Weed and feed

Weed and feed is a generic term that describes the treatment of lawns to simultaneously eradicate certain weeds and strengthen the turf.

It seemed an appropriate title for a post on eradicating mites from colonies and feeding the bees up in preparation for the winter ahead.

Arguably these are the two most important activities of the beekeeping year.

Done properly they ensure you’ll still be a beekeeper next year.

Ignored, or done too little and too late, you’ll join the unacceptably large number of beekeepers who lose their colonies during the winter.

They think it’s all over

In Fife, on the east coast of Scotland, my beekeeping season effectively finishes with the midsummer ‘mixed floral’ nectar sources. This is a real mix of lime, blackberry, clover and Heinz nectars 1 … many of which remain to be identified.

There’s no reliable late nectar flow from himalayan balsam around my apiaries are and not enough rosebay willowherb (fireweed) to be worthwhile, though in a good year the bees continue to collect a bit from both into early September.

But by then the honey supers are off and extracted. Anything the bees find after that they’re welcome to.

The contrast with the west of Scotland is very marked. Over there my bees are still out collecting reasonable amounts of late heather nectar, though the peak of the flow is over.

Storing supers

Once the honey supers are extracted they can be returned to the colonies for the bees to clean up prior to storing them overwinter. However, this involves additional trips to the apiary and usually necessitates using the clearer boards again to leave them bee-free before storage.

I used to do this and quite enjoyed the late evening trips back to the apiary with stacks of honey-scented supers. More recently I’ve stopped bothering and instead now store the supers ‘wet’. The main reasons for this are:

  • laziness lack of time
  • unless you’re careful it can encourage robbing, by wasps or bees. You need to return supers to all the colonies in the apiary and if you have the hives open too long it can induce a frenzy of robbing 2
  • the honey-scented supers encourage the bees to move up faster when they’re used the following season

If you do store the supers ‘wet’ make sure the stacked boxes are bee and wasp-tight. Mine go in a shed with a spare roof on the top. If there are any gaps the wasps, bees or ants will find them and it then becomes very messy. 

I know many beekeepers who wrap their supers in clingfilm. Not the 30 cm wide roll you use in the kitchen but the sort of metre wide swathe they used to wrap suitcases in at London Heathrow.

Dated super frames

The drawn super comb is a really valuable resource and can be used again and again, year after year. I usually record the year a frame was built on the top bar. Many are now over a decade old and have probably accommodated at least 80 lb of honey in their lifetime 3.

The timing of late season Varroa management

During the brood rearing season the Varroa levels in the colony will have been rising inexorably. Without intervention the mites will continue to replicate on developing pupae that would otherwise emerge as the all-important overwintering bees. These are critical to get the colony through to the following spring.

When Varroa feeds on a developing pupa it transmits the viruses – primarily deformed wing virus – it acquired from the last bee is fed on. These viruses amplify by about a million-fold within 24-48 hours. Pupae that do not die before eclosion may have developmental defects. Importantly, those that appear normal have a reduced lifespan.

The overwintering bees should live for months, but might only live for weeks if their virus levels are high.

And if enough overwintering bees have high viral loads and die prematurely, the probability is the the colony will perish in the winter.

You therefore need to reduce mite levels before the overwintering bees are exposed to Varroa

The full details and justification are in a previous post logically entitled When to treat?

TL;DR 4late August to early September is the best time to treat to protect the winter bees from the worst of the ravages of mite-transmitted DWV.

Use an appropriate treatment

You need to reduce the mite levels in the colony by at least 90% to protect the winter bees.

To achieve this you need an appropriate miticide used properly. 

I use Apivar

Apivar is an Amitraz-containing miticide. Although there are reports of mite resistance in some commercial apiaries, the pattern is very localised (individual hives within an apiary, which is difficult to understand) and in my view it is currently the best choice.

What are the alternates?

  • MAQS – active ingredient formic acid – poorly tolerated at high temperatures, but can be used with the supers present
  • Apiguard – active ingredient thymol – ineffective at lower temperatures (it needs an ambient temperature of 15°C to work – that’s not going to happen in Scotland in September).
  • Apistan – active ingredient a synthetic pyrethroid – unsuitable as there is widespread resistance in the mite population.

Using Apivar

Apivar treatment is temperature-independent. It cannot be used when the honey supers are present. You simply hang two strips in the hive for 6 to 10 weeks and let them do their work. The bees tolerate it well and, unlike MAQS or Apiguard, I’ve not seen any detrimental effects on the queen who continues to lay … making more of those important winter bees.

