Beekeeping in the greater Dublin area
Beekeeping in the greater Dublin area

Getting Ready for Winter

Aoife Nic Giolla Coda An Beachaire Vol.71 No. 9 September 2016

September is here and our summer is over. While it was not a very good summer, some colonies have had a surplus honey crop. Supers should be removed at this stage and stored away. While you may be leaving on a super of honey for the bees over winter, it is not a good idea to leave all the supers on over winter. This is a large area for the bees to try and temperature regulate and a smaller space is easier for them.

The sooner you can remove your honey crop, the better. I always harvest it in the beginning of August. This allows for plenty of time for the use of the Apiguard treatment while the temperature is closer the 15 degrees Celsius. It is also better to reduce varroa populations as soon as possible, so that the developing larvae are not being burdened with a high mite load, which results in a shortening of their life. It is essential to have varroa free, long-lived, healthy bees this time of year going into the winter.

Queen excluders should be removed over the winter. The colony may wish to move up into the super above the excluder during the winter for extra warmth. However, if the excluder is on the queen gets trapped and isolated below, ultimately leading to the death of the colony.

Make sure all hives are bee tight at this time of year. Reduce entrance size to prevent robbing and allow guard bees to protect the hive more effectively.

Late Supersedure and Uniting Colonies

You may have a colony which has raised late supersedure cells. Unlike swarm cells, proper supersedure cells are generally a bit later in the summer. There are usually between 1 and 3 of them in the colony, generally around the same age. The queen can often be still alive and laying in the colony. It is a sign that the queen may be failing and that the colony wish to replace her, even though she could be OK and survive in another colony.

If it is early/mid August that you come across this situation, the new queen emerging could still have a decent chance at mating. However this is all relative to the amount of drones still available in the locality, which is generally dictated by the weather and the amount of stores coming into the hive.

A supersedure cell in September has a much slimmer chance of success. You could take the chance that the new queen will mate but it is at a high risk of losing your colony over winter. In this situation, it would be wiser to get rid of the supersedure cells (and queen if she is still present). Then unite the colony with a queenright one. This can be easily done by lifting one brood box onto another and placing a sheet of newspaper in between. Prick a few holes into the newspaper. Both colonies will chew away slowly at the paper, allowing the odour of both colonies to mingle and combine.

Uniting can also be carried out if you have a colony which is too small to survive the winter on its own. Many small colonies, say on 3 or 4 frames, will not be able to maintain the correct temperature in order to survive the winter months.


September is the time to carry out Autumn feeding if necessary. The colony requires 35-40 lbs of stores to carry them through the winter, so if your colony is not at this weight in September you need to feed. The most common feeds for Autumn are 2:1 sugar syrup. This consists of a ratio of 2kg white sugar to 1 litre water. Add some warm water to the sugar to melt it. It can be topped up with cold water to the correct ratio. Keep stirring until dissolved.

Another common feed is invert sugar syrup. Ambrosia syrup would be an example. It does not ferment. It is fructose and glucose so the bees do not need to use energy to invert it before storing. It is also very thick, which means less ripening off of moisture for the bees before storing.

The best way to feed this time of year in with a top feeder like an Ashforth or Miller feeder – there are many different types on the market. It is put directly over the brood nest where the bees access it easily. Ensure that it is well covered over with the roof placed on it properly to prevent robbing from other bees. It is a good idea to reduce down the entrance also to defend more easily against robbing. Never spill the syrup if you do ensure that it is washed away quickly.

Dead Drones

You might find lots of dead bees on the ground in front of the entrance of the hive in September (or maybe August). If you look more closely you may see that they are drones being killed off by the colony. This is a natural occurrence this time of the year, when the colony is feeling the autumn chill and start preparing for winter.