When is it warm enough to look at my bees

This is a typical question first asked in early spring by a second year beekeeper who is just itching to get started.   If the air temperature is greater than 12C then you could remove the crown board to have a quick look without withdrawing a frame.  You will need to wait until the temperature is 15C or above before a relaxed full inspection can be done.

 

How often do I need to Inspect my bees

Beekeeping is a seasonal hobby and only 'must inspect now' is to do with preventing swarms during the months of May, June & to a lesser extent July.   During these months a planned 7 day inspection regime is required to ensure that a queen cell is not missed and a swarm occurs.  (ok in theory it is every 8 days but then who runs an 8 day week).  At other times the inspection intervals can be less dwindling to every few weeks in the winter or after a storm to ensure no mechanical damage to the hives or leaves blocking entrances.

 

How do I light my smoker  

This really starts with what fuel are you going to use, whatever you burn it should produce a cool non-acrid smoke,  if it makes you cough and eyes water then it's too acrid.

Here is a selection:

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 Dry well rotted wood:  must crumble easily to the touch, if you cannot break it up with your hands it not sufficiently rotted.  Rotted wood is a good fuel easy to light and can last some time between top ups. 

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 Rolled Cardboard: easy to light but needs frequent top ups.  Some cardboard is treated with fire retardant chemicals which makes it unsuitable.

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Wood Shavings: easy to light but needs very frequent top ups, useful as a starter medium

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 Sacking:  can produce acrid smoke test carefully, some sacking can be treated with fire retardant chemicals.  Some people like to use a hybrid of cardboard and sack cloth rolled together.

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Compressed cotton waste:  This new product to the beekeeping world is very good giving long life and cool smoke but has the distinct disadvantage that you will need to purchase it from a beekeeping supplier.  Buying something to just burn is not attractive for large scale beekeepers but may suit the hobbyist.  

The easiest way to light a smoker is with a blowlamp, if you do not want to use a blow lamp then scrunch up a piece of newspaper such as it will loosely drop to the bottom of the smoker.  A trench lighter is useful as it is resistant to wind but a match will do, light the paper and drop it to the bottom of the smoker puffing it gently to get it going.   Drop some dry kindling on top of the burning paper such as small pieces of rotted wood, if you are using cardboard or wood shavings then this can be put straight on top. Keep gently puffing and add more fuel as the smoker gets going.  Do not over fill it.  

To extinguish the smoker put a cork or tuft of grass into the top and lay it on it's side on something that will not be damaged by heat.   Be careful with the hot ash when you empty to ensure it can not start a fire.

 

How much smoke should I use

The answer is really no more than necessary, but as a beginner how do you know.  Well take no chances; smoke is your primary tool for controlling your bees whilst you manipulate them.  If you do not know your bees always start with a couple of good puffs aimed at the entrance to drive the guard bees inside and a puff under the crown board and each box as you remove them.  Look out for the bees bubbling up on top of the frames this can be a sign that they ‘mean business’ a gentle puff drifting over the bees will push them back down.  Avoid pumping the hive full of smoke this can make matters worse, if things are getting out of control pack them up for the day.   If you find it difficult to control your bees see ‘What do I do with bad tempered bees’ in the problem section.

 

How do I make a frame up

You will need:

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·      Pins (thin nails about 3/4”  long known as gimp pins)

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·      A light hammer

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·      PVA wood glue (non water proof is fine)

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·      Sharp modelling knife

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·      Set square is useful  

 

1.       First remove the filler piece from the top bar using your knife and trim off any splinters

2.       Glue the side bars lightly and press them into the top bar with the slot for the wax towards the inside

3.       Fit one of the bottom bars without nails or glue, it should stay in place temporarily

4.       If you look carefully you will notice that the reinforcing wire embedded in the wax in the shape of a ‘W’ sticks out three times on one edge and twice on the other.  Bend the three protruding wire ends through 90 degrees

5.       Carefully fit the sheet of wax by sliding it down the groves in the side bars until the 3 bent pieces of wire meet the top bar.

