Sunday, November 8, 2015

Michael Palmers Apiaries My visit in Pictures and Video.

Summer trip to Vermont, North America

Well, if you havent been to Vermont before heres the location. French Hill Apiaries is located right up in North Vermont in a small town called St Albans. Its approximately  30 miles from the Canadian border and is just on the east side of the Champlin Valley. 

Mike Palmer next to his twin Nucleus colonies.

So why go all the way to Vermont?

I have followed Mike's methods of teaching "sustainability in the apiary," ever since I came across one of his presentations at the National Honey show in 2013. His talks, now world renowned are all available on this link:  and if your a budding or experienced beekeeper then I can assure you will learn something from them. There such a wealth of information, you pick up extra things each time you watch them.

The Works Truck, typical pick up, designed to take a lot of weight!!

A typical day in July. Finding the queen, ispecting and assessing the colony and requeening if necessary. Mostly through a push in cage if we killed the old inferior queen, or using  what we call a three hole cage with candy plug if the queen had been absent for a while.

The crew at work. All working together when necessary.

Cork Inserts a new queen under a push in Cage, amongst emerging brood and nectar.
The brood emerges and only knows the queen, they immediately start feeding this new queen, she starts laying. and then becomes acceptable to the existing workers and in four days time the cage is lifted off to reveal, under normal circumstances a queen, that has laid up the entire square underneath the cage. I will explain this method more further down, with a video that I took of Michael preparing a queen and putting her under a cage.

If we cant find the queen, we shake the entire colony through a shaker box, with a queen barrier fixed to the bottom of the shaker box. That was you always find her! its possibly more labour, but sometimes you look and look and look, but you just cant find her and you've wasted half an hour and you still have not found her!!

This way you always find her, working together here, but usually two people is sufficient  to find her! dont forget that this time of year, the colonie numbers are at their maximum so theres a lot of bees as you can see.

I have included a video of the whole process. Lots of info here!!

I had missed the last grafts, but i was lucky enough to see Mike harvest the last batch of queens from his gigantic cell builder colonies. I mean WOW, just look at the size of these colonies and those beautiful queen cells. we put these cells straight in to  queen less nuc boxes that morning.

Just look at the amount of nurse bees on those cells!!

Excellent take on the last round of queen cell grafts!!

During the later part of my week we switched from requeening to urgently give nucleus colonies more space. These were nucs that Mike had made up during early summer that desperately needed more space. We added 3 combs and one foundation to the middle of the 4 over 4 configuration, giving the bees more room to ventilate and hopefully reduce the swarming impulse. Swarming in july isn't really a problem in Europe, but in North America it can be a real issue as the bees only really have 6 to 8 weeks to build up again before winter, so its tight!

Mikes apiaries are all situated around the north east, north and Northwest of Lake Champlain, the scenery is beautiful.

 Crossing the bridges between the islands of Lake Champlain. 
 Really close to the border between New York State and  Canada

Nucleus Colonies

Typical two  colonie nuc box configuration

Mike has colonies of bee he calls his "sustainably nucleus colonies".  He has two colonies, side by side, with the entrance at the base of the hive but at opposite ends, then theres no confusion for the bees.
He finds that the four, over four, over four configuration of Langsdroth frames work excellent all year round. Temperatures in the winter get so cold, often colder than minus 25 degrees C. The snow gets so deep you sometimes  need a spade to find the hives. But usually theres a contant 1 to 2 feet of snow on the ground. Hence all Mikes hives have an upper chimney that allow the bees to ventilate and get a cleansing flight if the weather permits, as they have permanent access to the outside.

Typical base of the Nuc box colonies, you can see the the opposite side entrances. On top of this goes the first brood box, which is a standard sized brood box with a division board between the two. You can see where the division board (in the brood box) sits by looking at the base pictured above.
On top of this after the brood box, goes each individual four frame holder. Some two box nucs configurations actually have one side with say 8 frames and one side four but an additional empty box can be placed on the side with the lease frames in, to bring up the level, so the roof still sits on both. Its very ingenious and above all the bees share their heat in the winter and the do what they love to do, go up!! Its the natural way that bees go. Imagine bees in a natural cavity of the european honey bee, its a tree trunk!

