The cold snap means that all is quiet in the apiary. I hope brood rearing has been modest up to now. The mild weather may have encouraged the queens to lay and now the bees will be struggling to keep the young brood warm. There is pollen available with the snow drops and hazel catkins and some was coming in during January.
It is important to keep checking hives to see that they are secure and each hive hefted to check on food supplies. All mine seem heavy but then I left most of the honey on the hives and will take some off when we are safely through the winter months. It makes more and more sense to me to remove surplus honey in the spring. I did remove some in late August as it is such a joy and a pleasure to sample fresh comb honey on brown bread.
Also it I useful to keep an eye on the hive entrance. You can always learns so much about the bees by watching their front door. You may well find a lot of fine particles of wax from the uncapping of stores. You may also see spots of faeces or dysentery caused by fermenting stores.
There is plenty to work to be done this month. Stock taking is one thing – what have I got and what do I need to order for the new season? It is good to order foundation early as it can easily run out in the height of the season.
There is always more to learn about bees and beekeeping. I did not know that bees are descended from carnivorous wasps – some wasps abandoned hunting for animal protein opting for a vegetarian diet based on nectar and pollen produced by flowers. The spread of flowering plants seems to have coincided with the appearance of the first bees.
I find an increasing demand for local honey as people are aware of its apparent benefits to treat allergies. The evidence is anecdotal that local honey makes a difference. Honey in the comb should be the most effective because it is likely to contain pollen and many allergies occur in response to different pollens. Local honey will contain pollen from plants growing in the area. This may help to desensitise the body. Taking a tablespoon of raw, local honey for two to three months, before the hay fever season may help to build up immunity against the allergy. Raw honey also contains useful enzymes and nutrients including a variety of antioxidants that highly processed honey does not. Darker honey (e.g., heather honey) has more antioxidants than light-coloured honey. Studies have shown that honey is beneficial to treat ulcers, burns, and wound of all sorts. I have often used it on burns.
A new winter treatment for varroa is available called Oxybee which is meant to be easy to use. It comes in 1 litre bottles of oxalic acid dihydrate plus two sachets of sucrose powder containing glycerol which helps the oxalic acid to stick to the bees. The solution can be kept for 12 months. It is used during broodless periods and when supers are off. A bottle should treat 20 colonies.
I have never tried treating for varroa during the winter months. I am loath to open the hives during that time but maybe I should re-consider this.
This month, on the 11th February we have the feast of St Gobnait – she was born in the 6th century in County Clare and is the patron saint of beekeeping.
Apparently she kept many hives in her monastery. A story tells how one her hives was transformed into a bell and was used to call the local people to prayer.