Autumn ponderings

My work involves a lot of sitting in front of a computer, updating web pages and answering enquiries. I like my job but I miss the sun, as our office only has tiny windows which let little light in. On my lunch break – and I am lucky as I get a full hour long lunch break – I step outside and blink gratefully when the sky is bright. I take long strides around the city, exercising my legs and entertaining my eyes by looking at St Paul’s cathedral, at the Thames, squirrels, pigeons and all the old Roman walls near my work.

St Paul's across the river at night - there are some perks to living in London

St Paul’s across the river at night – there are some perks to living in London

Weekends are nice because I can spend more time outside, whether with the bees in the summer or staring wistfully at the hive entrances in the winter. Today was a perfect autumn day and quite a few of us turned up to drink tea and eat some Icelandic choccies Emma had kindly left behind for us. Some excellent hats were on display. Don brought his Alsatian Annie, who gets shy and barks at new people but is actually a sweetie when you stroke her.

Icelandic honey

Emma also gave me this honey and pretty snow globe. The honey was a very special present from Hjalmar Jonsson, an Icelandic beekeeper who may be visiting the Ealing apiary in the spring. When he heard Emma was coming to Iceland for a few days he kindly invited her to visit his hives. You can read about Emma’s visit and see some stunning photos on her blog post Beekeeping in Iceland. The honey smells delicious.

How many hats can you see?

How many hats can you see?

Tom has very generously given Emma and I some home-made insulated dummy boards to go with the insulated roofs he made us. He helped me put the dummy boards into Chilli’s small hive, as we had some empty frames of foundation at the end that were doing nothing to help keep the warmth in. Our hives now have fondant on over the crown board, topped by insulation and insulated roofs. We want to tuck our bees in warm this winter. Brian reported that a woodpecker had a go at one of his top-bar hives, so chicken wire is something to sort out next week.

Insulation before the roof goes on

Insulation before the roof goes on

Earlier Drew had helped me check out the Hanwell bees. Outside the church gate we were greeted by a man dressed as Elvis and what looked like a human poo on the ground. A peculiar combination. Beyond the gate I realised I had forgotten my bee suit, which was a little annoying as I wanted to put a mouse guard across the entrance.

I proceeded towards our hive and gingerly fixed the mouse guard on, putting the drawing pins in gently as bees don’t generally like anything interfering with their entrance. I stood back and Drew said “Is the entrance meant to be covered?”. I had somehow managed to put the thick part of the mouse guard across the entrance and already bees were buzzing around trying to get in. As I fixed its positioning one landed on my hand, but luckily she was just looking for somewhere to land and not out to get me.

What must it feel like to spend a few months huddling around your queen? Perhaps the winter bees have it easy, feeding on the fragrant honey their summer sisters collected. But I dislike being cold, so I think I’d rather be a busy summer bee. Dale Gibson has done a good post on his Apis blog explaining what the bees get up to: Hivernation.

How are your winter preparations coming along, either for the bees or for yourselves?

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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18 Responses to Autumn ponderings

  1. says:

    Hello, My partner have created a children’s character that teaches kids the importanace of the honey bee and our environment. Would appreciate if you would share with your members;

    Mark Wasson

    PRESS RELEASSE LINK…….. Creating Kids That Care: Kickstarter Campaign Launched To Raise … Einnews Portugal


  2. Alex Jones says:

    I am testing out a new tent called a Banshee 300 in winter conditions, what fun I shall have next week in the wood 🙂

    Glad to read your winter preparations for your bees are now well advanced, I suspect another hard winter is ahead for bee and human.


  3. Jonathan Harding says:

    Such well fussed bees that it is incredible how they used to flourish in their favourite hollow trees!
    I just wonder whether too much plastic in the lids might cause condensation and mould which is a worse killer than the cold..
    The best breathing insulation is 18″ (46cm) squares of old thick wool blanket with an oblong feeder/breather hole cut in the middle placed on the crownboard.
    If the bees have got enough stores they should not use or need fondant.
    Let us hope for a kinder 2014 spring….


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for your comment, the old wool blanket is a good idea. There was an article in the BBKA News recently about the conditions in hollow trees. The author pointed out that the wood in a tree trunk is considerably thicker, and therefore better at insulating, than the walls of the average National hive. So our man-made hives really put the bees at a warmth disadvantage.

      Bees are very good at coping with all sorts of conditions, and might well survive the winter in a rickety old hive with loads of holes in it, but we want our bees not just to survive but to thrive. This type of insulation in the top of the hive has worked for us in the past. We will have a chance to see whether there is any condensation when we do the oxalic acid treatment in late December. Hopefully the cold air circulating through the open mesh floor should prevent that happening.

      Emma and I have not taken any honey from the bees this year, and the hives are so heavy I cannot heft them up even a little now, so I am confident about their stores. However, I think it doesn’t hurt to have the fondant on in case the cluster reaches the top of the frames. We usually find that the fondant gets eaten in early spring when they are getting low on stores and the brood nest is expanding.

      Wishing you a happy and warm winter.


  4. M N Rajkumar says:

    Thanks for these pleasant posts.


  5. daveloveless says:

    I had the joy of visiting England once many years ago, and London is… breathtaking. My wife dreams of the UK (particularly Scotland), and it’s on our list. First place even! 🙂


  6. I’m planning to try to put more life (i.e. plants) into the little strip of woodland at the bottom of the garden. I don’t like the cold either but it is a job that has to be done in the winter so I hope it gets done. I’m also planning to put more nectar producing plants in the garden for the bees. Its a good time to add more shrubs and perennials.


  7. cecilia says:

    I have always worried about condensation when the hives are insulated too much, but am thinking of wrapping something around my last remaining hive, it gets so cold here, below freezing for weeks – cold, Do you know of anyone wrapping their hives, in like bubble wrap or something? Not the top, just the sides and i definitely need a mouse guard, i forgot about that, I had mouse eat half a hive one year. I had better make a list and get busy. c


    • Emily Heath says:

      Do you have an open mesh floor? I would worry about ventilation if I had solid floors, but the open mesh floors (maybe these are called screened bottom boards in the US?) let plenty of air circulate in.

      I don’t wrap, but London isn’t as cold as where you are. Janet has written a great post full of winter tips, and she has some photos of how she wraps: Wrapping seems to be mainly a US thing, I don’t know any English beeks who do it. Wishing you and the bees a happy and warm winter x


  8. I am with Dave and his wife. I would love to visit the UK, especially London and Scotland. So much history. It was nice of your bees to let you fiddle with their entrance unprotected. You must be their queen!


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