One of Mike's Large Nuc yards, north of Lake Champlain. This one has to be protected year around from black bears. They love honey too and can devastate an apiary in a few hours!!
You can see we  were adding comb to two over two framed configuration, where their bearding due to growing so well that they have run out of room and also it was stinking hot!!

Cut Comb Honey.

Mike also showed me the special supers he has made to collect  cut comb honey. Although not a huge part of his sales, Mike sells one of the finest cut comb honeys in Vermont. The pink boxes are put on a hive during a flow, so that good quality, soft , fine wax is used during the nectar gathering process. the result being the most delicious comb honey!!

A beautiful product!!

Storage sheds and Honey extracting unit.

Golden Rod , Just coming in to flower as I left for trip back to France.

This is the  biological brush cutter!! reliable and quiet!! Her Name is Meat!!

The lake at the bottom of Mikes garden, has its own beavers together with dam!! 

Ground squirrels are often seen around. These are delightful creatures and often are seen around mikes hive. this one was just waling around whilst we were working!!

Typical architecture in New England

The Highstreet in St Albans

My Taxi back home.

What more could I have wished for. A absolutely fantastic and unique visit, where i learnt so much in my week away. Mike and  his family were so hospitable! Thanks to everyone , you were all so welcoming!!
I hope to return soon, but next year i am planning a trip to the uk to visit other apiaries and friends i havent seen for a little while. I will definitely be visiting Vermont soon.

On with the winter beekeeping and back to reality!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Chestnut city!!

Not Appologising!!!

I am not sorry for not blogging over the last two months plus, the only excuse is thats its been the busiest period of beekeeping I can remember.
So when i last spoke, I was dreaming of a good spring flow and indeed we had it!! For nearly 3 weeks we had excellent weather, high numbers of bees and a superb early spring flow.  It was spring flowers to include Blackthorn, Rape seed that were  were the main players that kicked in after the start of the goat willow bonanza.  Tons of pollen for brood rearing, brought in by healthy populations that weren't lost over a warm winter, instead a cooler period between December and mid February proved very beneficial to all colonies. This keeps the worker bees from literally working, so they stay quiet. When the weather did warm up, it ws a perfect combination.

So the good weather ended right at the start of the hawthorn and apple flowers, but this wasn't a problem because we needed to harvest then, otherwise oil seed honey starts to crystallise in the frames. If that happens its  basically a disaster.
The troubler with the stuff is that on minute its like water, the next its too thick to extract. Getting somewhere in the middle is where the skill in involved.

Capped honey ready for extraction.

So from there what next? Well traditionally theres a bit of a dearth for the bees until the bramble and chestnut starts. For me I chose to make some of my first batches of queens and then when they were ready, on day 10, I harvested them and put them in to nucleus colonies I had made, just after the end of the flow. Their was so many bees in the hives, I would have been stupid not to use a little of the hives resources.
How many bees to take out?

So basically if you artificially swarm your hives, then you are removing all the flying bees and really hitting the colony hard. This in turn will lead to reduced foragers and the colonie won't build itself up really well, in time for the summer flow, so for me this year, I wanted honey and bees.
I will try and do a video on how we make up nucs. Basically taking bees and brood, that will hatch out in time , then give them a queen.
They make a colonie quickly, as your not waiting 16 days for a queen cell to be hatched out, and you can give them a good queen you have grafted!!
You can also make up mating nucs. Anything is possible if you have queens. The method I use to make Queens  is the Michael Palmer 10 + 10  Method, he bases his method on the brother Adams method, of adding 10 frames for brood to an already strong colony, then just as they think about swarming, you make them queen less and give them a load of grafted eggs (combining the emergency procedure with the swarming impulse) . This is what I get!

Beautiful drawn out closed queen cells, ready for harvest. 

