burning. Dig a little pit somewhere dedicated to the burning of combs (the recommended depth is about 45cm). This can be covered up with earth after it is used.
There are two types of wax moth, the Greater and Lesser Wax moths. Both types of larvae eat and travel through empty, dry comb. They particularly prefer brood comb because of the old larval bee cocoons. The Lesser Wax moth is by far more common. However the Greater one has become more common in recent years and creates more havoc. These Greater Wax moth larvae not only wreck your comb, but also damage the super walls in order to pupate. They can chew grooves into wooden walls and actually bore holes into polystyrene walls.
Winter pests in the Apiary – Out in the apiary, while your inserts are placed in the open mesh floors, clean them off periodically throughout the year. You can sometimes see webbing caught between the inserts and the underside of the floor. This webbing is spun by the wax moth larvae.
Another important precaution against winter pests is to put up mouseguards against the entrance. The long metal strips cover the length of the entrance. They allow bees out but do not let mice in. The floor of a hive, with a colony generating heat above is a cosy corner for hibernation, with a good store of honey also!
Hives should always be on sturdy stands two feet off the ground. With food scarcity in winter, a hive on a low stand is far more vulnerable to predators. I once knew a beginner who overwintered her first hive on a pallet on the ground, only to come along one day to find that there were two big holes, the size of a fist, gnawed into the ceder brood box.
Be Mindful of your Beekeeping Neighbours – I know there are some preparing next year for their first or second year of beekeeping and about to source colonies, etc. One thing for beginners always to consider is to be mindful of your beekeeping neighbours. From time to time, we get reports of beginners who have sourced exotic strains of bees which are then brought into regions which have thriving native honey bee populations. This often ends up with the next generation of bees being aggressive all round. The exotic colonies’ new queen mating with local native drones often results in aggression. Ant the local colonies’ new queens mating with the exotic drones often results in aggression.
An example of this is the situation in the OPW Walled Garden in the Phoenix Park. The native honey bees there had to be removed this summer (2016) as they became mongrelised and aggressive. The new queens mated with non native drones brought in by people in the locality and placed in their gardens and allotments. It is irresponsible for beekeepers to not consider others when obtaining bees. They need to think about the consequences of their actions.