The Turn of the Days

We are now past the winter solstice and when we get a break from this dreary wet, overcast, weather I expect to see some activity from my hives.  The last sunny day we had (some time back) there was a lot of flying for about an hour in the early afternoon as bees stretched their wings.  As January moves on, the bees normally start a little brood rearing in the centre of their winter clusters.  However, the weather this autumn has been so mild that some hives of mine had little bursts of brood rearing right through into December.  You can tell this is happening by monitoring the temperature of the bee cluster – I use a long probed digital kitchen thermometer.  The non-brooding cluster will give a reading of around 10 – 11ºC at its edge and up to 25ºC at its centre, whereas the brooding cluster will show a central temperature of up to 35ºC.

One of the consequences of the warm weather, and the associated brood rearing, is that the bees use more stores than in cold weather.  So keep an eye on those hives to make sure the bees are not running short.  There are reports aplenty on the internet of beekeepers having to top up the winter stores of their bees this year.  I have even put some fondant on my hives in the last couple of days as they were noticeably lighter than when I put them to bed in the autumn.

Gareth, Cotswolds

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9 Responses to The Turn of the Days

  1. Pingback: Natural Beekeeping Courses, Burford | Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group

  2. itsonlyausername says:

    On Sunday 22; December my bees were in full foraging mode. The Mahonia (Oregon Grape) being in full blossom a sure enticement although they also seemed to know of a different source of fotrage in the completely opposite direction two. In fact they were more active in the full sunshine than i had seen for many months. This was despite the outside temperature being only just 12 Celsius. It was actually 11 Celsius inside the hive but because the sensor is most definitely not in the most central position and likely coated with propolisit may well have been higher.
    All this aside it was most heartening to see them so active. Raised my spirits quite a lot more than I thought it would have done. 🙂

  3. Robin says:


    Season’s Greetings to you and all your followers.

    I’m, guessing from his/her comment (about the probe being propilised) that itsonlyausername has one of those inside/outside thermometers which stays in place all year round so I understand how he/she can monitor the temperature. However, I’m curious to know how you use long probe kitchen thermometer as I’m sure that you are not suggesting that folk open their hives to stick the probe in. I’m sure that you are not encouraging folk to disturb their hives at this critical time of year but some may read it that way.

    Robin (very natural beek’ from Somerset)

    • simplebees says:

      You are right, the last thing to do at this time of year is disturb the bees: they want to be left in peace. I have small top entrances in my Warré hives, a 10mm hole in the front of each top box, about half way up. It’s an idea of John Haverson’s that I have adopted. The idea is that the hole is small enough for the bees to decide whether they want it left open or not. On all of my hives, the holes have remained open, even though they do not get used for flying – the ‘normal’ entrances at the base of the hives get used for this.

      I placed the thermometer probe very slowly and very gently in through the hole and left it in place for several minutes. This is not something to be done regularly – so far I have done it once this winter to learn about the internal state of the hives. On a day when the external temperature was 7ºC, some hives recorded internal temperatures of 10 – 11ºC, some around 20ºC and one around 30ºC. The last clearly had some brood activity going on. Maybe some of the others did, too, but away from where the probe was. After measuring the temperature, the thermometer probe is equally slowly removed.

      What I learned was that brood rearing can take place even in December and that hives need to be snug, warm and dry to minimise the energy requirements of the bees at this time.

      BTW, itsonlyausername also goes by the name of Kevin, but you weren’t to know that.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  4. Hi Gareth
    A very timely and synchronous post. I was just looking at my hive yesterday and hefted it, to notice that the boxes are feeling significantly lighter than a couple of months ago. I was thinking of using an upturned tupperware box filled with fondant as a top bar feeder just to give them a little help over the next few weeks or so. Problem is when I had a quick look underneath the quilt, part of the top bar cloth and quilt cloth have gone mouldy.

    My question is, would it be ok in this mild weather to replace the cloths, which would then allow me to cut a “feeding hole” in the new ones and put the top bar feeder in place. I can’t imagine having mouldy cloths would be doing the bees much good.

    Any help on this would be appreciated – to intervene or not to intervene, that is the question!!

    Graham Reading, Berkshire

    • simplebees says:

      My question is, would it be ok in this mild weather to replace the cloths, which would then allow me to cut a “feeding hole” in the new ones and put the top bar feeder in place. I can’t imagine having mouldy cloths would be doing the bees much good.

      I would certainly replace the bottom cloth of the quilt box and check why the cloths have become damp; water coming in from the side, maybe? Does the roof reach down to cover the joint between the quilt box and the top box proper of the hive? If it doesn’t, this will allow rain to get at the edges of the cloths. As a precaution, I taped round all the joints on my Warrés in the autumn as I noticed that wind-blown rain was entering in the odd place where the bees had not sealed the joint with propolis. First year swarms, in particular, do not always get round to sealing every joint.

      Whether I would replace the top cloth itself would depend on how wet it is. In the first instance I’d be tempted to minimise disturbance by replacing only the bottom cloth of the quilt box and see if that allowed the top cloth proper to dry out by wicking the moisture upwards.

      On my hives, I cut a VERY small hole in each top cloth, in situ with a very sharp knife (Stanley knife or similar), to allow the fondant to be placed above the cluster, which could be felt by the little patch of warmth coming through the cloth. I then placed lots of wood chippings around the fondant to keep everything snug.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  5. Thanks Gareth. I have replaced the quilt cloth like you mentioned. Can’t see any obvious reason why it would be getting damp but have sealed the sides up as a precaution. I’m assuming that the bees will abandon the comb in the area of the mould on the top bar cloth. In case it does need changing, when would be the ideal time to do this? Obviously, this will cause some disruption and heat loss to the colony so is there any way in which I can help minimise this?

    Graham, Reading

    • simplebees says:

      I’m assuming that the bees will abandon the comb in the area of the mould on the top bar cloth.

      Not necessarily. The bees may just clean it up come spring and spread some new propolis to manage the mould. Controlling unwanted microbial growth, is one of the main functions of propolis. We always talk in terms of top clothes being propolised to control ventilation, but this may not be the way bees see it. They may just see a surface that needs propolising to discourage mould.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  6. simplebees says:

    A Warré beekeeper in Germany has posted some pictures of one of his hives that has eaten through its stores and is being fed fondant, here.

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