THE cold is starting to bite and the bees in the old Mendip Hospital Cemetery are preparing to settle down for the winter.
By now the queen will have stopped laying and will be surrounded by about 10,000 of her daughters – all the boys (male drones) having been kicked out of the hive, their work done. Ivy and late Michaelmas daisies may still be available and some plants such as viburnam and mahonia will soon be in flower, so on fine, dry days some of the girls will trip out to collect extra stores and fresh pollen.
The potential arrival of the Asian hornet, Vespa velutina, from France remains a major concern to be faced by all beekeepers next spring but for now it is time for Meg to protect her bees from native predators and prepare the hives for winter.
Mouse guards have been installed at the entrance to the hives to keep out little mammals searching for shelter, food and warmth and Meg will wrap the hives in plastic to deter woodpeckers that have been seen and heard in the cemetery trees.
Cold weather will send the bees into a cluster round the queen, the shimmering of their wings converting food from their store into energy and keeping the temperature in the hive around 17C. But this activity produces moisture and bees can die of hypothermia if allowed to get wet and cold. However as long as the hives are weather proof and well insulated, the moisture will condense on the walls rather than above the bees heads where they can retrieve the water when thirsty.
The recent strong winds have severely rattled the windbreaks but the hives are well weighted down and have not been toppled. Meg will disturb the bees as little as possible now until next spring so there is no more to be done but to hope the colonies survive the cold frosts and winter snow.
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