Trip Away

So I am away next week on a trip of a lifetime to America, Vermont to do a weeks beekeeping  at a most excellent Apiary, can't wait. I have been planning this trip for over a year. Will report back with pics of the trip when I get back at the end of the month.

So to Summarise, good all round, honey, queens and lovely weather. Were just coming to the end of our chestnut flow, but again its hot and humid, quite a special period of weather over the last two weeks. A friend has a set of  electronic scales on his hives. Every night a readout is sent to a master controller and he is able to monitor the weight, humidity, temperature and gain over the previous day, making a visit perfectly timed if needed. All last week  the hives went up by on average about a kilo per day. If you think of that over  all your hives thats a lot of honey to harvest!
Harvest for me will be in about 3 weeks when I get back from North America!! Bring it on!!

Will be making more nucs up this Saturday too, after that its the end of the season, Really?, well yes theres nothing to do now but prepare for winter!! but quietly i am looking forward to a quieter period, been out many evenings moving bees, moving swarms from traps and just trying to keep on top of things!!  and be a gardner !! its certainly been a very busy time. 

Enjoy the great weather!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Asian Hornet how to make traps.

Spring has sprung!!

Well the honey harvest is now almost a memory, except for the 1 kilo white blocks that have appeared in the last week. When they went in, they were a lovely golden yellow/ orange colour
Thats the problem with spring honey. Leave it too long before you harvest it and its crystallised in the frames. Harvest it too soon and its like water and would probably ferment.

So with the harvest done, whats the state of the hives? well, quite populous actually. So many bees in the hives I have harvested 2 frames from each of my production colonies  and a few extra bees too , put them in a nucleus box and moved them away more than 3 kilometres and gave them a queen cell the next day.
They seem to be doing great, most are foraging and all the queens have hatched out.
3 of them took the queens with them in the nuc boxes and therefore the hives the nucs came from  were without a queen, however I have spares as I managed to make another 13 queen cells last week and their ready for harvest tomorrow.  So I can check and hives that were naturally requeening and give them a  queen cell if necessary. I have also fed my nucs and hives that are queen less.


Even though theres plenty of food around, well last week there was, this week the nectar flow will have virtually stopped, so I was lucky it all happened the week before last, as I was able to take out some bees and they were able to replace frames and bees quickly, while there was plenty of nectar around.
This taking of some bees from the hives did also give my colonies some breathing space. Taking off the honey reduces the hive size within, so you are really forcing the bees into a smaller cavity, unless you immediately give them back an empty super, so inevitable if theres still as flow running and you had to harvest due to the honey crystallising in your frames, its very likely that if you have large populations of bees in your hives that swarming could start.

All hives that gave me 2 frames of bees and brood  have instantly drawn up the replacement frames of foundation, with new wax and queens have laid directly in to the new cells.
Its an instant test to see if the hive is queenless, because new frames stuck in the brood sections, in a flow, in the spring  are sure to be drawn up with worker brood at an instance.

Thinking ahead, looking at the size of your colonies, knowing the nectar flow and planning has given me honey,  queens, made nucleus colonies and have, at present , kept my bees in their hives and not hanging from the trees. So Yes a very good start to the season indeed.

Mating yard with all my nucs containing 2 frames of bees and brood and a virgin queen Cell.

There is now, however, a longish pause in the flow, before the glorious chestnut trees unfurl their month long golden carpet. Theres pollen around and if your hives are nearer urban areas, they will profit more from their proximity to shrubs and trees you dont really find in the rural locations.
In another week when the wild broom is finished I will be checking hives again, checking there enough feed in the colonies and adding a first super to give the bees more space and to start preparation for the next flow. Right now mine have enough space,  as the two frames I had inserted in the hives are now capped over with  brood, so the queen still has room to lay elsewhere. This is key, space in the brood nest!!

From now on until the main flow starts, its all about maximising your bees to a pinacle of readiness. Too many bees might result in a summer swarm. To little and you just won't get much honey. Having young and  well mated queen is key to this, the older the queen, generally the more she is likely to swarm, and the lesser eggs she will lay and subsequently the weaker the colony and the lesser honey you will have!!


