Winter is coming: embracing the dark nights

As the days shorten, the bees are still managing to find yellow pollen – probably from ivy? On the warmer days, they zip frantically in and out, bringing home as much as they can. As increasingly darker, rainy days come, they hunker down in the hive; perhaps similar to the way we curl up at home and listen to the comforting sound of the rain on our windows. 

Over the years I have got into a bit of a routine with my bees when it comes to over wintering. I’ve found methods that work for me and I don’t tend to adapt them too much. I started out in 2008 and have been lucky to not lose a colony over winter yet (but it helps that I’ve only been keeping between 1-4 hives each of those years). 

I like to feed fondant, and this year the bees are already devouring it fast. Below you can see the dent one of the colonies made in a 2.5kg pack of Fondabee within a week. I put it over the hole in the crown board and then pack insulation over the top. 

Bees eating fondant

My winter checklist:

  • Late summer varroa treatment – usually I do a thymol based treatment in late August-early September (with supers off)
  • Feed syrup in September if stores are low
  • Switch to feeding fondant after October
  • Colonies are overwintered either in a single brood box or brood box with super on top (with queen excluder removed)
  • I put sheets of silver foil style insulation over the crown board, above the brood box
  • Mouseguard put on in early November, after the ivy pollen has finished (as the mouse guard can knock pollen off foragers’ legs)
  • Oxalic acid treatment (Api-Bioxal nowadays) done around the winter solstice 

I’m enjoying our autumn colours and textures – the reds of hawthorn, holly and cotoneaster, the crunch of acorns under foot, the dewy wet grass of the field I walk over to take Holly to nursery in the mornings. This year has been a strange one, but at least in bee-world life continues as before. No social distancing in the bee hive! 

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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11 Responses to Winter is coming: embracing the dark nights

  1. hencorner says:

    Great post Emily, very glad to see that my overwintering check list matches yours!
    Let’s hope they all come out fighting fit in the spring… 🐝🐝🐝

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  2. Ours are bringing lots of yellow pollen too. We have a lot of rapeseed flowering from seeds that have been “lost” from the original culture fields. Amelia

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  3. disperser says:

    So, I have a question . . . my hummingbirds are long gone but I’m still putting out feeders because when the weather is warm enough, they swarm with bees (swarm as in they come and feed in great numbers and on multiple feeders).

    I don’t know if I’m helping them or hurting them . . . but I know that when local sellers of honey will advertise ‘wildflower’ or ‘clover’ or some other great-sounding honey moniker, I’ll smile and say . . . it’s mostly sugar water.

    Seriously, should I pull the feeders?

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  4. Emily, I am not a beekeeper but why do you need to feed fondant to the bees especially when there is flowering ivy about?

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    • Emily Scott says:

      Hi Philip, possibly I don’t, but despite taking no honey this year I’ve been concerned that they seem low on stores. They’re in the middle of a lot of farm land – grass for sheep and cows. The bees never seem to thrive here, only survive. Ideally I’d find a new location but that’s not practical at the moment. I thought the hedgerows with brambles and ivy would provide enough forage but my bees in London used to do better.

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  5. Phillip says:

    I’m giving consideration to making fondant this year. (It’s a bit too expensive to purchase where I live.) I’ve seen some videos of some beekeepers, possibly in eastern Europe, mixing clean honey with powdered sugar to make what looks like a honey-based fondant. I’m concerned when I see starch as an ingredient in the powdered sugar, but the process is so simple, it’s tempting.

    I’ve pulled all my hive feeders as well as open feeders. It’s so cold, my bees are barely flying, and they’re not touching the syrup anymore. One of the benefits of living on the island of Newfoundland, our bees don’t have Varroa or hardly any diseases that are more common in other parts of the world. I don’t think I have to worry too much spreading disease. At least I hope I don’t. Dealing with Newfoundland weather is worrisome enough.

    Your winters don’t seem to be a brutal as mine, but your check list is pretty much the same as mine.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      I’ve been seeing a lot of photos of home made fondant in the UK beekeeping Facebook groups. You need a sugar thermometer but other than that the process sounds simple enough. I’d make my own too if I had more time.

      Good luck with your winter, it must really keep you on top of your beekeeping game having weather like that. We just have a lot of wet here In Cornwall, endless rain and a surprising amount of hail, but rarely snow.

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