We are into November with the days closing in. I always find this time of year a challenge – it is not so a bad once we are into winter – it is the transition that challenges me. I imagine the bees find it challenging too. After the carefree days of summer they are retreating into their cluster. There is still some ivy in bloom and the bees are working it when they get the chance. I still pass the hives almost every day but rarely do any work preparing for next year.
As the temperature drops there will be a variety of animals trying to make beehives their home for the winter especially mice. It is important to make sure all entrances are mouse proof.
Over the next months the main thing is to heft the hives from the side and behind to make sure each colony has still got enough supplies for the winter.
I am wondering about insulating under the roof of my wooden hives. I know some people who put on an empty super and fill it with wood shavings to keep the bees warm below. It seems a sensible idea and something I have never done. It is also worth checking that roofs are watertight – dampness brings cold and makes for unhappy and unhealthy bees.
Ventilation is a very important at this time of the year. To increase ventilation you can insert a hive tool under the rear of the crown board to crack the propolis seal. By placing a match under the crown board you create a small air-gap which will allow moisture-laden air from the winter cluster to escape. In this case you close the feed hole.
I have taken off very little honey. I read somewhere about a beekeeper who takes honey off in Spring when they are sure the bees have survived the winter. That sounded very sensible indeed! The honey I have taken off I use as comb honey – I do cut-comb rather then extract honey. It is partly laziness but comb honey also has a number of advantages – it tastes better – the flavour is protected inside the comb. It has health benefits – honey is purest when eaten straight from the comb. I read about a vet in America who uses comb honey on wounds especially in dogs. Once cleaned, he puts comb honey on the wound to draw out the moisture and reduce the possibility of infection. He believes that nothing works better or faster than honey from the comb. A dab of honey is very soothing for cuts or burns and protects against infection.
A teaspoon of local honey is thought to relieve allergy symptoms. Your immune system becomes accustomed to local pollen in the honey. Local honey maybe be healthier because the bees produce it specifically to fight off infectious organism in that area. One of the reasons honey is effective as an anti-bacterial agent is its hydroscopic quality – honey attracts moisture better than almost any other substance. Some people refer to it as a so called ‘dry liquid’. Another antibacterial property of honey is its acidity. It typically has a pH of less then 4. This is more acidic then almost anything we eat. Despite it being so acidic honey is soothing when put on a wound or sore. It is the sweetness of honey that masks the acidity.
A dose of honey is also said to help relieve insomnia by releasing serotonin s in the brain to calm you down and induce sleep.
I came across a list of bee friendly actions we could all chose to implement.
Maintain natural flowering hedgerows.
Allow wild flowers to grow around the farm.
Provide nest sites for wild bees.
Minimize use of artificial fertilizers.
Reduce pesticide inputs.
A nice thought to end these notes
Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
O, marvellous error –
That there was a beehive here inside my heart
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from all my failures.
Machado de Assis