So now spring has well and truly sprung,  our thoughts are turning to trapping and monitoring the summer pests.
Asian hornets are now here and here to stay. We will never be rid pf them, but hopefully after a few years their only natural predator, a tiny wasp should increase in numbers and hopefully take out a few more of the nests in late summer!

I have done a video on how I see things and its purely my point of view.
It also details the manufacture of good reliable hornet traps, that can easily be made selective by means of a 7mm hole drilled through one of the lids. Its all explained in the video.

Part One

Part 2

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From nothing to Queens, Swarms and Honey in 3 weeks.

Where does one start!

Well, its been pretty busy over the last 3 weeks.  First it was the black thorn, then oil seed rape started,  now its the Cherrys, Acers and the wild Broom, together with the start of the Hawthorn, its an amazingly strong spring.
So why are our  Colonies so strong this year : this is my theory.

Autumn 2014 was amazing. Colonies went in to the winter with huge stores of Ivy honey!
Between January  and the end of February it was cold, not bitterly cold  and bees were quiet and didn't work hard over the winter, therefore they live longer.
In early march, we had healthy bees that lived a long time and were able do lots of work for the colonies before they died later. So the colonies were very strong this year in time for the nectar flow when it came.  It was certainly strong. We had good foraging weather for nearly 3 weeks  and its still not over yet as the cherries are just finishing and now the apples are just in to full bloom.

If it was still warm, then you could say that we probably would have another full super on our hives. but its not and soon will be the ned of the spring flow. Afterwards theres still flowers but no real nectar until the formidable chestnut trees start their month long show and exude the best golden honey one can buy! but thats all still to come.
I will be starting my harvest this weekend, as spring honey crystallised very quickly, we have 2 weeks to harvest or risk it setting beyond extraction. harvesting twice, once with the honey collected first, which is found in the first supers I added. when I added a second I always elevate the first super above the new one, leaving shorter distances for receiver bees to travel.
I will do a second harvest in another week for the remainder, depending on how thick and viscous the first lot is!!

So due to the weather being so good and drones appearing a few weeks earlier I went for my first run of queens.
I used the Michael Palmer 10 + 10 method. The results are pretty impressive considering its still early spring and my grafting skills aren't that good.
I did the graft 2 days earlier than I would have liked but the forecast was bad for the next day.
I needed to go in to the hive, make it queenless, and turn the original bottom brood box part of the  hive around, to face the other way and put the top section I had added the brood too, back on a new base, make sure it queen less, cut out any queen cells. leave it for a few hours "hopelessly queenless", then add the graft.


So 8 days before, I harvest 8 frames of brood from my nucleus colonies, not from my production colonies. I put them in a  standard  brood box, above a queen excluder, above an already strong colony, that I first checked for swarm cells.

I leave it for 7 to 8 days for the brood to hatch and lift off the hatched brood and put to one side.
Then I put a new base down on the place of the existing colony, that you've just turned around to face the other way. Put on the base a partially filled super of uncapped honey. This helps insulate the bees against cold and also creates a flow in the hive, as bees dont like honey below the super and move it up, thus creating a flow!!
Then  put on the brood box of hatched brood above the super and check through the 8 frames for queen cells. There usually is a lot, because when you elevate brood above an excluder you usually get queens cells but no fresh eggs as the queen hasn't been abe to lay in there!! this is key!!)
These Queen Cells must be ALL cut out, so you dont get any of these hatching before yours do!! if this happens, one queen hatched will more than likely destroy all your  other queen cells.
Then you need to go through them all again and check for a second time, shaking off bees in to the same brood box, as you go, to ensure theres no queen cell hiding in a depression.

When thats done, using a shaker box add extra nurse bees, shaken through a queen excluded box (from the core of the existing hive you have just moved to one side), leaving just enough to cover brood in the remaining moved colony.

 NO queen can  end up in the colony before the graft is added.

The colony is now hopelessly queenless.   No Queen, and No way of making a new one as theres no eggs available, less than 3 days old.

