January Beekeeping • Checking Stores & Tidying the Apiary
It’s been an unusually warm winter
I write that as the wind is howling and the temperature hovers around oC. Just a few days ago it was much more pleasant and closer to 14C — the type of weather you’d expect in early spring. Knowing that we were forecast a cold blast I set decided it was the perfect time to check in on my honeybees. January beekeeping isn’t generally a thing in the northern hemisphere but on the Isle of Man it’s generally mild enough to quickly have a look inside.
While many beekeepers leave their hives alone during the winter, I look in on mine periodically. Usually once in November, once in January and then I start visiting more often in March. I check to make sure that they have enough honey, that the hives are holding up OK, and also take the time to tidy the apiary. That’s a fancy name for the site where beehives are placed.
Greeting with a sting
It was quiet when I approached the hives so I set up my tripod and started filming the entrance of the blue hive. Bees were steadily coming in and out, no doubt on the look-out for any remaining ivy pollen. No sooner had I settled down to watch then a bee flew straight at me and stung my cheek.
It was my fault though. First of all I didn’t have my beekeeping veil zipped on and second of all bees don’t like you standing in front of their hive. That’s why beekeepers always work standing behind hives while they work.
Clearing the Apiary
First thing on the agenda was pruning the gorse and brambles from around the hives. You shouldn’t do this in the summer because changing the situation in any way can confuse the bees when they come back from their foraging missions. Some of them might not even find their way back inside.
Even though my bees are going out, there aren’t as many of them as in summer. That lessens the chances of any mix ups. Also, there’s less foliage this time of the year to remove so the look of the apiary doesn’t change as much.
A New Neighbour
While I was pulling up grass and weeds I also found the entrance to a burrow. It was hidden in long grass and I’m not sure how long it’s been there — maybe even since last summer. I suspect that it’s the home of Long-tails — a.k.a. rats — and I’ll be keeping a close eye on it. The Manx are superstitious about some words and you’re not allowed to say the word R.A.T. on the Island. How I pick up this ridiculousness is beyond me.
Clearing the path
Some years ago I literally hacked my apiary out of a bramble infested hillside. Every summer the brambles creep back and I have to prune and pull them out. After I cut them, I just toss the pieces back into the brambles where they dry and become a framework for other brambles to scramble up. The idea is to create more a more protected boundary around my hives.
The below two photos show the before and after of my work clearing the path leading up to my bees. I wore my beekeeping suit while I worked — just in case another bee decided she didn’t want me there. After half an hour the growth was back to being tidy and thorns didn’t pull at my clothes as I walked through.
Adding more frames of honey
The last job on the agenda was peeking inside the hives to make sure they had enough honey. With it getting colder they’ll be eating more and it’s also unlikely that I can check in on them again until March. I want to make sure they have enough to last them until spring.
Last year I took three supers of honey off but didn’t end up extracting any — there was just too much crystallized Ivy honey in the combs for me to bother with. The idea now is that I’ll feed this back to them as they need it and slowly move the emptied combs to new supers. Waste not, want not.
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