Notes by the side of the hive

Waking early on a beautiful, golden autumn morning to get ready for John’s parents visiting from Hereford today, we got a call that they were delayed by fog on the motorway. That left me time for a coffee break and a quiet ten minutes to sit down and browse through last year’s beekeeping notes on my iPad, when I came across these unposted notes that I’d written at the apiary after visiting the hives last October. The memories of that misty chilly morning came rushing back as I read and I thought it was a shame that I had forgotten to post my ‘notes by the side of the hive’ last year.

So, with still five minutes to spare until our visitors arrive, here are my notes, unedited…

The sun breaks through the mist of a chilly October morning as I walk on a leaf-trodden path towards the hive. There is no need for a smoker for I am only interested in what is under the roof and have no intention of disturbing the queen and her nest. The air is absent of darting bees and vibrating humming, only stillness and silence fill the apiary.

As I approach the hive I notice a cloud of bees flying around the entrance. They do not look like returning foragers and their pollen sacs are empty. I then remember the hive’s late summer queen, Myrtle, who laid brood at the end of the season ready to make new bees. These young workers appear to be stretching their wings and orientating themselves to the location of the hive. They fly at me, a little curious, but I easily brush them away and take off the roof.

A few spiders scurry into dark recesses as I upturn the roof on the stand next to the hive. I welcome them: spiders tell me that conditions inside are warm and dry.

The feeder resting on the crownboard is empty. The round, plastic bowl with a central funnel tunnel allows the bees to climb up and drink sugar syrup without drowning. A few stragglers walk around the bottom of the feeder searching for drops of sweetness. I lift the lid and slowly pour in more syrup, watching as the level rises gradually and the bees move out of the way. The low pitch of the hive’s humming suddenly rises as excited workers clamber up the feeder and spill over the top in their eagerness to collect this week’s manna from heaven. I close the lid.

A couple of nosy bees have flown up from the entrance and are walking on the crownboard. I pick them and place them beside the entrance, because being trapped in the roof means certain death from cold and starvation. I replace the roof and close the hive. A slight heft of the hive by levering one hand beneath the floor reveals a modest weight of stores. It is not the strongest colony for going into winter, but it will have to do. The bees will be fed sugar syrup until they no longer take it, and then a bag of fondant will be left in the roof for nibbling until spring.

I check the varroa board for mite drop – there is very little. The colony swarmed in the summer, which naturally reduces levels of varroa in the hive. I check the mouseguard – it is secure and offers the colony protection from robbers and pests on the prowl for honey, brood and comb.

There is not much beekeeping to do in late autumn and winter. There are occasional visits made to the hive to carry out check on stores and insulation and to make sure there is no risk of pests like woodpeckers or mice disturbing the colony. The bees will rest now until spring. They will form a tight ball around the queen inside the brood nest and vibrate their wings to maintain a constant warmth within the hive. They will eat up their winter stores and wait patiently for the days to grow long and warm again.

I take a walk full circle around the apiary and look at the other hives. All seems well. Arriving back at my hive, a notable chill has crept into the air and flying bees have all gone inside. I leave the workers to huddle around their queen.

Looking back I now realise that there is a lot to do in autumn and winter, which is often forgotten and which will be part of a winter beekeeping series on my blog from November.

I hope you enjoyed my beekeeping notes. Have a great weekend!

Next post: Still 26 October!

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11 thoughts on “Notes by the side of the hive

  1. Beautifully written Emma. And we know there was a happy ending – Queen Myrtle’s hive came through the winter and are still going now. Glad someone welcomes the spiders – I usually shudder when I see them running across the roof!

    • I’d rather find a spider in the roof than a wasp! Will order some insulation this week to tuck-in Myrtle, Chili and Chamomile for winter so we have another happy ending (or is it beginnings?) in spring!

  2. it is nice to reflect on what happened a year ago, especially as Emily says, we now know there is a happy ending. The honey bees around me are very busy at the moment collecting the pollen and nectar from the ivy which is in flower. Their sacs are so full I wonder how they can fly.

    • There was a very strong smell of honey at the apiary on Saturday which Thomas said was ivy honey. It was richly sweet which is strange when it tastes so bitter. I hope our bees take down sugar syrup rather than ivy honey although they have plenty of other choice in London. I too wonder at the girls carrying home huge baskets of heavy pollen at this time of year!

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