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!

Giving the bees oxalic acid

Oxalic acid is an effective treatment against varroa. It burns the feet and tongues of the varroa mites so that they fall off the bees! The treatment is only given in winter when the mites are living on adult bees and there is no brood for the acid to damage.

This weekend the apiary gave the hives oxalic acid as a way of saying ‘Happy New Year’ to our bees. The bees were not pleased, as they do not like their cosy cluster being disturbed in winter, and flew up as soon as the crown board was lifted. John Chapple, who is rarely seen behind a veil, observed that even he wears a bee suit when giving oxalic acid to the bees. Although the bees were not pleased, Emily and I enjoyed saying hello to our ladies again, and both hives looked healthy and strong.

The treatment is given as a pre-mixed solution of 3% oxalic acid in sugar syrup and warmed slightly so that it won’t chill the bees. About 5ml of solution is dribbled in-between each gap in the frames where the bees are clustered, called seams of bees. The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) have a good advisory leaflet on oxalic acid cleansing. It is a simple treatment to do, but it is critical to get the dosage right as over-dosing will harm the bees.

Lavender’s ladies were quiet and well behaved for their treatment, while Rosemary’s ladies were livelier. Believe it or not, our bees are much calmer than this in the summer! My first video, I hope to do more this year, shows Emily treating Rosemary’s hive:

Look how disgusted our bees are that we tore apart the sticky propolis insulating the hive! Sadly one bee was squashed as we closed the hive, but we rescued stragglers who had got cold and slow in the roof and carried them around to the entrance of the hives. It was fun to watch them climb in and re-join their sisters.

The BBKA say that oxalic acid is an important part of varroa management alongside other treatments and methods to keep varroa ‘below a level that damages the colony’. As varroa levels at the apiary increased in late autumn, it is hoped that the oxalic acid will help all the hives to stay healthy until spring. There is some talk among beekeepers about replacing treatments like oxalic acid and fumidil with ‘natural’ treatments, but I will write about this in another post in 2012 alongside a re-launch of my blog coming soon.

Happy New Year to bees, beekeepers, everyone and world!

Note: If you have not given oxalic acid to bees before, Glyn Davies of the Devon Beekeepers Association demonstrates the method very well. Emily has more videos of our apiary receiving oxalic acid treatment that are less shaky than my shots!