6.       Insert the filler piece and the last bottom bar and you are ready to pin it all together  

7.       Pin the filler piece to the top bar with three pins each positioned close to where the wire ends

8.       Finally pin the bottom bars using 4 pins  into the side bars.  This method allows for easier dismantling of the frame should you wish to recycle it with a new sheet of wax foundation in the future.  

 

 

How do I use my hive tool properly

Scraper Style Hive Tool J Style Hive Tool

The hive tool is used to separate things that the bees stick together and this is everything.    There are basically two styles of hive tool. There is the popular ‘J’ tool and the more traditional scraper style.  It is personal preference but as a beginner start with a ‘J’ tool, it is the more versatile design.  The sharp end is useful to separate brood and super boxes and the ‘J’ is great for levering out propolised frames.  Use the heel of the ‘J’ tool on the frame next to the one that you are about to lift, with the ‘J’ hooked under the frame.  Always lever close to the frames vertical side pieces as this is where the frame is strongest.

 

What do I look for when I open a hive

1.       Is the queen there and laying eggs, called “queen right”.  There is no need to actually see the queen just look for eggs and young larvae to be sure that she is ok.

2.       Are the bees healthy

3.       Do they need feeding

4.       Have they plenty of space to expand and store honey

5.       Are they planning to swarm  (this is a seasonal thing)  

 

Do I need to keep written records

Yes, there are two basic records to  keep...

1) (UK non compulsory) A day to day diary or record card  for your own practical use whilst managing bees

2) (UK compulsory) As a 'food producing animal' (ok I know its an insect) a record must be kept of any medical treatments administrated.

Lets start with 1 your diary record card...

What should I record...    Record Cards:

This is highly desirable, it may not seem worth it when you start with just one colony, but it is surprising how details and exact dates become unclear a week or so later.  Using a separate card for each colony usefully builds up a record for comparison in years to come and .

The useful things to record are:

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Any health problems

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Amount of food stored

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Strength of the colony (number of frames with brood) 

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Any signs of swarming

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Any supers added or removed and why

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A running estimation of honey produced this season by this hive.

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Year of the queen and whether marked or clipped

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Note any actions done

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Note anything to be done next visit

There are many designs of record card and not everything need be recorded during each visit, i.e. if they are healthy then do not record that, but do record if they are sick.  I have tried complicated designs and have concluded that it is best kept simple with a maximum amount of white space to write remarks.

Click here for a copy of the diary Record Card that I use.  Note the 'ok' column to keep things brief and it is simplified to the max.  There are two sheets the second sheet is useful to keep notes for the whole apiary site and saves you writing the same thing in each colonies record card.

What must I record...  Medicinal Treatments:

Legally Bees are considered food as producing 'animals' and as such any medicines administered must be recorded and kept for five years.  This is laid down by Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD UK) and is got to be good practice anyway.   In addition keep receipts for all medicines purchased.  If there are any problems the VMD officers will want to see this evidence.

Click here for a copy of a suitable VMD Record card.

 

How do I move my bees

In the evening block the entrance with a piece of foam and secure the hive by using a ratchet tie down strap around the floor, body and crown board.  If the transit time is more than 15 minutes then use a ventilated travelling board/screen in place of the crown board.  Should you have a mesh floor already fitted then this is unnecessary.

A short distance

Bees will always return to the same spot and if you move the hive more than a metre they will struggle to find their own hive.   If there are no other bees close by, you can stretch this closer to two metres.  If you need to move your hive; for example across your garden, then move it in several such small steps every good flying day.   It will help if you face the hive in a different direction and place a leafed branch in their way, they then realise as they leave the colony that things have changed.

A medium distance

Should you wish to move your bees less than 3km but further than you can comfortably move in short steps as above then first you need to move the colony more than 3km for 5-6weeks then back to their new site.

A long distance

If you move your bees more than 3 kilometres then the bees will realise that their surroundings have completely changed and reoriented to their new hive position without any problem.