Leave the bees for a few hours so they all realise their hopelessly queenless.

Later that day, insert the graft. The bees will jump on the graft and quiet dow, they have their queen, their saved.

5 days later when the grafts are sealed, lift off the brood box with the grafts, reinstated the old colony back in its place and then put the cells and brood box back on top, but ABOVE A QUEEN EXCLUDER!!

For the next 5 days the queen cells can mature. Harvest at the end of the 5 days and use in Mating nucs, nucleus colonies made at least the day before or in top of a hive, in the supers, in a flow, where the queen should supersede an old queen if necessary.

Very happy with this for April

Other trees in flower are :

Common broom
 Bird Cherry

What a lovely start to the beekeeping year. Honey in the supers, minimal swarming and queen cells to  use, made under the most ideal conditions!! Long may it continue.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Queen substitution. Old queens from production colonies, replaced with last years queens from nucleus colonies.

So, we finally are starting to get some decent weather. We have had a week of very windy and cold conditions, worse than the previous 2 weeks before.  However bees are in great shape.

I have been collecting queens from Nucleus colonies (last years) and swapping them with older queens from unknown years, in an effort to get all my queens two years or less in age. This in turn should give me better honey crops and less swarming.

When I start making queens in a couple more weeks( when the bees will be doing the same), I will then re queen the "older queens" in my nucs and also obviously be making more nucs but its still a little early and as I need to be harvesting bees and brood from strong  Nucleus colonies. Depleting them enough to stop them swarming, but not too much so they become weak.
I will still probably harvest a little  resources from my production colonies. May be one frame of bees and brood, but not carrying out an artificial swarm as was the case in previous years and hoping they build up enough in time for the summer harvest. That way the field bees stay with the colony, and things should be a lot stronger.

Theres a big pause between middle of may and the middle of June here, before the chestnut trees come in to flower, so thats when we tend to make bees  but we have to feed lots!!

Will be posting about making good queen cells. thats in another couple of weeks though!

Filling up hornet traps today too, always loads to do!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Nuc Roof protection and late spring.

Late spring?

Lots happening here and struggling to get all my equipment finished in time for the season, which thankfully, is a little late in warming up. we have a nagging easterly wind, but i don't really mind, its the first "longish" dry spell we have had all winter and its great for outside work!
Spring is being rebalanced this year. Its already 3 weeks later than last year, which may give us a good honey crop. By the time the nectar flow starts, we may have some decent numbers of bees to gather up some nectar! fingers crossed.
I have checked inside all my colonies and only lost 2 out of 47 colonies, so very pleased with that. thats a very small percentage winter loss.
I have also removes 2 frames of honey from each end of my honey production colonies, and one from my nucs, as theres just too much honey in the colonies, which in turn would result in swarming  and theres just going to be no room in the brood nest! I may even remove more frames and substitute for new ones if we suddenly get in to a heavy flow and the bees have no space.
I am not using a queen excluder this spring, and giving the queen unlimited room in the hive, and also reversing my brood box with one super if necessary. its all about space for the queen.

Frames from the extremities of the brood nest full of honey!

I might have eggs in my supers but at least I won't have my bees hanging from the trees! think about it, whats the best option for you??

My Nucs are building up well, quicker than the main colonies, so will be swapping queens over when it warms up a little more, but while the brood area is a bit smaller, making finding queens a little more easier.

Roofs for Nucs

So heres a little video i did to show how I cover my roofs on my hives and nuc boxes.  A bit of fun.

Still time to make up Nucs, you can never have too many!!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mating Nucs

Making mating Nucs

So heres my first mating nuc I  made up, a few more to follow. Short video, going through various points!

Not that difficult to make,  just  a bit time consuming and fiddly, but should last a very long time. I have used what I have , So I have used my standard sized dadant frames and cut them down.
I can't see any reason why they won't work!

