Mid winter is a relatively quiet time for beekeeping but there are two tasks that can be carried out at this time of year. Most important is to check the weight of your hives by hefting them. This means putting your hand under the hive and tilting it forwards or sideways to assess the weight. If it is hard to lift all should be well but an easy lift could mean stores are getting low. If you have more than one hive, it is easier to detect which ones are lighter. Bees will not accept liquid feeds in winter, so if extra feeding is needed now, use candy, which you can make yourself, or buy fondant.
Making bee candy
Making bee candy can be a bit like making porridge for Goldilocks. Too much heat and the candy sets too hard for the bees to eat; not enough heat and the candy may be soft enough to drip out of the container onto the frames and bees.
Dissolve 2kg white granulated sugar in 600ml of hot water. Using a sweet/jam maker’s thermometer, heat the solution to 117⁰C (soft ball in sweet maker’s terms). Watch the pan carefully to make sure the syrup does not boil over. When the required temperature has been reached, remove from the heat and stir continuously as it cools (the pan can be stood in cold water in the sink). When the liquid starts to become thick and opaque, quickly pour the solution into suitable containers, such as aluminium food trays. Leave to set. Place the candy tray upside down on the frames above where the bees are clustering. Use an empty super to provide space for the candy tray and cover the frames and candy with a piece of blanket or other thick cloth to keep warmth in the brood box.
The other winter beekeeping activity is treatment against Varroa with oxalic acid. In December around Christmas time there is generally little or no sealed brood in hives, so the Varroa mites will be exposed on the adult bees. Oxalic acid can be applied by trickling 5ml of the prepared solution between combs that are occupied by bees. There is a useful video on this technique on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgHmGGXRDzg The oxalic acid part starts 1 minute and 40 seconds into this video. An alternative means of applying oxalic acid is to heat the crystals using a car battery-powered heating device that is inserted into the hive. This causes the chemical to vaporise and as it cools it crystalizes again on the bees and hive parts. It is a more effective means of contacting the mites but oxalic acid vapour is a human health hazard if breathed in or if it comes into contact with eyes. A proper face mask and protective gloves are essential. Covid 19 masks will not do! A video of heat treatment with oxalic acid (sublimation) can be seen on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xjuFdSQv00. The Weybridge division has an oxalic acid sublimation applicator that can be hired, The user must supply their own car battery and have the necessary protective mask and gloves. See https://www.weybridgebeekeepers.org/wbk-equipment-hire.html for information about hiring Weybridge division equipment.
With most of Surrey now having been placed in Tier 4, we are advised to stay at home. This does not mean that you cannot travel to your bees if you have an out apiary. Caring for bees and other livestock is a permitted activity that allows travel for that purpose. I have attached a document that was circulated earlier this year when Covid restriction first came in. It may be useful to keep this in your car, particularly if going to your bees means travelling from Tier 4 into a Tier 3 area.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for successful beekeeping in 2021,
Weybridge division Chairman