Winter is coming – getting the bees ready for hail, frost and snow

You might think I’m crazy talking about winter. We’ve just had some of our hottest days of the year, when parts of England reached over 35°C. Yet the summer solstice was a summer bee’s lifetime ago. The bees are always looking ahead, thinking of the long dark days to come, so we should too.

Both my colonies are doing well. The swarm has not yet filled out the brood box – about three frames remain to be drawn out. They are lovely, gentle bees that I feel a special connection with.

My newer hive, purchased from a local beekeeper, is absolutely booming, every cell in the brood box heavy with brood, pollen or honey. The bees were originally on Langstroth frames – but I keep National hives – so with the help of some clever conversion equipment the queen was moved onto National frames and then the old Langstroth frames removed once the brood had hatched out. I was relieved once the process was complete as I find the Langstroth frames very awkward to hold, with their larger, heavier size and teeny weeny little lugs!

Water sourceHives






I was planning to press ahead with Apiguard (a thymol based varroa treatment) last weekend, but then realised I didn’t have ekes ready. I got a couple more delivered this week. By getting varroa levels down now, the colony will have a better chance to produce healthy bees going into autumn. Apiguard’s manufacturers say it is most effective at outside temperatures of at least 15ºC (see Apiguard guidance), so now is a good time to do it before Cornwall returns to its usual mellow dampness. The autumn bees must keep the colony going through everything the winter can throw at us, huddling round the queen, waiting for the first hopeful days of spring.

There are lots of bee-themed events coming up soon in Cornwall. One is going on this weekend – a Bee Fayre at Enys Gardens – lots of short talks about bees, including getting young people into bee farming, beekeeping in the Scottish borders, an insect hotel workshop and a bumblebee safari. Hoping I can get to some!

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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10 Responses to Winter is coming – getting the bees ready for hail, frost and snow

  1. Lindylou says:

    Hallo Emily, Do your new bees have varroa? Maybe you are lucky and have bees that have rwsistance already. Look at your white board first for a couple of weeks. Cornwall is very active in VSH bee development. It may just be that chemical use can be avoided. When used the bees are subjected to substances that do weaken them and varroa becomes stronger learning to overcome such chemicals. It’s heartbreaking to loose your bees I know but keeping them but with chemical assistance is not fine either. Go gently and good luck.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Lindy – the bees do have varroa, I’ve seen it on the board. I live in central Cornwall, not an isolated area where you can try breeding for resistance. Apiguard is a gentle treatment that’s not been linked to queen loss or harming bees. It’s also not one which varroa develop resistance to in the same way as you pyrethroid treatments that you have to rotate.


  2. Mike says:

    Really great to hear your new bees are doing so well.
    Do you think it’s worth rotating different varroa treatments in different years? I was planning to avoid using thymol based treatment for another year running as there appear to be a few more non-pyrethroid options on the market now.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Mike. It certainly is worth rotating treatments, the bee inspectors were recommending this at the recent Bee Day I went to. I suspect the swarm colony came from a wild bee colony living on a neighbouring farm, so probably have not been treated before. The bees I purchased have been treated before. I need to investigate the various options so that I can plan ahead for next year, as you say there are some new ones now. What will you be using?


      • Mike says:

        This year I’m going to try Apitraz. It is a ‘hard’ chemical treatment – i.e. not based on anything found in nature so it’s not for everyone and I’m still not 100% sure it’s the right thing to do. However I found that Maqs seemed to kill a worrying number of bees when I’ve used it in the autumn (but worked well when required in the spring); ApiGuard I’ve used several years running in the past (it always works well); Apilife-var I used last year and is also thymol based.
        Plus I don’t want to use pyrethroid based treatments as most varroa are apparently resistant and I don’t want to encourage even more resistance to make life harder for everyone in the future.
        So I’m going to give the new one a try to see how it goes and then probably go back to the beginning next year.


        • Emily Scott says:

          Thanks Mike, hope your bees get on well with Apitraz. I’ll look into trying that too next year. Have heard so many bad stories about Maqs killing queens and bees that I’ve been put off using it.


  3. Glad to hear your bees are doing well.


  4. I will welcome some cooler weather. It has been so very hot here in my region this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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