Preparing for Winter

Yes its that time of year again, the bees rushing around trying to to fill every cell with honey, beekeepers rushing around removing any “surplus” honey, assessing the strength of colonies, and stores. The bees are on the Balsam, the Ivy is already flowering in some parts of the County, some colonies are becoming more defensive, wasps are active and the nights are drawing in!

So here are a few things for your beekeeping ToDo list.

  • Remove any surplus supers
  • Compress super frames into one super if possible
  • Consider if a super of food will be left on over winter
    • Consider if the super will be “under” or “over” supered.
  • Prepare to apply Varroa treatments
  • Prepare for feeding if required
    • Check and clean feeders
    • Prepare heavy syrup or order proprietary feeds such as Ambrosia
    • Make sure appropriate crowns boards, ekes etc. are available on all hives
  • Consider weather proofing hives
  • Consider if additional insulation is required
  • Assess colonies and consider uniting, throwing out, or downsizing to nucs for any smaller colonies
  • Plan when to remove queen excluders
  • Check out BBKA website in the Resources Section, a number of new publications available including: BBKA News – Natural Varroa-Resistant Honey Bees – NEW, BBKA News – Integrated Pest Management – NEW.

Varroa Treatment

Now is the time of year to carry out varroa treatment on your bees. The winter bees are
starting to hatch, so once you have decided how much honey you want to take off and how much you want to leave for the bees, treat them with one of the approved varroa treatments.

Remember to put your varroa boards in first and do a baseline count before you treat. Go to Beebase and use their handy varroa calculator to check your level of varroa infestation.

There are a number of chemical and biotechnical treatments to choose from, the Club is using Apiguard this season and it is important to change your treatment each year to stop the varroa becoming resistant to it.

It is important that you manage varroa in your hives. If you don’t then colonies could collapse and die. Primary details of biology and control methods can be found in the Fera/NBU booklet ‘Managing Varroa’, which is available online at This sheet highlights best practice and some important considerations in developing a management programme.

All good bee books have a section about varroa, so get your favourite bee book out now and read up. Varroa feeds on bees by piercing the cuticle of honeybees and grubs with their mouth parts. This feeding can activate and spread various bee viruses and other disease problems. It is generally considered that varroa as a sole bee pest will probably not kill the colony for a number of years, though it does impact on honeybee social
cohesion, ability to function and it can debilitate bees by depriving them of nutrition. However when varroa is acting in conjunction with viruses and other bee disease it can become fatal quite rapidly.

So the message is to read up on varroa and understand how it can affect your bees health and wellbeing and don’t forget to regularly monitor and treat your bees for varroa.

An Inspector Calls

We sell our honey to a local retail outlet, at craft and food fairs as well as to local people who want to buy honey direct from the producer.

To process and then sell or give away honey, beekeepers like us should be registered with and inspected by the local authority Environmental Health & Trading Standards department to ensure that we comply with the Food Hygiene Regulations.
We are registered with our local authority and are included on the national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

Last week we had our inspection visit from an environmental health officer. Although the regulations cover anyone who prepares, cooks, handles, or sells food, she told us that as we just process a single food item, our inspection would be very straightforward which indeed it was.

She looked at the steps we take to extract and process our honey; as an aide memoire we had prepared a summary of the steps we take when extracting our honey, a copy of which she took away for her records.

She understood that we work in a domestic setting so looked at the room where we primarily work, in our case, our kitchen; she looked at our extractor, and where and how this is stored as well as our honey buckets.

Her focus was that these steps were hygienic, legally compliant and avoided any possibility of cross contamination.

She looked at the PPE we wear when working with honey, and our hygiene practices.
She saw our honey jar labels and kept a sample for her records. All in all, it was a simple, easy process and for us an interesting, educative, and successful visit. Since meeting with her, we have received a report of her visit. We asked if she would send us information we could pass onto other beekeepers, and she has kindly sent us the following links.

Some of this information beekeepers should already be aware of but other ones are of more general interest.

Running a food business
Starting a food business
Food business registration
Honey Authenticity
Honey Labelling Guide
Honey Labelling
The Honey (England) Regulations 2015

A word of warning

Although the system of inspection itself is simple, leave yourself plenty of time to get this completed. Covid has introduced a further time delay, and so the visit may take time to get done.

However, be aware that the consequences of not registering is that legally a beekeeper shouldn’t regularly sell or give away honey and that if you breach this you could face a financial penalty or in extremis, a 2 year prison sentence.

Penny & Paul Twibill