Apivar strips

Each strip consists of an amitraz-impregnated piece of plastic tape with a V-shaped tab that can be pushed into the comb to hold it in place. 

This generally works well as the frames are usually not moved much as there’s no need for inspections this late in the season.

Apivar strip pushed into comb

However, the strips can be a little fiddly to remove (or fall off during frame handling) and some of our research colonies will continue to be used for at least another month. I’ve therefore used a short piece of bent wire to hang the strips from in these hives.

Apivar strip on wire hanger

I place the strips in opposite corners of the hive, set two frames in from the sides. 

Apivar, wax and honey contamination

Although Amitraz is not wax soluble 5 there are recent reports on BEE-L that one of its breakdown products are, including one that has some residual miticide activity 6

I therefore try and get all the bees into the brood box before starting treatment (I described nadiring supers with unripe honey last week).

Very rarely I’ll leave the bees with a super of their own unripe honey. Usually this happens when the brood box is already packed with stores and overflowing with bees. In this case I’ll mark the super and melt down the comb next season rather than risking tainting the honey I produce.

I attended a Q&A session by the Scottish Beekeeping Association last month in which the chief bee inspector discussed finding Apivar strips in honey production hives. He described the testing of honey for evidence of miticide contamination and potential subsequent confiscation.

This is clearly something to be avoided.

Remember to record the batch number of Apivar used and note the date in your hive records. I just photograph the packet for convenience. The date is important as the strips must be removed after 6 weeks and before 10 weeks have elapsed. 

It’s finally worth noting that the instructions recommend scraping the strip with a hive tool part way through the period if they are being used for the full ten week course of treatment. The strips usually get propolised into the frame and the scraping ‘reactivates’ them to ensure that the largest possible number of mites are killed off.

And, after all, that’s what they’re being used for.

Apivar is expensive

Well … yes and no.

Yes it feels expensive when walking out of Thorne’s of Newburgh clutching one small foil packet and being £31 poorer. 

But think about it … that packet is sufficient to treat 5 colonies.

Is £6.20 too much to spend on a colony?

My 340 g jars of honey cost more than £6.20 and my productive colonies produce at least one hundred times that amount of honey. 

I don’t think 1% of the honey value is too much to spend on protecting the colony from mites and the viruses they carry.

Mite drop

Varroa killed by the miticide 7 fall to the bottom of the hive. If you have an open mesh floor (OMF) they fall through … onto the ground or the intervening neatly divided Varroa tray, enabling you to easily count them

Varroa trays ...

Varroa trays …

Remember that amitraz, the active ingredient of Apivar, works by direct contact. This is why you place the strips diametrically opposite one another so that as many bees as possible contact them. Unlike Apiguard, it makes no difference whether the Varroa tray is present or not.

It is useful to ‘count the corpses’ to get an idea of the infestation level and the efficacy of the treatment.

I’m going to discuss what you might expect in terms of mite drop in the winter (I need to plot some graphs first). However, this is something you could think about before then … knowing Apivar kills mites in less than three hours after exposure, what do you think the mite drop should look like over the 6-10 weeks of treatment?

Enough weeding, what about feeding?

I treat and feed colonies on the same day.

I also do the final hive inspection of the season. At this I look for evidence of a laying queen, the general health of the colony, the amount of brood present and the level of stores in the brood box. 

If the colony is queenless (how did that happen without me noticing earlier?) I simply unite the colony with a strong, healthy queenright colony. I don’t bother testing it with a frame of eggs … time is of the essence.

It’s too late to get a queen mated (at least in Fife … when I lived in the Midlands I got a few September queen matings but they could not be relied upon) and I rarely, if ever, buy queens.

I only feed with fondant in the autumn.

Convenience food

I described fondant last week as a convenience food

A spade's a spade ...

A spade’s a spade …

I’ve described in detail many of the benefits of fondant in numerous previous posts. Essentially these can be distilled to the following simple points:

  • zero preparation; no syrup spillages in the kitchen, no marital strife.
  • bucket- and feeder-free; no need to carry large volumes of syrup to the apiary and no feeders to store for the remaining 11 months of the year. All you need to feed fondant is a queen excluder and an empty super … and you’ve got those already.
  • easy to store; unopened it keeps for several years 8.
  • super speedy; I can feed a colony, including cutting the block in half, in less than 2 minutes.
  • good for queen and colony; perhaps that’s stretching it a bit. What I mean is that the bees take the fondant down more slowly than syrup, consequently the queen continues to lay uninterrupted as the brood nest does not get backfilled with stores. This is good for the colony as it means the production of more winter bees.
  • an anti-theft device; you can’t spill fondant so there is much less chance of encouraging robbing by neighbouring bees or wasps.
  • useful boxes; the empty boxes are a good size to store or deliver jarred honey in – each will accommodate sixteen 1 lb rounds.

