Serving the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall at the Kings Orchard Honey Stall, Royal Cornwall Show 2022

Kings Orchard Blog

winter beekeeping

The seasons go around in the beekeeping year, just as they do with any farming, and for generations have been marked by celebration days.
At Kings Orchard our beekeeping year starts, where most would imagine it ends!
Before the Autumnal Equinox, around the last week of September we have taken off the crop of honey in supers, placed the half brood boxes under the main brood ( We run our colonies Brood + one half) and set up the colonies with our one gallon English feeders brimming with thick sugar syrup. A very busy time for us. We do look forward to celebrating with the “Crying of the Neck” which is a ceremony dating back through time to honour the cutting of the last “neck” of corn… somewhere in a wheat field near Rillaton!
As our crop of honey in supers stacks up in the Skibber awaiting extraction, we busy ourselves making up sugar syrup, four to five loads of 300 kilos of sugar + 150 litres of water stirred together overnight, canned into 12 litre containers, each with a drop of thymol to prevent mould and fermentation, the thick syrup is fed to the bees who rapidly store it away ready to consume over Winter.
Over the years of keeping and breeding the Cornish black native bee, we have noticed how they are frugal with their winter stores in comparison with the yellow “Abbey” bees we have in our Devon apiaries, who generally will store away as much as a gallon more sugar syrup to get them through the Winter.
In terms of honey crop we did well this last season, with a noticeable reduction of the “Danish pastry” virus and Varroa infestation, which must have caused a reduction in available foragers in previous years… perhaps indeed the Cornish Black bees have developed resistance?
By the time the Guy Fawkes bonfire night is upon us, we have finished with feeding and begin our Varroa mite control by oxalic acid sublimation. Covid caused a bit of a delay last December!
As the days grow shorter and we approach the Winter Solstice the colony will slow down or even stop producing brood… at a time when the Varro mite has nowhere to hide. We set about Vaporising all of the colonies with oxalic acid*.
We use an electrical device manufactured in Italy called a “Sublimox” which heats the oxalic acid in a temperature controlled cupula and vaporises it into a mist that is injected into the colony and covers the bees…. And kills the pesky varroa mite.
We work in a team of three, one removing hive straps, taking off the lid and removing feeders and feeder lifts (if not already taken off) plus fits a foam block to the bees entrance… the next beekeeper removes the crownboard and fits a clear plastic hood on top of the hive, inserts the Sublimox device nozel, inverts the machine and injects the stream of vaporised oxalic into the hive.
As the vapour streams in it flows down and out of the open mesh floors, after a minute or two the Sublimox is removed, and readied for the next colony with a cool cupula of 2g oxalic powder. The number three in the team refits the removed crownboard, cleans as necessary, removes the entrance blocker and puts the hive back together with lid and straps.
Wearing full bee suits, and respirators, even in mid-winter… after treating an apiary of 20 colonies, man handling a 240v generator and associated cables, and hefting heavy hives….we are all “fluthere’d and bet”…. Back into the Land Rover and on to the next site…..
With the colonies set for winter there is still plenty to do.
The lead up to Christmas is a busy time selling our honey and candles at the Winter and Christmas fayres… bottling has been made easier this year with our semi-automatic bottling plant, and the new industrial bottle/jar washer has made the process of cleaning a pallet of hex jars less bothersome!
However we still have to affix labels by hand as we cannot find a ( cost effective!) machine to do it.
WASSAIL!!… old 12th Night, 17 January… Apple tree Orchard blessed, toast placed in the branches, cider drank from a bowl made from the white maple tree, and between now and Candlemass ( Ground Hog day) on February 2nd….. a feeling of slight panic sets in.!
Last season’s nucs to be cleaned, bees wax to be steamed from the old frames, then boiled and bleached, new frames made up and new foundation fitted and wired.
Hives to be hefted… fondant to be fed? And all before St Piran’s day March 5th… busy times ahead with our first round of baseline assessment for our DASH approval!
To be continued.
Dave Ledger
Kings Orchard Honey
Harrowbarrow Kernow
*Api-Bioxal is a branded Oxalic Acid based veterinary registered product for the control of varroa