Another task is to check the hives for damage. It is easy to do a regular check as the hives are in my garden. In general I look quickly to see that the mouseguards are still in place and that there are no dead bees blocking the entrance but the presence of a splendid greater spotted woodpecker on the fence last week inspired me to make a more thorough check. All was well with the hives but I bought some mealworms for the bird table to keep Mr Woodpecker away from my bees.
Following an e-mail from the National Bee Unit warning beekeepers to check stores as some beekeepers had found thier bees starving to death, I did the traditional hive 'heft'. This means lifting the hive at a corner to see how much it weighs. They all felt heavy but I have no confidence in my 'hefting' skills whatsoever. I had ensured that each hive had 35lbs of winter stores by leaving on a super of honey and feeding syrup in the autumn. Thus they should have had adequate food but then the warm weather meant that they were using up energy by flying and the queens may still have been laying. On a sunny day with the temperature 14C I took the roof of each hive and slid the crownboard across just enough to look at the outer frames. I took care not to break up the cluster of bees. There was enough food for the moment.
I usually treat the colonies with oxalic acid on Christmas Eve and then feed them with fondant but this winter was so warm I delayed this until 7th January. I used Apibioxal using the trickle method. It was a bit fiddly filling the syringe but I managed it and popped in the varroa boards so that I could see what impact the treatment had. A big impact! I found a lot of dead varroa mites on the boards on the days following the treatment and am relieved to say I could not see piles of dead bees behind the mouseguard or on the grass outisde the entrance so I trust that only the mites were killed.
I will keep checking that there are adequate stores in each hive and other actions as already described. There is not much else to do with the colonies this month so I am planning for opening the garden as part of the National Garden Scheme 'Open' events. I am working on plant lists and information to help other people to garden for nature.