Preparing for winter – Micheal C. Mac Giolla Coda (winter 2008)

Muna mbíonn sí tirim, is fliuch is fearr í
If it is not dry, it is better wet

Wintry Weather

As I write this message the last of the leaves are falling and the incessant rain continues to fall also.  The temperature has dropped significantly and winter has come in early as we approach the middle of November.  Still, when we get the occasional bright period and the temperature rises to 9 or 10ºC., the bees issue forth and commence to collect some nectar and pollen from the bounteous crop of ivy blossom.  The much-maligned ivy must certainly be one of the most environmentally friendly plants that grow in Ireland.  It flowers during a long period in autumn and winter, providing a copious supply of nectar and pollen for a host of beneficial insects, including our precious honeybees.  Since its flowers are pollinated by insects, it produces berries that are ripe in January and February to supply food for many species of birds and small mammals at a time when there is little food available for those wild creatures.  Of course, it also supplies shelter for over-wintering insects and nesting sites for many birds under the cover of its dense evergreen foliage.
 
Winter Work
As winter arrives with its shortened days and severe weather conditions, the beekeeper and bee breeder turn their thoughts to essential indoor work.  Having made sure that all our colonies have been adequately fed, treated and secured for the winter, it is time to batten down the hatches and concentrate on preparations for next season’s bee breeding.  For last Christmas, my family built me a substantial “lean-to” on to my honey house.  As it is open on three sides there is plenty of light and lots of scope for working.  I call it my “cloister,” as I find it a good place to relax and meditate no matter what the weather.  It is where my 15-year-old grandson spent some weeks of his summer holidays working at assembling frames, section crates, and Apideas etc.  Hopefully next summer, he will be working the bees with me.  I now have hundreds of frames to take the old comb out of and clean and sterilize ready for re-waxing with new foundation. There is a great stock of pressed cappings waiting to be rendered into blocks to exchange for foundation.  All my Apideas must be dismantled, cleaned out, sterilized and reassembled in readiness for next season’s queen rearing.  I intend making some more nucleus boxes to accommodate those nuclei that I hope to make up next summer, and there are many brood chambers vacant, as well as supers that must be repaired and sterilized and treated.

Armchair Beekeeping
At this time of year, I have no reason to feel guilty if I relax a bit beside the fire on those cold dark winter evenings.  I can reach out for one of my favourite bee breeding books, of which I have a good number on my bookshelf, including all the BIBBA publications that deal with the conservation and improvement of our native bees.  My favourite is a dog-eared copy of Ruttner’s Breeding Techniques and Selection for Breeding of the Honeybee.  Various passages have been highlighted in different colours over the years according to how important I have considered them at various times.  Still, each time I open this book, I discover some new aspect of bee improvement that might be applicable to my ongoing work of selective breeding and queen rearing.  At the London Honey Show, I purchased from Northern Bee Books what I think are two excellent books by Larry Connor.  Increase Essentials and Bee Sex Essentials appear to be very readable books of a practical nature and should provide much information on bee improvement and replacing winter losses.

Colony Appraisals
Of course at this time of year, a task to which I have to give precedence is my colony appraisals.  I really enjoy this annual chore, as it gives me a pretty clear picture of my colonies: the good, the bad and the ugly.  It enables me to select the very best breeding colonies for next season, as well as earmarking those queens that need to be culled.  As the evaluation and recording of behaviour characteristics through the season is an integral part of our bee improvement, we are constantly appealing to members to carry out their colony appraisals at the end of each year and to send in the results to Jim Power of Carrickbeg, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, for him to include in the GBBG Stud Book for future reference.

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