I’ve fed nothing but fondant for about a decade and can see no downsides to its use.

Money, money, money

I’ve never used anything other than commercially purchased “baker’s” fondant … don’t believe the rubbish (about ‘additives’) some of the bee equipment suppliers use to justify their elevated prices.

You should be paying about £1/kg … any more and you’re being robbed. This year (2020) I paid less than 90p/kg.

Do not use the icing fondant sold by supermarkets for Christmas cakes. I’m sure there’s nothing much wrong with it, but – at £2/kg – you’ll soon go bankrupt. 

Tips for feeding fondant

Fondant blocks are easier to slice in half if they are slightly warm.

Use a sharp bread knife and don’t slice your fingers off. 

You can cut the blocks in half in advance in the warmth of your kitchen and then cover the cut faces with clingfilm to prevent them reannealing, but I just do it in the apiary.

Take care with sharp knives … much easier with a slightly warm block of fondant

Alternatively, use a clean spade 9.

Always place the block cut face down on a queen excluder directly over the top bars of the brood frames. With a full block, it’s like opening a book and laying it face down. Do not place it above a crownboard with a hole in it.

You want the bees to have unfettered access to the open face of the fondant block.

Fondant on queen excluder with eke

Ideally, use a framed wire queen excluder.

These are easier to lift off should you need to go into the colony.

Which you don’t 😉

There’s no need to continue inspections this late into the season. Go and enjoy a week or two away in Portugal … or perhaps not 🙁

If you need to store an unused half block of fondant wrap the cut face in clingfilm.

All my colonies get one full block (12.5 kg) and many get a further half block, depending upon my judgement of the level of the stores in the hive.

Insulation

The bees will take the fondant down over 2 – 4 weeks. They do store it, rather than just using it as needed. By late September or early October all that will remain is the blue plastic husk. The photo below is from mid-October. This colony has had a ‘topup’ additional half block after already storing a full block of fondant.

They fancied that fondant

With cooler days and colder nights, you want to reduce heat loss by the colony and minimise the dead space above the bees into which the heat escapes.

Although bees take fondant down at lower temperatures than they do syrup, there’s no point in giving the colony more additional space to heat than they need.

Poly super and fondant ...

Poly super and fondant …

Depending upon the availability of equipment I do one or a combination of the following:

  • use a poly super to provide space for the fondant
  • compress the fondant (use your boot) into as little space as possible and you squeeze it into a 50 mm deep eke, which (conveniently) is the same depth as the rim on my insulated polcarbonate/perspex crownboards 10.
  • use an eke and an inverted perspex crownboard with no need to compress the fondant
  • add a 50 mm thick block of insulation above the crownboard, under the roof (which may also be insulated)

Fondant block under inverted perspex crownboard – insulation block to be added on top is standing at the side

Oh yes … before I forget … completely ignore any advice you might read on using matchsticks to provide ventilation to the hive 11.

They think it’s all over … it is now

That’s the end of the practical beekeeping for the season 🙁

If your colonies are strong and healthy, if the mite levels are low and they have sufficient stores, there’s almost nothing to do now until March 12

Now really is a good time for a beekeeper to take a holiday.

Make a note in your diary on the date you need to remove the Apivar strips

Write up your notes, pour a large glass of Shiraz and make plans for next season 🙂


 

Footnotes

  1. 57 varieties!
  2. One good reason to do this in the evening.
  3. I know many beekeepers who have much older – and perfectly usable – super frames. Look after them well and save the bees the time and energy spent in redrawing comb each year.
  4. The internet acronym for too long, didn’t read … but perhaps you should. It is one of the most-read pages on this site and one of the most important posts I think I’ve written. Many beekeepers treat mites far too late in the season to protect the winter bees. The UK has some of the highest overwintering colony losses in Europe. Are these facts related?
  5. Unlike Apistan … most tested commercial foundation is contaminated with pyrethroids.
  6. I’ll discuss this in more detail sometime in the future – I’m already running out of space.
  7. We’ll ignore the fact that technically they’re paralysed, not killed outright. Paralysis doesn’t do them much good though …
  8. I buy a few hundred kilograms at once and so always have some available when needed.
  9. In the apiary … see the reference to marital strife above.
  10. Wow! … a post from 2013.
  11. Actually, that matchsticks post is not dissimilar to a draft post I have written on the use of fondant for winter feeding. Historically it’s only used for a winter top up. Why? Beekeeping is deeply conservative (with a small ‘c’), possibly because it is often taught by beekeepers who themselves were trained millenia ago. It’s also riddled with myths. My draft of “101 Beekeeping myths” is now onto volume three … and I’ve only reached the letter H of the alphabet. Think about what’s best for the bees and learn from observing them … I’ll return to this sometime in the winter, so should stop ranting now.
  12. But don’t forget the importance of treating the colony when broodless in midwinter … the mites that escape treatment in the autumn will continue to reproduce and, if not treated in winter, you’ll be building up problems in the future.

