This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby
December already and the bee season comes to a close for another year. At last there is little activity from the bees around the hives. We have had some very mild and sunny days in November and this has brought forth a lot of activity during some parts of the day. This is not ideal for the bees. At this time of year they should be clustering around the queen in the hive conserving energy. If the weather is mild however the bees emerge and start looking for supplies of nectar and pollen which is somewhat scarce now. They expend more energy and therefore have to consume more of the honey they have stored for the winter. The more they consume the sooner it runs out. My photograph this months shows the hives in the last week of November, you should be able to just see numerous bees flying around the entrances.
We have just had the first snow of winter. This cold weather will discourage the bees from emerging unless they have to venture out for a cleansing flight, so I hope they will have enough remaining stores to carry them through the winter until spring next year.
Its a quiet time of year for the beekeeper. Usually I would be thinking about spending some time away in a warmer climate for a few weeks but this year, yet again, I don’t think that is a sensible thing to do. I will have to “cluster” in my home like the bees and emerge on warmer days to carry out the usual winter tasks of repairing and cleaning my beekeeping equipment and resuming my battle with the wax moth to try to prevent them spoiling the drawn wax comb which I try to use from year to year if it is still in a reasonable condition for use.
In the supers the drawn comb is cleaned each time by the bees and reused to store the honey. By being able to re use the drawn wax comb time and again after use, the bees are spared the labour of having to draw out new cells each time for the storage of honey.
The comb in the supers is just repaired by the bees with wax. It starts life and remains a white / yellow colour.
With the brood comb however, whilst they start as white/ yellow wax, they soon turn very dark in colour, sometimes just after one season of use. Comb in supers is just used to store nectar and honey. Brood comb however is used in a different way to produce new generations of bees. Eggs turn into larvae which are contained in a silk like cocoon in each cell. These cocoons are extremely sticky and whilst the cells are cleaned after the bees emerge, some inevitable remains and can combine with faeces and other hive debris along with propolis which the bees use to polish the cleaned cells. The combination of these factors completely changes the colour of the wax into a deep brown/ black colour.
Recently there has been concern about pesticide build up in old combs as well as the accumulation of some pathogens. Many beekeepers now feel that it is wise to rotate old black brood comb out of the hive every four or five years not because of the colour but because of the pesticides and pathogens.
Another job for next year.