Autumn 2021

Protect Your Hives Ready for Winter

Asian Hornet in Late Autumn

If you have traps up to catch hornets and mesh around stand legs, do not remove them yet. At this time of year, Asian Hornets require a nectar-rich diet and can be seen foraging on flowering ivy or even hunting other bees and insects feeding on it! October is the month when newly mated Asian Hornet queens will be appearing at the rate of 200-400 per nest. These queens will be needing to feed up and search for somewhere to over-winter, which they do either singly or in groups. Any well insulated natural or man-made spot will do, such as a cavity under the bark of a tree, garden shed or in soil in a ceramic pot.

If using traps, you must inspect every day and release native fauna to avoid the indiscriminate killing of native beneficial insects and other creatures.

In 2020 – 2021 luckily, reported sightings have remained low with only one confirmed sighting in Hampshire but we must still remain very vigilant. If AH was to reach our area and over winter, it might only be a matter of time before they get established. Nests are very large at this time of year and tend to be high up in trees so should become more visible as the leaves fall off – so keeping looking! They may also be on high man-made structures. Please take time this winter to learn about how to recognise Asian Hornets compared to our native species, learn about their life cycle and habits; also know what to do to protect your hives and how to report a sighting.

Other Pests

Certain creatures that are no problem to bees most of the year, present a real hazard in winter. From now on it is essential to have entrances no bigger than 9mm in diameter or place mouse guards across the front of the hive. Shrews and field mice, with their flat skulls, can squeeze through the smallest of gaps to overwinter and wreak havoc on the combs inside, as well as stressing the bees with the smell of urine and their droppings. Although the colony will not break its cluster while cold, in a warmer spell the bees will try to deal with the intruder(s) wasting valuable stores and energy to propolise the remains – some colonies do not survive.

Another real pest when the ground is frozen and it cannot get its usual diet of ants, is the green woodpecker (Picus Viridis). The thinner sections of brood boxes are easily penetrated and with their exceptionally long tongues, woodpeckers can reach inside hives to take the bees. Once found they will return to the apiary year after year. Apparently polystyrene hives are even easier to infiltrate. Although fiddly, one method of protection against this is to put a cage of wire mesh around each hive, with enough distance to make a barrier rather than provide a foothold. Following the suggestion by the guest speaker at a Winter Talk, we trialled wrapping each hive in Builders’ Damp-proof Membrane – but as one of our out apiaries is low lying and tends to be damp, we found it caused more moisture to collect in the hive, leading to mildew but it seemed to work well on our dry apiary sites.

Bigger animals such as badgers, deer and livestock can push hives over so you may need to check stock fences, block up badger runs and strap hives and anchor them to the ground. Bees can often survive for short spells in a hive that has toppled but is strapped together and still intact.

Lynn Cox