51 thoughts on “Weed and feed

  1. Janet Wilson

    Hi David, really enjoyed this blog entry! I have a question: here in Vancouver, BC, Canada I have been unable to source bulk fondant. How does packing the feeder ekes with dampened white sugar compare? It strikes me that putting on sugar boards should accomplish a similar end, saving me the labour and perils of making, toting, and distributing syrup in the quantities needed….

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Janet

      “unable to source bulk fondant”

      What a disaster … does that mean you can’t get these in Canada?

      Iced buns

      The beauty of fondant is that its water content is close to that of capped stores and that it has the structural integrity to not dribble everywhere when inverted over the top bars of the frames. However, it is just sugar and water, so damp sugar shouldn’t be too dissimilar. If it’s not damp enough the bees will be dealing with sugar crystals which will require work and water.

      If it’s too damp then it’s syrup 😉

      Before I started using fondant I used to feed bees in mini-mating nucs damp sugar. I’d just fill the feeder with granulated sugar and add a splash or two of water. It worked fine. In addition, before I started hoarding fondant I’ve fed starving colonies with granulated sugar, pouring it directly onto a solid hive floor and adding some water afterwards (I’m a little more organised these days).

      You could probably use a Miller-type feeder, but give them access to the entire surface. Alternative, I’d probably just stand a large plastic bowlful of damp sugar on the top bars enclosed in an empty super …

      Good luck … and you have my commiserations about the lack of fondant (have you asked at a large bakery?).

      David

      Reply
        1. David Post author

          Yes, we have that here and it is expensive. I can’t afford it (or am too mean to buy it 😉 ).
          Good luck in your search. You really need to buy it from where the bakery buys it …
          David

          Reply
  2. Archie McLellan

    Hi David

    Thanks, another really useful and timeous blog.

    You write: ‘I’ve fed nothing but fondant for about a decade’. Do you mean as autumn feed – or (like Peter Edwards), throughout the season?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Archie

      Essentially anytime … like Peter.

      The only exceptions are shook swarms or nucs being moved to a full hive where I want them to draw fresh comb without delay. If there’s no good nectar flow I’ll feed these a gallon or so of thin syrup using a contact feeder.

      At this time of year, early autumn, I use nothing but fondant. In midwinter if a colony is light I also use fondant.

      I’ve not boosted colonies by feeding syrup in very early spring (though I have given colonies pollen in the past) – I have friends who feed syrup in late February or early March to prepare strong colonies for the OSR. I’d meant to give this a go in 2020 but was instead preparing to go into lockdown to avoid Covid.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Jackie Powton

    Hi David
    I’m absolutely new at this and grasping daily how to be a beekeeper. If you place the fondant on the frames, rather than a crown board, do the bees not move freely up into the eke space and build brace comb/comb, and fill the space that isn’t fondant?

    Your blogs are great, I really enjoy reading them, thank you.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello again Jackie

      The bees have free access and can/do move up into the space, but if you look back at the first picture in the “Insulation” section you’ll see that they don’t draw brace comb in the headspace, at least in the autumn. It’s probably a combination of being a bit cooler and the relatively low water content of fondant.

      Bees will draw comb in the autumn when fed syrup – some of the commercials exploit this as a good source of fresh comb at an otherwise unproductive time of the season. However, I’ve never seen it happen with fondant.

      In the spring when the nectar flows start the bees will rapidly build comb in the empty headspace. Here’s an overwintered nuc – they finished the fondant added in midwinter weeks ago and I didn’t get to them until mid-April (thanks Covid!) – with lots of brace comb.

      Nuc with brace comb

      I wouldn’t suggest doing it if it caused major problems!

      Pleased you enjoy the writing,
      David

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth Hutchings

    Hello David

    Many thanks for your blog – I also live in Fife so follow you in real time!