Exceptions

In the middle of winter when temperatures are consistently below 10C the bees only fly a short distance for sanitary flights.  The hive may be then moved any distance without concern.

With mild winters some additional measures are called for, in similar way as to moving 'A Short Distance' above.   Close them up & move them on the coldest day you can but place the hive such as it faces a different direction and put a branch with every green foliage in front & close to the entrance such as it impedes direct flight.  This will force them to take more heed of their new position when they next leave.

 

 

How often should I replace the wax comb

Aim to change 2-3 frames of brood comb every spring.  Super comb can last for years once drawn out evenly; you will need to replace a percentage each year due to a variety of reasons such as wax moths or accidental damage during the extraction process.

 

How do I know when to put a super on

Work well ahead of the bees, in general be quick to put a super on early in the season (April-June) as this reduces the chance of a swarm, but be slow to add supers towards the end of the swarming season (late July on) as this forces them to fill what they have and they are also less likely to swarm then.

They will tend to fill the middle frames first, if you have time then move the full frames to the edge.  Put empty supers on top – it’s easier and it’s where the bees expect the empty space to be.  

 

When should I uses Entrance Blocks

Entrance Blocks are a means of restricting the entrance, usually to stop robbing wasps or bees especially if the colony is small and needs an entrance that is easier to defend.  If you are using Open Mesh Floors (OMF) then these provide sufficient ventilation and entrance blocks can be left in all year around.   

See Problems - How do I stop wasps or other bees from attacking my hives.

 

How do I increase or decrease my stock of bees

Combining two colonies into one called uniting, or splitting one into two are the fundamental methods of controlling the number of hives you wish to manage.  

 

How do I combine two hives into one (Uniting)

Never unite two weak colonies into one as you will end up with another poorly hive.   Check for signs of disease before uniting and unite weak into strong.

1.       Move the two colonies close together obeying the rules for moving bees.

2.       Remove the queen from the colony that you are least happy with.   If you do not do this the bees will decide, and may choose the queen that has the poorer characteristics in your opinion, i.e. bad temper. (The genes & pheromones of the queen influence the temperament of the bees)

3.       Remove supers shaking the bees into their brood box.

4.       Place a single sheet of newspaper over the now queenless colonies brood box, if it is windy secure with drawing pins.  Ensure that there are no gaps, use two overlapping sheets if necessary.

5.       Make two or three short cuts with your hive tool to give the bees a starting point.

6.       Place the queen right colony on top of the queenless brood box.

7.       If you have had to remove supers and there are still some bees in them it is safer to put them above the top brood box with a queen excluder and another sheet of paper.

 

How do I make two hives out of one (Splitting)

If you take a strong colony in the summer and divide the brood nest in two and separate into two brood boxes, then the half of the colony without the queen will quickly start making emergency queen cells and raise a new queen.   This is the simplest method of increasing your stock.   The box left on the original location will pick up all the flying bees so make sure that the other half has plenty of food reserves. 

If the bees are preparing to swarm then the queen can be removed* and the colony split as above with two or three good cells left in each half.   Arguably queens made from normal queen cells can be better than emergency queens but not always.   This procedure is similar to the swarm control measure known as ‘making an artificial swarm’.  See the Problem section.

*Removed queens can be culled immediately or kept in a nucleus (mini hive) with three or four frames of bees in case things go wrong.

 

How do I breed better bees ‘simply’

Most beginners multiply their stocks by using a hive that wants to swarm and splitting up the frames with queen cells to make two or more new colonies. This is certainly an easy process as you are using the bee’s natural impulse to multiply; however it does tend to lead to producing more colonies that have a strong swarming tendency bred in by this process.

Better to modify the technique and force the bees to raise queens from a stock that you select, i.e. one that has not swarmed and perhaps has other desirable traits (see What Type of Bee do I have a choice of).

So remove the queen from the swarmy hive and cut out all the queen cells, shaking off all the bees to double check that you have got them all.

