The BBC weather forecast through the end of November envisages temperatures in London and the South East remaining around double-digit degrees centigrade. And I’m still running to work and back in just a white T-shirt and black lycra shorts. But funnily enough, this extended period of warm winter weather threatens two problems for bees: starvation and disease.
The fact that temperatures are remaining high enough for bees to fly and that there is some forage still available may tempt bee colonies to continue brooding and therefore continue flying to provide the fuel for their energy-hungry brood. This could cause a diminution of honey stores in the hives as the bees expend more energyon brood than they bring in (pollen and propolis are available, although nectar is rare at these temperatures) and lead to starvation later this winter. It is worth hefting hives now to monitor food stores – remember that a national hive typically requires 25kg of honey stores to be sure of reaching Spring in good health.
Disease is a threat, especially if brooding continues. New brood will permit the parasitic varroa mite population to build up, just as the number of adult bees in the hive is in seasonal decline. Thus the concentration, or “load”, of varroa may increase, leaving the colony vulnerable to higher level of infection by diseases. Although beekeepers should not enter hives at this time of year, using a varroa inspection board under an open mesh floor of the hive will give beekeepers an idea of the numbers of varroa present in each hive. That knowledge can be used to decide which, if any, varroa treatment will be appropriate. Personally, I always treat for varroa around the Winter Solstice – on 21st December this year – by trickling oxalic (rhubarb) acid when the brood cycle is at its low . The reason for this is that the empty wax brood cells make this the one time of year when the mites are forced to live on the bees, rather than sealed in the cells to feed on bee-larvae, and the “knock-down” of varroa mites from the sugar-syrup/oxalic acid dose is at its most efficient.
So I’ll be taking some luggage-scales and a varroa board to my town and country bees this weekend, as I check the hives’ temperature and moisture monitors. As the old beekeeping proverb goes: “Lycra on a November morning, starvation warning“.
Or something like that….