    You mentioned storing the extracted supers “wet”. What would you do with those super frames that have not been capped and therefore may have honey with a high water content liable to ferment. Can you store these with the extracted frames?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Elizabeth

      I hinted at this last week … firstly I get few of these as there’s little nectar available where I am after the main flow finishes. If I do get frames like this I bundle them together into a single super and put them underneath a brood box. The bees should move the nectar up. If you do store the frames they will probably ferment (the nectar that is, not the frames!) but that’s not the end of the world. The bees will deal with them in the spring.

      I suppose you could always spin the nectar out after extracting your honey … but that sounds much too much like hard work.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Julian Cox

        Hi David
        Partly connected to the above comment…
        Many thanks for your blogs which are so helpful to me in my first year. I really appreciate the science that you weave into them which gives so much credibility in an area filled with art and myth, and many and varied opinion.
        On the last, I have one hive that has done spectacularly well since acquired as a swarm in May. By mid August it filled it’s brood box and all frames in a super with capped honey and I was told not to put another on. (They then built alot of brace comb and put honey in that too). It still has 7-8 frames of brood and where we are in North Devon, the flowers are only just disappearing. Wise beekeepers say leave the super for the bees and put it under the brood box, and treat, and feed. Others, perhaps more heartless, say extract it all, and then treat and feed.
        I’m stuck in this dilemma and would appreciate any advice.
        Thanks
        Julian

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hello Julian

          Call me heartless, but I keep bees for both interest and honey. I’d extract (with the caveat that I’d probably not bother with a single super as I can’t stand all the preparation and cleaning up afterwards!). It’s pretty clear from your description that you should have added an extra super during the main nectar flow.

          However, this sort of decision has got to be your call … there’s no right or wrong. It won’t harm the bees to take it (if you feed them), but they won’t do any better either.

          If your ‘wise beekeeper’ tells you otherwise I’d challenge them to provide the evidence that bees overwinter better on honey. Not homespun waffle about “natural goodness”, but a properly controlled scientific study … that’s another one for the next volume of 101 Beekeeping Myths 😉

          Cheers
          David

          Note added subsequently: There’s an incorrect statement made on the beekeeping forum that I’ve conducted research into the relative benefits of honey or syrup/sugar for winter feeding of bees. I have not, and I did not make a statement claiming I did in a recent talk! I’m a virologist, not a bee nutritionist. If you want to know about bee nutrition, ask Geraldine Wright in Oxford. In fact, as indicated above, I’m not aware of conclusive scientific studies that show that one is better than the other. There are studies – usually cited by ‘natural beekeepers’ – that honey is better, but I’ve not seen evidence that these are in peer reviewed publications or properly controlled. Conversely there are are studies that claim that bees live longer on syrup/sugar, again not backed up with any evidence.

          Whether honey or sugar is better is, in some ways, irrelevant. The question should be “Is syrup/sugar good enough to overwinter a colony so that it’s strong and healthy the following season?”.

          This deserves a post and I can’t be bothered to follow-up on the beekeeping forum … something for the winter perhaps?

          As I write above … show me the proof!

          Reply
          1. Dani Akrigg

            David.
            I, as well as one other, moderate the beekeeping forum where the thread regarding honey v syrup has run away somewhat …… like they always do I’m afraid.
            I’m sorry an incorrect statement of fact was attributed to you.
            Your note has been posted there to set the record straight.
            My apologies again.

            Dani

          2. David Post author

            Hi Dani

            Don’t worry … I cover a lot in my talks and it’s not the first time I’ve been quoted incorrectly. I’ve stopped bothering chasing around correcting things. Life’s too short and I’m too busy. I only noticed because I keep an eye on who links to posts here and there were a flurry from the BKF. I stopped contributing – or even reading – the BKF because it used to be so poorly moderated and so many threads degenerated into slanging matches. The very fact you’ve taken the trouble to follow-up here suggests things have improved.

            Thank you,
            David

    1. David Post author

      Do the supers have honey stores in them or not?
      If they don’t – because you’ve extracted it or they never collected any in the first place – then you’re giving the colony a huge empty void to heat (or, more correctly, lose heat to) at a time when they’re trying to conserve their energy and just keep the cluster ticking over until the weather warms up.
      If they do the bees will move up to the stores. If you leave the queen excluder in place the queen will be trapped below it and that can never end well. If you remove the QE the entire colony will move up and will start rearing brood in the supers … leaving them a big empty space to lose heat to below them.
      The goal when preparing the colony for successful overwintering is to have the bees and sufficient stores in a small volume. An overwintering cluster is the size of a football, or perhaps a bit bigger at the start of the winter. It gets smaller overwinter as the bees die of.
      Most of my colonies overwinter successfully in a single brood box. Some are on double brood, but by mid/late winter would have fitted in a single brood box.
      Hope this makes sense … I can’t think of a single (good) reason to leave supers on the colony overwinter, and I can think of a lot of reasons why it’s a bad idea.
      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Yvonne Wagner

    This blog is so helpful. In the past I packed damp sugar into a eke with 1/4 hardware clothe and let it sit overnight on parchment paper on the kitchen counter, which made it solid like a sugar cube do it didn’t drop through the wire. That worked very very well for six hives- but now I have 16! So I’m going to give fondant a try.
    Thank you for all your advice and tips!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Yvonne

      Delighted you find it useful .. I hope the fondant works for you.