Over the next few days the bees will start making emergency queens from young larvae. After *eight days there will be no more suitable larvae available, so after this time, again carefully remove ALL the emergency queen cells.

Now unable to raise a new queen, if left like this the colony will die out, so you now ‘come to their rescue’ by giving them a frame of eggs from a stock of bees of you’re choosing.  If you cannot find a frame just containing eggs then cut out a piece of comb containing eggs about 70mm square and fit it in to a similar hole cut in a donor frame. They now have no choice and will raise emergency queens from your ‘better’ non swarmy bees and use a young larvae not a 4 day one (see * below).

Some say that emergency queens are not as good as conventionally raised queens but this is not necessarily so, and emergency queens produced as described can be very good indeed.

*Bees can make queens from larvae that are up to 4 days old, ie 3 days as an egg + 4 days as a larvae 7 days in total.  Therefore an egg laid on the day the queen is removed cannot become a queen on the eighth day.

 

How do I find the queen

Finding the queen can be easy or some times seem near impossible but it is something you will need to do occasionally in order to prevent swarming.  Mostly you will spot her when you do not need to so always have your queen marking cage and paint to hand because a marked queen is ten times easier to find next time.   Here are some useful points.

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Use no or little smoke as this makes her run around

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Search for her whilst the bees are flying as there will be fewer bees in the colony

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She is most likely to be near a patch of freshly laid eggs

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Start looking on the first comb before the brood and leave a space between the brood frames and the next adjacent food frame to minimise her options to hide.

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As you look at the frame think ‘the bee with the long legs’ and with the sun over your shoulder watch for her running around the edge to the darker side.

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Scan methodically breaking up clusters by gently breathing on them.

Tip: Should you fail after 3 or 4 passes a useful trick is to separate all the brood frames into pairs with a gap of around 50mm (2") between pairs.  To do this you will need a spare brood box and floor.  After 15 minutes or so the queen is most likely to be found in the dark joining faces of one of the paired frames.   Open each pair in turn like a book, and initially watch out for her running around the edge of a frame when light falls on her again.   Good Luck

 

How do I mark a queen

Bee suppliers stock special marker pens available in five colours, these colours can be used to indicated the birth year of the queen.   Correction fluid can also be used but is only readily available as white.

Tip: It is better to mark your queens white or yellow as these are the colours most easily seen and use coloured drawing pins on the outside of the hive to indicate the age should you wish.  Why not put the pin on the left side of the hive if the queen is unmarked and move it to the right once you have marked her.  

Year ending

Marking colour

1 or 6

White

2 or 7

Yellow

3 or 8

Red

4 or 9

Green

5 or 0

Blue

Using a press on marking cage:

  1. Place (don’t press down yet) over the queen without stabbing her.

  2. Place the comb horizontally trying not to crush bees

  3. Remove any workers from the cage by blowing on them.   

  4. Get your marker pen ready and test on your glove, no big drips!

  5. Gently press the cage down until the queen is immobilised and dot her back (thorax) between her wings.

  6. Lift the cage briskly so that she does not smudge the paint on the cage.  Job done.

 

Press On Queen Marking Cage

Click here for a video clip 

(WMV format 705kB)

 

How do I introduce a new queen bee

 The safest way is to use a queen introduction cage often called a hair roller cage shown opposite.   If you have received the queen by post the style of the cage will be different but can still be used for introducing the queen.

‘Hair Roller’ Design of Queen Cage

1.       The old queen must be removed from the hive.

2.       Remove any attendant bees from the queen’s travelling cage.  (if you have bought a queen by post the beekeeper will have also included some attendant bees to look after her)

3.       Block up the open end of the introduction cage solidly with a piece of newspaper firmly crushed to plug the end.   As the bees cannot get through this you will need to release the queen later.   You could use a block of candy that the bees will eat through but as a very new beginner this method is safer.

4.       The queen should have a safe refuge in her cage to protect her from biting which may occur within the first few hours of her introduction, some cages have this designed in, if not wrap two layers of paper around half the cage and secure with a rubber band.

