Friday morning began to plan. I had boiled the kettle and poured some water into my thermos. A bag was packed, containing a hive tool, bee suit, latex gloves and pre-mixed oxalic acid. Soon I was on the bus and getting off by the church where Emma and I have one of our bee hives.
The day before the winter solstice, the day starts late. It was still dark at about 7.15am as I walked through the door into the apiary. Stones dug into my shoes as I made my way down the rough path towards the bees, fighting past overhanging branches.
Once in, my suit went over my coat. Hot water poured into the thermos cup, steaming magically high in the cold morning air. Into that I popped the oxalic acid container, to warm it for the bees.
Hive roof off and upturned. Insulation unpacked. And then the moment of discovery – are the bees still alive? Crown board turned over – yes! They were up under the fondant, huddled in a ball shape over about six frames. Somewhere in there, safe within the warm middle, would be the queen.
I was awestruck at the sight of the bees, but galvanised myself into action, squinting to make sure the acid was drizzled over each ‘seam’ of bees between the frames. Oxalic acid occurs naturally in plants such as rhubarb leaves. Used correctly, it is an excellent weapon against varroa mites, with a high efficiency (i.e. kill rate) of above 90%.
It was still pretty dark, but light was beginning in the sky. I have heard that bees crawl in the dark, something I had no wish to feel up my trousers. Our bonny bees seemed in a good mood, but a bit of an annoyed buzz started and I thought it best to not to push my luck. The crown board, fondant and roof went back on.
“Why is Emily doing this procedure in the dark as the dawn rises?” you may well be thinking to yourself. Well, I would have liked to be in bed too. But by the time I get home from work in December it’s even more dark, and I knew that the weather was turning to several days of rain, plus I would be away for Christmas. As I mentioned in my previous post, the research done by the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex indicates that colonies are most likely to be broodless between 10th-25th December (at least in Sussex). Oxalic acid treatment is most effective when colonies are broodless and the mites cannot hide inside the brood.
I was feeling pretty pleased by the way things had gone. Gathering my things together, I left the apiary at about 7.30am. Then I hit a snag. However hard I pulled the gate shut, however I twisted the key, I couldn’t lock the thing. The local drinkers hadn’t appeared yet, but it was likely they would turn up soon. I went round the back and managed to find a very nice lady from the church to help me, who I won’t name in case she’d rather I didn’t. She couldn’t lock the gate either, but she took the key and said she would do her best to sort it out.
After this drama I just about managed to get into work for time for our 9am team meeting. What a relief that I was able to find someone to help me, otherwise I would have panicked as I would have hated to leave that gate unlocked without anyone knowing about it. One of the hazards of keeping bees in an out apiary!
Happy Christmas to all of you, and happy honey munching to all your bees. Here’s a few memories of the 2013 beekeeping season.