I have made an adapter bar so I can put these small frames in to a standard sized Nuc box and get the bees to draw up the frames Let them do the work!!.  I was lucky enough to find a piece of ready made plastic frame at my local DIY shop. This makes things very easy, sure they will probably build between the frames between that gap, but if they draw out the rest then I can harvest this and insert it in to the new mating box, usually made up the day before the queens are harvested from your cell building colonies. This will leave them queen less overnight and may also help them accept another queen cell.
I will be looking for  frame or two  of honey , two or three of brood and one undrawn. This will mean theres plenty of hatching brood to keep the colony strong until the queen starts to lay. Then I will have to watch the colonies that they don't get too big (congested). I might even have to harvest brood and bees if i don't need a queen and if they get too strong,  or i can  simply make a new colony using the resources of two or three nucs!

 The plastic frame adapter that joint the two frames together.

 Plastic frame holder fitted to show comparison next to standard frame.

Two internal shots of the interior of the mating nuc.
you can see I have tried to use up all the small bits of ply I had in the shed, by making the frame support and bottom frame holders. You can see there is a gap between the two, which the bees may build in to but thats the cost of trying to economise but needs must!

You can see the entrance and exit to the bottom right , painted brown. Front viewing showing the circular entrance disc, which I got on eBay, from Simon the beekeeper, good immediate service.

I wanted to have larger than average mating nucs because I am not on a time scale to sell these onwards, only to produce the best queens, so I can requeen all of my own stock if necessary. This larger  mating nuc will also buy me time so they won't abscond or swarm before if i am a few days behind in swarm prevention and stock management (I hope) . However if anyone needs a queen I hope to be in the position to help out from mid may onwards!! Just hollow!!

Would recommend to everyone to read Brother Adams "queen introduction."
He maintains that queen acceptance during substitution is mainly because of the condition of the queen and her laying condition. If a queen is not mature when she is taken from a nuc box and is not laying well this behavioural difference will be noted by the new carers in her substitution ( when she may be balled and rejected) , so make sure your substituting a mature queen in the place of an old one. The subject is fascinating and well worth a read.

Sugar candy

Didn't want to feed my nucs a large bags of sugar candy, so instead I have put it in to old butter pots, taking about a quarter of the original sized packet. This can be neatly inverted on top of the open hole on top of the colony, where they can take this directly if they so wish. This is only going to be given to colonies that are light on stores. Next year i want to weigh all my colonies dry, then with a full colony in depleted in stores,  then full of stores so come autumn next year should be easier to ascertain their needs!!
I can always give them more if need be later in the winter, its far from over yet.

So if you haven't got a Nuc readyor a  spare yet or a spare hive,  go and either make one of pick one up!!! you will need it!!

Enjoy the quieter months and use your time wisely!!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The challenges ahead!

On reflection, 2014 it has to be said, for me it was a fantastic year,  My bees behaved themselves, or did i begin to understand how to manage them better?

Swarms came very easily, the first on the 17th April, a record for me followed by another 4 days later which proved it wasn't just a freak swarming. I have various theories about this, but logically one can put this down to several reasons, the first being the very mild winter we had previously. We had lots of honey in our managed colonies, so theres no doubt that unmanaged colonies may have had even more stores. Little of this was used up over the winter and when we came in to the early spring nectar flow in very early April, colonies quickly were full of fresh honey, very early in the year. It was the perfect trigger to induce swarming, subsequently making a great start to the beekeeping season.

Swarm traps, all you need to know, click here!!

I deployed nearly 40 traps last year and as the year before my success rate was just under half at about 45%  success, which i was pleased with. The majority were in places I had previously trapped in and overall the quality was better than the year before but the overall size was slightly reduced. This I put down to early swarming, before brood laying comes to a maximum, in other words the queens were not laying at full capacity before swarming due to not enough room in the honey bound nests. I call a swarm of good quality, if it gets away well without the need for requeening. The 2013 season saw probably 30% of my recently trapped swarms try to requeen as soon as the current queen started to lay.

