I have spent the last few months making sure that all the bee equipment is clean and properly stored so that there is airflow but no way that mice can get at the wax and wax-moth can lay in crevices of the frames. My bee suits have been washed and stored but I have an 'inspection kit' at hand for quick access if necessary.
Preparations for the new season
Over that last week I have constructed my second hive. This will then need to be treated with Danish oil on the outside to protect it from the weather. Just before using I will smear the edges of frames, queen excluder and crown-board treated with Vaseline to reduce the build-up of propolis produced by the bees which 'glues' hive parts so that it is difficult to open the hive and examine the frames. I also constructed some super frames with just a thin strip of wax foundation at the top. This is an experiment to see if I can produce chunk honey in the new season i.e. place some pieces of cut comb in jars along with the extracted honey. Hopefully the bees will construct wild comb in these frames as nobody wants thick wax foundation with wire for breakfast.
I have done some reading and have a plan for the spring that includes removing the last of the dirty old brood frames that the nucleus arrived on as they the frames are too short and the old wax with larval debris is susceptible to disease. I also need to create an 'artificial swarm' to reduce the likelihood of a real swarm and to create a new colony of bees for my second hive. Timing will be everything and is a bit problematic as I am going away for " weeks at the start of the swarming season ............. although who knows what the weather will do in the next few weeks and how the bees will respond. Thus planning has to be a bit loose.
What about the hive?
I inspect the hive a couple of times each week to ensure that there is no pest damage, the entrance is not blocked with dead bees (no snow to date to check entrance), estimate that there are adequate stores and have a general external scan. Just before Christmas I noticed dirty paw marks on the alighting board and guessed that our problem fox family had been sniffing around. A couple of days later I noticed that the escape ports in the roof had been bitten off with just the nails left! It is not a big problem this time of year as there are not likely to be robber bees or wasps on the prowl for food but I will have to devise a protection cage to go over the replacement ports which will spoil the aesthetic.
I put the varroa board in and there was only a small daily drop of mites but I treated the hive with oxalic acid anyway, carefully pouring the correctly measured liquid between each brood frame and shutting up the hive quickly to ensure that the colony did not lose too much heat.
Although I think that stores should be adequate I find it difficult to judge by 'hefting' the hive - ie lifting a corner to feel the weight. As I had bought some fondant I put it in a plastic container with a hole in the bottom and placed it over one of the ports in the crown board. The checked today and the bees are taking it down. I would rather they have too much food than starve. When they really need it will be when the sun comes out and the queen starts laying again. Lets hope we don't have a late cold snap that then follows as this is dangerous as the winter bees are getting old and late snow could impact on the availability of nectar and pollen.
Bee related activities
I made candles as gifts for Christmas which was much appreciated. I have also made another batch of soap this time: honey and marigold. I used silicone moulds this time rather than cut up a big block. The tablets look good but in a strange way I preferred the more rustic chunks. I have not done as much reading as I had planned but as it is January there is still time.