A beekeeper’s notes for December

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Winter hasn’t come for the bees. They were enjoying the mild weather today bringing home lots of pollen. A drone sat comfortably on a hive roof looking well fed and a young-looking worker was resting on the side of the hive boxes. Else was over-the-moon about the unseasonably warm weather, which brought back memories of Christmas in Australia. She produced a box of deliciously festive cup cakes to cheer up the British beekeepers complaining about the prospect of a sunny Christmas.

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The cakes were baked by Else’s friend and were scrumptious with raisin-and-spice sponge and frosted-chocolate icing.

The unseasonably warm weather meant it was unlikely that the hives would be treated with oxalic acid today. The bees hadn’t slowed down for Christmas. “One hive is heavier now than when I put on the fondant in October,” said Andy. He had treated his hives last month during a brief cold snap on a day when the bees were less likely to be active and protest about being disturbed.

Oxalic acid is usually given as a midwinter treatment when the days are frosty and there is little or no brood inside the hive. It’s most effective when applied during broodless periods, or as close to broodless as you can get, because the varroa have fewer places to hide. The fixed points on the beekeeping calendar are turning as the seasons become uncertain, however. Perhaps it’s best to say the bees can be treated with oxalic acid when the weather is wintry and conditions inside the hive are right, rather than in the winter. That’s assuming you treat your hives to oxalic acid.

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After tea and cake, Emily and I checked that our three hives still had enough stores. Pepper’s and Melissa’s hives were a generous weight when hefted and Peppermint’s hive had also pulled off the trick of getting heavier since putting on the fondant. The hive entrances were as busy as a mild spring day and the weight of the hives suggest the bees might be finding nectar as well as pollen to fill up the boxes.

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Melissa’s bees has tucked into their fondant despite having two supers of honey at the end of autumn. These bees do like their sugar.

That done, we got the bees ready for Christmas with tinsel and festive decorations. The apiary needed a little sparkle if the frost wasn’t coming this year.

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Beekeepers take note for December – it’s the tinsel that gets the bees through winter.

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15 thoughts on “A beekeeper’s notes for December

  1. I love the decorated hives! Bees are really so hard to fathom. When given the choice they are tucking into fondant or are they just being economical and keeping the honey just in case of hard times? Amelia

    • Yes bees are hard to fathom. The longer I keep them, the more I think they are just quite weird. This hive in particular, our oldest, are all weirdos. Last year they ate almost two packets of fondant and left a fair few frames of honey. They get quite cross when you try to move the fondant too – perhaps more cross than when we take off the honey. I suppose they might be being economical in that the fondant is easier for them to reach being centred above the hive and easier to eat because they don’t have to decap it like honey!

      • You should not really put human feelings into animals but you could imagine them preferring going to get the fondant rather than the slog of decapping the honey. It is just like us hating some household tasks but being O.K. with others. (I’ll stop this now.:))

  2. Although the more research I read about animals, including bees – flower ‘constancy’ being a fascinating area – the more I think that choices and preferences motivated by emotion, of some kind, is not beyond them.

  3. Another beautiful story. I loved seeing the hives decorated for the festive period. I see that your bees have already started eating their Christmas cakes. Two of our hives have eaten half a candy, but the other two hives have not touched it. With day-time the temperatures around 15C, they are all still flying around and coming back with pollen.
    Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. I hope that the bees do well during the winter. – Kourosh

    • As Amelia says bees are quite hard to fathom! I’m curious how Peppermint’s hive has become heavier and busier at the hive entrance since we put on the fondant, yet they have not eaten much fondant. Although it’s a good development. I’m old school and prefer not to open the hive for inspections in late autumn and winter, so I’ll have to wait till early spring to find out. Merry Christmas to you and your bees – I hope they enjoy their Christmas cake 🙂

      • The bees know best what they are up to, and each colony behaves completely differently. We both have to wait until spring as it is best to disturb them as little as possible now.
        Meanwhile let us all beekeepers just enjoy the festive period with the family. Merry Christmas. – Kourosh & Amelia

  4. Ah, that’s my problem. Not enough tinsel! We’ve never been tinsel fans, may to reconsider that approach if it helps the hives.

    If I recall you had lights on last year, and weren’t sure if the bees enjoyed them. Nice to hear that they appreciate the tinsel. We have lights on our bushes. Far away from the bees, although some nights have been warm enough that the bees could fly to see them if they wished.

    Happy Christmas!

    • LED lights for hives, there’s a thought… 😉 The days are so mild my only wish for the bees is that they have enough stores and good health till spring. Though I’m sure you’re hive monitor is more logical. Merry Christmas to you and your family and your bees!

  5. Oh so pleased all the Bees are tucking into their fondant 🙂 as you tuck into those cupcakes 🙂 how lovely were they..

    The hives look very festive Emma.. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful Christmas my friend.. Enjoy your family time and wishing you a very Happy New Year with many blessings your way

    Love Sue ❤

    • Oh Merry Christmas to you also Sue and enjoy this festive time with your family and friends. This is the first moment I’ve had to myself all day, but the turkey and ham are cooked and I’ll be up at 6am opening stockings and peeling vegetable – and I just love Christmas! Here’s to a wonderful chaotic fun day for everyone! xxx

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