5.       The new queen with no other bees is placed in the cage and the cage placed horizontally between two combs in the centre of the brood.   Squeeze the combs gently together to hold the cage.

6.       Three days later you will need to return and release her, unless you have blocked it with candy in which case she should have been released by the bees.  Best to check anyway.  Reassemble the hive and leave them to it for a few days before checking again looking for eggs.  

 

When can I re-queen

Best to re-queen during the active egg laying season as it is easier to ascertain if the queen has been accepted by observing her eggs.  Re-queening in the UK between Sept-April is not a good idea as any failure is then a disaster whilst re-queening during the mating season is optimal, as if all else fails natural emergency queens can be raised and mated.  

Tip: Keep the original queen just in case of a failure as she could be re-introduced as a last resort.

 

Do I need to feed my bees

Yes, you will normally need feed your bees in the early Autumn to supplement for the honey that you have removed.   Bees need this food source to survive the winter which is why they produce honey in the first place.

Syrup Strength

Bees are fed with a white sugar & water syrup, many books talk about thin and thick mixes but a thick concentrated mix is safe to use at all times. To make a thick syrup mix to the ratio of 1kg of sugar to 1 litre of warm water, this is known as a 1:1 mixture.

 

How and when do I feed my bees

The method of feeding is to use a special feeder that goes on top of the colony, there being two basic designs Contact & Bulk feeders:

Contact Feeders; that the bees access (contact) from below with the syrup held by a vacuum formed by inverting the feeder and shaking some syrup out.  Contact feeders go over the feeder hole in the crown board, incidentally you may find that some crown boards have this hole offset from the middle and this design is a nuisance.  They are also small in capacity generally no larger than 2 litres.   They are useful for stimulation feeding (feeding to encourage the queen to lay more eggs usually in the early spring) and top up feeding but unless you like many visits to your hive, they are not suitable for winter feeding.  

Tip: With small capacity feeders such as contact feeders, use an empty super box on top of the crown board to support the roof whist the feeder is on.

Bulk Feeders; such as the Adams, Ashforth, and Miller feeders can hold ten litres of syrup which with the honey in the brood chamber is usually sufficient to see your bees through the winter.  There is no need to use the crown board indeed if your roof is not bee proof (most are - some are not) the crown board needs to go on top of the feeder to keep other bees and wasps out.

Ashforth Bulk Feeder

Other Designs: In addition there are feeders known as Rapid, Frame, Entrance feeders, which are all small capacity feeders using differing techniques to get to the bees. They are therefore also unsuitable for winter feeding multiple colonies but useful for stimulation or feeding under special conditions.

Feeding: Early Spring

Some beekeepers feed in early springtime to speed up the rate of egg laying of the queen and thereby make a stronger colony earlier ready for large nectar sources such as OSR (Oil Seed Rape), this is known as ‘Stimulation Feeding’.  In the English Midlands you need to feed in early March, this is at least six weeks before the first flow is expected but you do not need to feed much as the bees do not ‘need’ this food it is simply a ‘kick start’ to suit the beekeeper.  Feed no more than 2 litres.

Rapid Feeder

 

Feeding:  Late Summer (for winter)

Most beekeepers consider that bees require16-18kg (35-40lbs) of food stored to get them through the winter, if the hive was completely empty of stores this would be about two full fills of a bulk feeder (20 litres) but as the bees normally have some honey already in the brood chamber one 10 litre fill is sufficient.  If in doubt feed them some more.   The time to feed is late August (England UK) but no later than mid September as the onset of the cooler damp autumn weather makes it difficult for the bees to get rid of the excess water.  See "How much feed do my bees need" below for more information.

Miller Bulk Feeder

Feeding: At other times

For many reasons bees can need additional feeding at any time of year, perhaps due to a spell of very dry weather in the summer or some other crisis.  In the depths of winter a bag of sugar with a hole in the middle and a cup of water to wet it can be a hive saver if placed over the feeder hole.  In the summer months do not feed with supers on as syrup will easily be stored there.