Now when I say swarms, I mean swarms that are from  "wild or Feral" colonies.   I believe that in North Brittany we do still have wild swarms, they may in fact, be feral colonies that have survived in a chimney or cavity of a tree but they still throw out swarms every now and again.  This is something I feel very sad  about, as over the next 2, 3 or 4 years we will, with out doubt,  loose these swarms that have at present, struggled through the problems with Varroa mite and its associated viruses.
 The Asian hornet, Will probably  be the nail in the  nail in the coffin of wild colonies. An established Asian Hornets nest will go back again and again to where a food source is found, their nest will usually be high up in the canopy of the tallest tree , on the slope of the steep sided valleys we have, making detection of the nest very difficult, eradication , even more of a problem. I am not looking forward to that part of the forthcoming season!!!
I really don't see how a wild or feral colonie will be able to cope with this additional weakening of the nest, to a point where the nest just can't keep itself strong enough and  maintain itself.  Its such a shame, as its these colonies that have adapted to the diverse and changing  needs, kind of coped with varroa and still produce swarms. this also highlights how dynamic our bees are.
I will trap this year and probably next, as I want to document the decline (if thats the case). I know this sounds all very negative but unfortunately we cannot escape the fact that its a disaster for all out wild bee populations.
I will be doing an article on this problem in the next few months. Subscribe so you don't miss it!!

In the shed

Frame covers of 12mm recycled exterior ply, with feeder holes also installed.

 My first double nuc box is now completed, however I have found whilst building this, that I will make alterations to the design when the next is made.  I have realised that the thickness on the centre divider board is  the issue when the two share the same colony,  so to allow better heat transfer between the two colonies the thinner the division board, the better. This in turn creates problems as I want to add some supers to each side (individually) in the spring. With this  double nuc (pictured), I will just build two supers together that will just fit over the lower hive, but when I make my next set, I will be basically be putting two fully made nucs together and where they meet I will cut out the two whole wall sections and replace it with mesh on each side. This means that you can then make individual supers and also i will be able to inspect them individually afterwards, which was one of the reasons for going down this route. The division board will be 32mm wide, but the mesh will stop any problems with bees fighting and also mean theres plenty of room to place on subsequent supers.
Also to mention these supers are not for honey production, there are for brood and egg production. bees like to up, don't forget this! work with your bees, not against.

It's also a good time to re check your stored supers and frames against wax moth. With the recent cold weather things should have slowed down and any wax moth larvae doing any damage should be on a go slow  but that dosent mean it won't do any damage, be vigilant, come march when light levels and temperatures start to rise you could be massively disappointed when you discover wax moth infestations.

Theres so much to do over the winter months. I have been planning and expanding my apiary I have in a valley very near me. Its actually in a very small quarry where stone was once cut out of the hill side and in fact for me its just the perfect place to put my bees. Although it dosent get the sun until mid morning, it gets it the rest of the day, right up until sun set.
I had 7 colonies there in 2014 and they were all really strong, So I have spent time clearing the wild gorse and brambles to give me more space. I am fitting two more wracks, so potentially enough for another 15 colonies, but over all more space to move hives around as and when needed this is all investment, but will last a long time and really pay dividends during this coming spring.

 Keep an eye on the weight of your overwintering hives. Knowing the weight is important but shucking a  few will give you an idea of whats going on. If you find one very light, then feed some candy to directly to the top of the  colonie, above the crown board. This will be taken down inbetween cold spells and  will offer emergency food if needed. A good sign is the visible old wax cappings dropping through the bottom of the hive and the bees start to consume their winter stores.
A colonie that dosent fly at all on a brief mild spell is probably a dead hive.
If your running a few hives, this will happen from time to time, so just make use of the resources it may leave. You will have the chance to clean out the hive in early spring, repaint it and give the frames to other weaker colonies. nothing is wasted.

Flowers at the moment are :

Winterflowering honesuckle "Lonicera brilliantissima
 Hellebores, loaded with pollen
 Of course the Camellia , Variety" blood of China", tons of pollen for bees!

I am also starting a film on all the different types of plants, and trees that flower throughout the year, to highlight whats in flower and when in this particular part of the world. It will take all year to film but should be a lot of fun!!!!  after all, thats what beekeeping should be!!