Amanda's Beekeeping Notes November 2020

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

After the wet and windy weather in the last few weeks it was a pleasure to see my bees busy and bringing in lots of pollen in the sunshine for a few days before the latest storm. There was even a slight smell of ivy nectar. The Acer was glowing red. However, now that winter is here we need to check the final preparations are completed, before leaving them in peace for a while.

Mouse protection and woodpecker protection should be in place, also straps against windy weather. Mine have so much honey, I shall not need to heft until the new year, but I am still sorting out the mites. My ‘mite bomb’ this year started several weeks earlier (end Sept) and resulted in twice the mites invading my colonies than last year. I started a series of Oxalic acid vapourisation treatments at 5 day intervals on 8th October. The total mite drop from my 10 colonies after the first treatment was a shocking 15,000 mites, after the second it was 9700, and it looks like the third session will be about 5000. This more rapid tail-off in numbers, considering the OAV only gets the phoretic mites not those inside the brood, probably means that the area of brood is reducing. Many authorities now suggest that November is the time of minimum brood rather than the conventional thinking of end of December, so OAV treatment will be more effective now if you have not already started. I anticipate I shall have to do a 4th or even 5th treatment to some colonies.

soggy beehives with autumn leaves

Large colonies survive better than small ones over winter; this is because they have more bees, and can maintain their temperature better on proportionately less honey and rear more brood. Nucs will benefit from extra insulation. If they are small due to disease they should have been destroyed by now. My 5 frame nuc I can tie pieces of cellotex to the sides and give them a large roof to keep it all dry. I have an apidea, with 2 supers on top full of stores. I am considering putting the apidea inside a nuc casing, possibly with a bit of extra insulation around.  More important I have moved them onto a mesh floor to improve ventilation and so I can monitor the mites and this week have dusted with icing sugar a couple of times.  The nuc dropped ~100 total and the apidea ~40; still significant given their size. Without treatment they would surely die over winter.

I noticed on a sunny day this week quite a few colonies had a number of bees standing round the entrance, whereas the previous day there had been much more flying. Although possibly warming in the sun before flying as it was very breezy, it is more likely they were guard bees; there were one or two wasps which they reacted strongly to. We know that guard bees recognize bees from other colonies; and were told this was due to a difference in smell, possibly from different food sources or different genetics but which did not satisfactorily explain how they still know their nest mates if, for example, the queen changes or all the colonies from an apiary are visiting a monoculture. This week I saw some research offering a more plausible means of recognizing friend from foe.

The importance of microorganisms in the guts of bees and other animals, including humans, has become recognized in recent decades. They can benefit their hosts by helping to digest food, detoxifying harmful molecules, providing essential vitamins and amino acid nutrients, protecting against invading pathogens and parasites (eg protecting Bumblebees against Crithidia bombi parasite), and modulating development and immunity. It appears the bee microbiota is acquired after the young bee emerges from the cell. Although trophallaxis and hive materials are obvious sources of these microorganisms, the most important source is via faeces! Bees have 9 main species of microbiota, which seem to be specifically adapted to live with their bee hosts, but each species consists of many different strains each probably having different functions. They also have preferred locations; most of the microorganisms reside in the hindgut (hence the importance of faeces), which is lined with a stable layer of cuticle; the midgut is inhospitable with a continuously shedding layer. In the crop there are just a few oxygen tolerant bacteria, such as Lactobacillus kunkeei, also found in nectar and which are involved in the preservation of pollen as beebread among other things. Once a young bee has obtained these bacteria over the course of the first 4 days it becomes a stable community over the lifespan of the bee (unless perturbed by things such as Nosema, Glyphosate, stress and beekeeper-applied antibiotics mainly in USA)

General overview:

and the scientific paper: Gut Microbial communities of Social bees,


my Japanese Acer which seems to be glowing at the moment even in the rain

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