      Using fondant wasn’t my idea, Peter Edwards had been using it for years before I copied the idea from him. For all I know, it wasn’t his idea either … there are very few truly original ideas. At least in beekeeping where things get reinvented on every year or two.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Yvonne Wagner

    That’s why there’s something called “a master beekeeper!” Takes a lifetime to learn it all = part of the appeal. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      I think you need to sit lots of exams here to get official-sounding titles like that … I’m done with exams 😉

      David

      Reply
  7. Rikki

    Hi, is it ok to put set honey in Ziploc bags on hives for feeding, I have a bucket of the stuff from last year. It will be put on the hive it came off.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Should be fine Rikki … the key thing is that it’s honey from the same hive.

      I can’t imagine how messy it was getting the honey into the bags in the first place 😉

      David

      Reply
  8. Philip T Moore

    Hello from the Northeast USA, Connecticut precisely. There are 2 formulations of fondant available. 80% sucrose(cane) and 20% corn syrup or 90% sucrose(cane) and 10% corn syrup. Which do you recommend?

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Philip

      My understanding is that corn syrup is just glucose syrup. That being the case I’d choose the cheapest and/or most readily available. The stuff I use does not even list the amounts of each ingredient …

      Sudzucker

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  9. vince poulin

    David – another valuable post, from a tireless mentor. Love the title “Weeds and Feed”. As you know I began using Formic Acid in early August and now finishing T3 with a T4 done on one hive. I’ll email the spreadsheet later, you’ll enjoy it. I used drone uncapping and mite board counts to assess mite densities. Your UK calculator was a valuable resource. Mite #’s gave treatment recommendations ASAP or Immediate as well as provided estimates of mite load in the hives. The calculator cautions estimates may vary widely for good reasons and indeed they were. Total mites killed to date exceeded population estimates by 1.1X to 5.67X times depending on the hive. That’s no fault to the calculator but a fact of life when grabbing mite samples. So here, “Weeding” is finished and “Feeding” underway. Having experienced DWV the first year of keeping bees “Feeding” for me includes medicating with Formagilan. That is soon to be completed. I will follow that with non-medicated 2:1. All our hives will be topped additionally with hard sugar bricks and those checked over winter. I was not aware fondant given this time of year would be stored. Nice to see that process. If hard sugar is given to early bees chew it up and dump it like trash. Interesting that fondant is taken in similar to 2:1. For Janet Wilson let her know that several suppliers in Vancouver stock fondant. It is available.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Vince

      Fumagillin! … I had to look up Formagilin as it was something new to me. Fumagillin used to be used here for Nosema control, but it’s been withdrawn and is no longer allowed. There’s evidence that Nosema ceranae escapes antibiotic control and this may account for the gradual replacement of N. apis with ceranae.

      Hopefully Janet will read comments in the thread. If she’s subscribed to the comment updates she’ll get a reminder.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. vince poulin

        Hi David – yes, it is used here for Nosema. Two years ago the manufacturer ceased making it resulting it not being available last year. Production has resumed and now back on the shelf in Canada. I believe it is Canadian product. I’ll ask my “Science Guy” about N. ceranae. I’ve given his students bee samples for Nosema counting but not recently.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          I’ve never used the stuff and am not sure whether it was banned, withdrawn from sale or just became unavailable here. I know some beekeepers use thymol in the winter feed syrup to prevent Nosema. I’m not recommending this as I’ve never tried it, just passing on the information. The original recipe is here.

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
    2. Janet Wilson

      Where!? Send me the fondant sources! And is it available at a price similar to what David enjoys?? My local bee supplier has stocked fondant this year for the first time but it is over double what David pays, even when purchased in bulk.

      Reply
      1. vince poulin

        Janet – the place I was thinking was BC Bee Supply on Hastings. I’ve seen it in their newsletters. I tried pulling it up again to double check but the link is not working. Urban Bees in Ladner had it earlier in the year but I don’t see it listed now. My guess is David’s price is not anything like what we could find here in BC. Bakery products contains starch which people avoid. David’s fondant is likely starch free. I just purchased sugar at $9.99/10 kg. It does take time. I built a number of tank (top) feeders that allow it to be taken up by the bees quickly. 2 gallons goes in a matter of days but – must say David’s fondant is painless and very fast.

