Merry Christmas Queen Myrtle and her bees!

tinsel for our hive

Not to be outdone by the elder beekeepers reading books to bees, this afternoon Emily and I made sure our hive was the most festive at the apiary. A Christmas card to ‘Queen Myrtle and bees’ was also slipped under the roof.

However, if it sounds like we were having too much fun, there was some proper beekeeping to be done: giving the bees oxalic acid.

Pat giving his bees oxalic acid

Oxalic acid is a winter treatment for bees. Above, you can see Pat treating his hive with Emily looking on.

Oxalic acid burns the feet and tongues of varroa mites so they fall off bees. The treatment is particularly effective in winter when the mites are living on adult bees, because there is little or no capped brood for them to hide inside.

Our apiary uses a pre-mixed solution of 3% oxalic acid in sugar syrup and about 5ml is dribbled on each ‘seam of bees’, that is the gap between each frame which has bees. It is important to get the dosage right as over-dosing may be harmful. Last year I took this video of Giving the bees oxalic acid.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) has a good advisory leaflet on oxalic acid. Not all beekeepers like to use this treatment for a number of reasons, such as: it is not ‘natural’ (although oxalic acid is a naturally occurring substance; although cyanide is naturally occurring too, so this might not say much!); accumulative effects of annual treatments may harm the queen (I haven’t read enough to know if this is a risk); it may harm the bees (the winter workers will die in spring to be replaced by new bees so its effects on the colony may not be long-lasting). I think it is advisable to treat hives in an apiary environment in a city, because disease may spread more easily.

giving bees oxalic acid

After a challenging year for our bees, it was great to see them alive and well for their midwinter oxalic acid ‘gift’. When we lifted the roof they were happily tucking into the bag of sugar fondant, although the hive is quite heavy with honey stores. They should be tightly clustered inside the hive, but today was quite mild and the cluster had become loose.

Above, Emily treats our bees with oxalic acid. They were much better behaved than last year and didn’t make much fuss. Myrtle must be a gentle-natured queen.

There was a small crowd led by Pat and John to treat all the hives at the apiary and after all that hard work it was time for tea with homemade mince pies and a generous-sized apple pie! There was also honey mead so the banter was quite lively. Yet another exposé on what Ealing beekeepers really get up to!

mince pies and apple tart

Soon it will be January and we will be looking for the first signs of spring when we can see our bees again. Merry Christmas everyone from Queen Myrtle and her bees!

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15 thoughts on “Merry Christmas Queen Myrtle and her bees!

    • They were very good tempered about getting their hive opened on a wintry, rainy day and sprinkled with oxalic acid – I think they were drunk on fondant ;) It was funny how John and Pat liked the mince pies with hearts, because they had ‘the love’! :)

    • Well, I agree. However, without knowing which part of the periodic table particularly offends, I can only guess that they don’t like rhubarb!

      It is just something that I have heard said by some ‘natural’ beekeepers, though what is meant by ‘natural’? For the most part, ‘traditional’ beekeeping works with the bees and applies treatments based on naturally occurring substances, such as oxalic acid or thymol; although just because something is naturally occurring is not to say it’s ‘safe’ (ie cyanide – perhaps an unfair example!) Even feeding bees sugar fondant or syrup may be considered ‘unnatural’. Perhaps, not keeping bees in a box in the first place would be ‘natural’?

      However, it’s Christmas – debates on ‘natural’/’traditional’ set aside :)

      Have a Very Merry Christmas RH – I look forward to hearing what the new year holds for Abaco wildlife! :)

  1. Pingback: Merry Christmas Queen Myrtle and her bees! « Wallace Family Apiary

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