 

How much feed do my bees need

There is broad agreement that a strong colony requires about  16-18kg (35-40lbs) of stores to see them them through the winter.  A full British National brood frame (both sides) holds around 2.2kg (5lbs) so you can then estimate just how much they need to top them up.  Many beekeepers just feed their bees around 10lt (2 gallons) of syrup (see Syrup Strength above) which equates to around 7kg (16lbs) of sugar and that is considered an adequate top up of their stores already in the brood chamber.  If the colony has been building up from a small nucleus it may not have significant stores already and additional feed will be required.  See "Feeding for winter" above for more information.

 

Can I feed honey back to my bees

Yes but it’s not to be recommended as it can spread diseases.  Never feed honey from unknown hives only use honey from the same apiary, and definitely never feed shop bought honey.  The feeding of supermarket honey ‘as a treat’ is now a classic way to give your bees a serious disease such as AFB which transfers from overseas as spores in the honey.

 

Do I need to feed them candy

Candy is a mix of sugar and a little water that forms a smooth stiff paste similar to bakers fondant, indeed bakers fondant can be used and saves you the hassle of making it up.  As candy has a low water content, it can be fed to bees during the depths of winter or as a spring stimulant.  However some bees seem to ignore it whilst others take it with relish.  If you feed sufficiently in the autumn there should be no need to use candy at all.

How do I make candy

It’s as simple as 1,2,3,4,5... that’s 1 pint water with 5lb sugar heated to 234F, and that memory jogger just will not work in metric sorry.  (For metric use 2kg sugar, 0.5litre water at 112C)

A teaspoon of Cream of Tarter also helps to stop it setting too hard.  Mix the sugar into the water slowly and bring to the boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Test the mixture by dripping onto a cold plate until it forms a soft solid mass.    Take off the heat and stand the saucepan in cold water for about 20 minutes until you see white streaks appearing.  Then stir vigorously and pour into containers around 2Kg such as old ice cream tubs and leave to set.

 

Do I need to feed pollen patties

Although many beekeepers in the UK have tried this at some time, it is considered by most that the early foliage in the UK provides sufficient fresh protein coupled with stored pollen making such stimulation unnecessary.  The other reasons (see below) are secondary and also normally not required in the UK.

There are two families of patty one containing a percentage of real pollen called Pollen Supplement and one without real pollen known as Pollen Substitute.    

Pollen patties are mixes of ingredients placed on top of the brood frames for one or more of the following reasons:

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For Supplementary Protein:  This is one of the most popular reasons for adding patties and is usually to help the bees expand rapidly early in the season when there is little fresh pollen available

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For Disease Control:  Medicinal components are added to the mix as a means of controlling disease such as AFB & EFB (not recommended)

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Combating Tracheal Mites: High fat content patties known as Grease Patties are thought to assist in controlling Tracheal Mites.

For more information check out THIS LINK

 

How do I prepare my bees for the winter months

Your bees need sufficient food for the winter, see feeding bees for details.  Your bees should also be strong and healthy if you have weak (disease free) colonies then consider combining them into a stronger colony.  Entrances should be fitted with a mouse guard to prevent hibernating guests, and insulation such as a layer of carpet or polystyrene should be on top of the crown board.  If your hives are on a windy or exposed site then weigh down the roof or even strap the whole hive together.

 

Can I leave a super on during the winter

This is not a good idea as the queen cannot get through the queen excluder which means that the bees always have to live in the coldest part of the hive as their warmth rises into the super.   Or worse the queen is trapped below in the cold as most of her offspring move up.

You can leave a super with the bees if it is placed under the brood chamber and without a queen excluder.  In the early spring the queen will usually have started to lay eggs at the top of the space she has available i.e. the brood box and you can then remove the empty super box.

 

What can I paint my hives with

See Starting up  :  What can I paint my hives with