        Reply
        1. Janet Wilson

          Fondant made for beekeepers, which is available for the first time this year from Delta’s Urban Bee Supply, is considerably more expensive than the simple baker’s fondant David is talking about. In addition the beekeeper fondant only came in 2.5 kilo bags, not very large. I have for all my beekeeping career fed syrup for fall and spring in our locale, where we have only one big nectar flow (in June). I will go searching through baker’s supply companies and see if I can turn up an affordable fondant, sans additives, that would work. Good bulk fondant would be a lot less mess and work (both in mixing, transport and doling out) than syrup and less likely to set off robbing in my large apiaries.

          Reply
          1. vince poulin

            Agreed, maybe a bit of searching will do it. David’s label shows just sugar – no starch or additives. Would be nice without question if one could find a bakery supplier who leaves out the starch. The main advantage is the low moisture content and of course ease of use. I drew-down the hives to 2-brood boxes (Warre) which is similar in volume to 1-Lang. To my surprise Box 2 in all cases was nearly fully filled with 2:1 (medicated) and whatever other nectar they sourced after supers were removed. I gave them 4L (1-chamber dose). What quite concerned me was the lack of egg laying space for the queen. It is likely that fondant lacking the much higher moisture content would help mitigate this problem. Hence – worth digging around for a reasonably priced supplier who has a product that is bee friendly. Frankly, I over-wintered all of my hives last year on hard sugar bricks. The bricks did take time to make (drying time) but painless to work with and loved by the bees. In all hives outside honey frames in all hives went mostly untouched or partially eaten.

          2. David Post author

            I’m just writing something about the importance of autumn egg laying and winter bee production … it’s one of the reasons I like fondant, and one of the reasons I stopped using Apiguard (thymol) which has the tendency to stop some queens laying at a critical time of the season.

  10. Elaine Robinson

    Hi David
    Thanks for this week’s blog; really good summary of winter preparation, look forward to your posts every Friday and always learn something! Having read this week’s, its raised a concern about nadiring supers and any risk of leaving these on whilst treating. Can I explain what I do….

    I nadir a full super of usually uncapped / starting to be capped stores for the bees at this time of year (Balsam, Heather and Heinz!) and plan to add my Apivar strips at the same time – doing it next week.
    I leave a super of honey for them as I believe in sharing the harvest and all those vits and minerals has to be good for them and help protect against disease, though I do top up with syrup / fondant.
    This super is completely empty in the Spring – cleared of honey and any pollen left in this first super and I just pop it over the queen excluder. I treat this ‘first’ super as ‘theirs’, though I don’t use it for brood. I also like the idea of the super underneath the bees in winter, elevating them so they are at the top of the hive in the brood box, giving some bottom insulation from drafts from OMFs and giving easy access to remove the strips quickly in Nov and add any fondant later in the winter.
    Is this acceptable from a ‘don’t treat with supers on’ when using Apivar? The thought of nadiring first then having to take off again, hoping they’ve moved it all up and wait / delay treatment until they do is a concern. Also the thought of melting down a complete super per hive the following spring, it’s such a valuable resource. Isn’t the risk minimal as the super is empty in spring and treated as theirs? Just like brood and a half. Wouldn’t Apivar breakdown products also appear in the brood nest and also be transferred to supers next season, if this is a real risk?
    Appreciate your thoughts.
    Best wishes
    Elaine

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Elaine

      I’m going to write about Amitraz residues sometime in the next few weeks.

      Doing what you suggest does not infringe my interpretation of the rules as you’re not taking the honey for human consumption. Others might argue differently.

      I think the brood box vs super issue is slightly different … if residues get stored super wax, there’s a chance that they could leach out into the honey when filled with nectar the following season (though possibly unlikely). If they get stored in brood box wax it’s less of an issues as the honey there isn’t extracted.

      I appreciate that it’s a grey area … where precisely is the nectar first deposited? Where does it get transferred to? We know it’s moved during the ripening process.

      I think beekeepers need to read the rules and then use common sense in applying them. Just thinking about it in the first place is a very good start … and it’s something I need to think about further over the winter.

      Finally, it’s always worth remembering how fast bees draw comb when there’s a good nectar flow. I describe drawn comb as a valuable resource, but brood comb is immeasurably more valuable than super. If you have any doubts it’s not going to be a big issue for the colony if they need to draw fresh comb next year.

