The Apiary Year – November

As we go into November the weather is not good – especially for bees. The air temperature is about 14C during the day. That is warm enough for the bees to expect to be able to go out and collect nectar. It is not the sort of temperature where the bees want to have a “duvet day”.

Then there is the rain – a lot of it.

Then there is the wind.

Then there is the snow ….. no we will worry about that later.

So Apiary tasks for November:

Protect the hives from the wind
Is your hive secure against the wind? This is a good time to make certain that your hive has lashing straps holding it all together. If the hive should be blown over then at least it will stay in one piece even if it is lying on its side. If you have a polystyrene hive then bricks on top and building blocks underneath would be a good idea. Then lash the whole structure together.
More extreme than anything we fear here is a video on strapping down hives in preparation for a hurricane.

Protect the hives from the rain.
If you can face it go and have a look at the apiary when it is raining heavily. Is the rain draining away from the hive or is it dripping of the roof and then running back into the hive? A wooden block under the hive in the right place may be all that it needs to correct the problem. While you are lifting one side of the hive to put some wood under it then does it feel like it weighs 18kg?

Protect the hives from woodpeckers.
Woodpeckers are not likely to be a problem until the first frosts. It seems the Green Woodpecker would like access to the honey but it is too much effort unless it is really cold. Don’t let that deter you from taking precautions now. If there is a risk of Green Woodpeckers making a mess of your hive then you do not want to be out in the Apiary during a hard frost trying to take Woodpecker precautions.
The birds will hang on the side of the hive and chisel a hole. To prevent this wrap your hive loosely in chicken wire. That prevents them getting close enough to get a grip. There is a very good video from the Norfolk Honey Company.

Make certain there is enough food.
It is too late to feed the bees with syrup. Last month the bees could carry the syrup down to the food stores then evaporate the surplus water leaving a “fondant” that was so high in sugar content that it could not ferment. Now it is too cold for them to evaporate off the water so if they are to be fed it is with fondant blocks.

To check whether the hive is well stocked heft one side of it. (For those new to beekeeping “to heft” means to raise one side of the hive just enough to feel the weight.) For an accurate reading I suggest the purchase of a set of luggage scales which cost about £7.00.

Heft the back of the hive. Double the figure you obtain to give you an idea of the weight of the hive. This assumes that the bees are stocking the hive evenly. The alternative is to measure at the front and back and add the figures or weigh side to side and add the figures.
For a National hive:

  • An open mesh floor is about 2kg.
  • A brood box with frames about 7kg.
  • A super with frames about 5kg.
  • A crown board about 1kg.
  • A shallow roof about 3.5kg or a deep roof about 5kg.
  • A colony of winter bees about 1kg.
Thus the typical weight of a wooden National hive without stores is about 17kg for a single brood box and about 22kg for brood and a half.
A hive requires about 18kg of food for the winter. For a single brood box National the weight should be about 35kg. with floor and roof.
For a double brood 40kg would be a minimum.
These are all approximate figures as it depends on how wet the hive is at the time of measuring. However if you use these as ball park figures and record your actual results in your log book you will be able to monitor the use of food more closely over the winter.
If the bees are short of food then place some fondant in the hive as close to the bees as you can.
Here is a video on this from the Norfolk Honey Company

Clean and sterilise equipment.
This is a good time to be cleaning and sterilising your equipment. What you do not want is to be storing bugs and diseases protected in your garage or your shed only to introduce them back to your apiary in the spring.
This is a big topic, well covered by a Beebase leaflet on cleaning.

Read bee books.
With a new lock down being imposed this week this is a good time to read bee books. I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the amount of material I want to learn about beekeeping. Shall I read about queen rearing or shall I read about candle making. That is part of the fascination of the subject – there is so much to know.
for those who are overwhelmed by the subject I suggest you look at the BBKA Modules which have pdf files of each of the modules. Studying for exams may not be for everybody but just looking at the syllabus will help structure your reading. In addition I recommend the videos of the Norfolk Honey Company.
If you want fiction related to bees I can recommend The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri It is not just about bee keeping but more about the struggles of a refugee wanting to come to Britain and keep bees. If you read it you will not learn much about beekeeping but you may learn a bit more about why refugees will risk so much.

A couple of points on IT technical issues:

  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo is probably available as an audiobook from your local library. On my local library web site there is a link to borrow audio books. I borrowed the book and put it on my mp3 player and listened to it on a walk. Even easier if you just download it to your phone.
  • There is a lot of information on the Beebase web site as pdf files. I read them on an e-reader – in my case a Kindle. I download them to my computer then send them to my Kindle and in due course they appear. Alternatively I use Calibre which is free software for e-reader management.
If any of this last bit causes confusion I do apologise and will remedy the confusion via emails to