Feeding the bees for the Winter

Winter is settling in, although it’s been warmer in the Ardeche mountains than in the valley the past week.  Today we put some sugar feed paste into the feeders of the hives. The feed paste doesn’t freeze in cold weather and will provide food for the bees during the coldest winter months.

We make an opening in the pack and then place it over the opening in the feeder, so that the bees can get at it easily. 

We will check on their consumption of the feed over the next months. The colder it is, the more they will consume for energy to keep the hive and the queen warm, so we will add more feed depending on the weather.

Last Visit Before the Winter

The bee season is coming to a close, and it’s time for our last visit of the hives, to make sure everyone is doing well and to treat them for varoa mites. We treat them organically. Varoa is a kind of tick that affects all hives, and more specifically the bees, it attaches to a bee and utimately sucks the life out of them.(It doesn’t affect the Honey production).  The colonies must be treated throughout the season to lower the pressure of the invasion and avoid it killing off the bees.  Also, the colder it is, the better, so that the varroa die off, but ultimately the idea each season is to try and keep the pressure down so it doesn’t weaken the colony.

So, back to the job at hand, checking on the hives after having extracted the honey and before the winter season sets in, since the colony will be getting smaller, from 50,000 bees in the height of summer to around 10,000 who will mostly hibernate, keeping the queen safe and the hive warm.   These bees are born at the end of the season and they have a life span of 4 months, compared to the worker bees who only live for 6 weeks since they work so hard all summer.  You’ll find it interesting to know that a bee only gathers nectar & pollen in the last 2 weeks of her life. Throughout her life, she will nourish the larvae, make the wax honeycomb, clean the hive, and transform & stock the honey, being sure to remove the humidity from the honey, and then closing it up the combs with wax.

We installed a cushion on top of the feeder.  The cushion is lined with fabric on the hive side and filled with wood chips. The wood chips will help evacuate the humidity from the hive, which is the major issue in the winter since it’s generally cold and wet out, and there are fewer bees to ventilate the hive.  It will also create an insulation from the cold.  
Looks like the ladies are doing well.  
We will feed them syrup and then candy (a more solid syrup that doesn’t freeze when it gets very cold) throughout the winter, limiting our interventions as much as possible so the cold doesn’t get into the hive.  As you can see above, the feeder is built in such a way that you don’t have to remove it to feed them.  
 They will keep the hive at 35Β°C and won’t come out unless it’s above 13Β°C and if all goes well, we’ll see them in the Spring πŸ™‚ 

Extracting Honey for the First Time

After a difficult start, with lots of rain and cool weather, summer finally kicked in, and it turned out to be a very productive summer for our bees. In the middle of August it’s time to extract the honey. The  chestnut trees have flowered, which leaves the ivy and heather for the bees to collect after we have extracted the honey, and limits the trauma from having taken part of their honey.  Chestnuts trees are abundant in this region of France, and are the source of many specialities from chestnut cream and chestnut flour to chestnut honey.

The objective was to retrieved the supers of the 4 hives that we had installed in mid-June and mid-July (we installed a second super on 3 on the hives since the 1st ones were almost full).

The materials needed: gloves, smoker, a container to enclose the honeycombs once they are removed.

The honeycombs are very full πŸ™‚

Removing the honeycombs.

Once we removed all the honeycombs we took them into our “honey kitchen” (we renovated the bottom floor of one of the houses in our hamlet into a kitchen where we can extract and pot honey, make jams from the fruits in our garden, make beer, and other goodies. I will post an article soon on the renovations in our hamlet πŸ˜‰

To remove the honey from the honey frames one has to uncap the honeycombs. (The bees cap the honeycombs in the hive once the have removed the humidity from the honey in order to stock it).

Once uncapped they are placed in the extractor.

Using the manivelle, you spin the extractor, to extract the honey.  The honey must then be transferred into a soaking container with a strainer on top which filters the debris of wax that may have fallen off the frames during the extraction process.
The honey will stay in the soaking container for about 10 days, during which the remaining debris will rise to the top and then can be removed before putting the honey into jars.

Our bees produced 90kg (198 lbs.) of multi-flower honey !  A great harvest for a first and considering the season was generally not a good one for bees in France and in many other places around the world.

And then there were 6…

It was a hectic week for us with the ladies πŸ™‚

As I mentioned in my last post, since we only had one hive, two weeks ago we decided to remove the royal cells to keep the current queen in place and avoid swarming.  

But, last Tuesday evening we went to check on the hive and everything seemed very calm, too calm, and groups of bees were outside the hive. So, we checked the web cam video (yes, we installed wired web cam, so that when we can keep an eye on our hives when we are not here) and the activity was strange. On a hunch, I went to check the tree in front of the hive, and there they were πŸ™‚ 

The hive had swarmed and was in the tree, waiting for a new place to go. We cut the branch and recovered the bees in a smaller hive. They were very calm since they stuffed themselves with honey (provisions) before they left πŸ˜‰ Honey calms the bees.  They have 48h to find a new place to live and they send out scouts to look for a new home. 
Saturday evening, as planned, we picked up the 3 swarms we had ordered from our beekeeper teacher and drove down to the Ardeche. We set them up in their new spot at 11pm. Before going to bed, out of curiosity, I checked the tree across from the hives with a flashlight and there was another swarm 😎 from the same hive.

*** Bee culture : There are 2 causes for swarming:

(1) In the Spring, the bees naturally raise new queens and once she is born part of the colony leaves with the queen. Generally, the old queen leaves. This ensures the survival of the species. The new queen will stay with the remainder of the colony. 

(2) A hive can also swarm because of the weather (too rainy & windy) which keeps the bees inside and the hive gets “blocked” (over populated, with honeycombs too full for the queen to lay eggs) which causes the bees to raise another queen and then swarm. 

So, yesterday we captured the 2nd swarm, which makes for 6 hives πŸ™‚ Next week we will check all the hives, to make sure the queens are well and laying eggs, and that the girls are back to their routine πŸ˜‰ If all goes well, and the weather improves, the colony will grow quickly, and by mid-June we’ll be able to add supers to the hives (the part in which they stock the honey that we will extract at the end of the season) on all the hives except the 2 “bonus” hives, they are not big enough colonies. They need to get stronger. Anyhow, if all goes well we’ll get lots of honey this year πŸ™‚

So, finally that makes 6 hives…