      Best Wishes
      David

      Reply
      1. Sandra Wilson

        Hi David

        Thanks for your blogs…I find that as a relatively new beekeeper I am still swayed and sometimes confused by the many opinions within the beekeeping world. I end up needing to ask several people and read around many articles to decide the way forward on the simplest of things. Sometimes what seems ‘good advice’ doesn’t seem to work or the thinking has changed on the way I was taught on the Basic beekeeping course. However there’s nothing so satisfying as seeing a happy hive survive the winter.
        I wanted to ask about oxalic acid as your article suggests the apivar is sufficient. I’m all for using as little chemicals as possible. What’s your school of thought?
        Thanks Sandra

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hello Sandra

          I don’t think my post does suggest that Apivar is sufficient … if it does, then it’s wrong 😉

          I’ve written very extensively about the need to treat with oxalic acid during a broodless period in the winter. I’ve also discussed when that period might be, and why it might not be between Christmas and New Year, which is when most beekeepers treat with OA.

          Try any of these for starters:

          https://www.theapiarist.org/midwinter-no-mites-yes/

          https://www.theapiarist.org/weather-to-treat/

          https://www.theapiarist.org/kick-em-when-theyre-down/

          I also favour using as little chemicals as necessary, but in my view – and I show why in those posts – a winter treatment is necessary.

          Regards
          David

          PS I meant to add … not everything taught on a beginners course is necessarily correct and there are lots of way of doing the right thing. Asking lots of opinions often just leads to confusion and following the most persuasive (not often the most correct!). The best approach is to think very carefully about what you’re trying to achieve and why a particular approach is recommended … if it seems logical and sensible and fits with your understanding of the biology of bees, try it.

          Reply
          1. Sandra Wilson

            Thanks David..I will read those..it was your comment on ‘almost nothing to do until March’ which I obviously misinterpreted! Appreciate your help.

          2. David Post author

            Ah ha!

            Thanks, I’ve added a footnote for clarification. Winter mite treatment takes 2 minutes per colony … I reckon that ‘almost nothing’ 😉

            In fact, there are a few minor additional tasks for the winter – hefting the hive and checking the entrances remain clear. I’ll be posting something about this in due course.

            Cheers
            David

  11. David hancock

    Hi David, my reason for asking about leaving supers on over the winter is that when I come to extract my honey from the supers, maybe half or a third is uncapped with nectar And some pollen in them. Here in Herefordshire I take off the supers and extract after the oil seed rape is finished then put the supers back on again …And then extract again at end of august when I treat with Apiguard for the following month. I am not sure what to do with the supers that are uncapped hence asking if I could simply put them back in the hive. I thought this would also solve the problem of storing them over the winter, but I take your point about heating on board. Only my second year..still learning lots and enjoying your blog immensely.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello David

      I’ve been at it a bit longer and am still learning.

      Remember that just because a super is uncapped does not mean it cannot be extracted. If the nectar cannot be shaken out of the frames with a sharp snappy shake then the water content is low enough. Some seasons quite a bit of the honey is like this. If there’s nectar dripping out, or you can shake it out then it’s not ready, so don’t risk adding unripe honey to the stuff you are extracting.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  12. Julian Cox

    Could you mention underfloor entrances too? Seem to have some theoretical advantage for wasps and robbing so maybe good for winter???

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Been there done that, bought the T shirt and sent the postcard.

      After 6 years and 390 posts, it’s rare that the search function doesn’t turn something up:

      Search

      And not a theoretical advantage … a real one. Almost all my hives, other than those inside a shed use this type of floor.

      Cheers

      Reply
  13. Janey Bolton

    Many thanks for another really useful and informative post. I’m going to try feeding just fondant this year following your instructions. It certainly sounds much easier than making gallons of syrup and much cheaper than using the expensive ready made stuff from beekeeping suppliers. One of your earlier posts suggested using any leftover fondant to make a 1:1 syrup in Spring. How much water would I have to dissolve a kilo of fondant in to get a 1:1 syrup? Presumably not quite the same as using a kilo of dry sugar?
    Again, many thanks for all your posts – such a great resource!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Janey

      I think I stated in the post on leftover fondant that I mix them 1:1 by weight … which is what I do. Fondant is actually 78% sugar if I remember correctly. However, by the time I get to use these leftover lumps they have often dried out to the consistency of rock. I don’t have the time, the energy or the ability (!) to either measure the actual water content or calculate the amount of water to get precisely 1:1 thin syrup, so just mix equal weights. It seems to work fine.

      Pleased you enjoy the posts and hope the fondant works well for you,
      David

      Reply

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