Exclusive Advice with Beekeeper Kasper

January is a very quiet month for the bees. The weather is cold so the bees stay clustered inside the hives keeping themselves warm. It is best not to disturb the hives at this time year because every time the hives are inspected, the bees use more stores due to being exposed to the colder weather and it takes a few hours for them to bring the hive back up to temperature. In February we usually get some warmer days when the bees can fly out and forage for some first pollen from early flowering plants like hazel. The queen slowly starts to lay more eggs and the colony starts to grow in numbers.

Before Christmas, I hefted all the hives at the NBS apiary just to check the food stores. All the hives were very heavy which means they have plenty of food for the winter months. I lifted a couple of crown boards to see where the cluster was, the bees have been clustered about 5 inches from the top of the frames in the hives, kept on a double brood chamber, and an inch or so down on a single brood chamber. All the hives on the double brood chambers have masses of honey above the bees and they will have more than enough stores so I won’t bother disturbing them again until the spring. I hefted and looked under the crown boards of the single brood chamber hives again sometime in January just to make sure they were not starving. If the bees are right under the crown board and the hive feels light when hefted, then your bees might need emergency feeding. In this case place ambrosia feed paste over the hole in the crown board so they can access it easily. Make sure you cut about an inch circle in the plastic. Have a look about two weeks later to see how much paste has been eaten or if it needs replacing with a new pack.

Now it is February, the queen is starting to lay more eggs and the colony are using more food for rearing the brood, it is best to put fondant on or pollen patties to give the bees a protein boost. It is best to put pollen patties in, about two weeks before willow trees start to flower and provide our bees with a fresh supply of nutritious pollen.

We do rotate varroa treatments at the NBS apiary every year or two. January is usually the best time to use oxalic acid when there is no brood in the colonies.


I always check the apiaries after strong winds to make sure all the hives are safe and sound. Sometimes even when they are strapped or weighed down, they can be either knocked down by animals or blown down by the wind so it is worth having a quick look. Also, it is worth checking if all the mouse guards and entrance blocks are secure to prevent any predators from entering the hives & ensure they are clear of dead bees that could be blocking the access.

I often spend winter evenings making new frames and preparing gear for the coming season. Spring is only just around the corner!

February Honey Recipe by Gill Meller:

‘If a blood orange bled it would bleed honey.’ I can’t recall who said that, but I liked the idea, and perhaps somehow it inspired this recipe, one of my favourite winter fruit salads. Raw rhubarb is really crisp and zingy and needs only the lightest tempering from honey and sweet citrus to round it. If you’re not a fan of yoghurt, you can leave it out, but I like the balance it brings.

Goat's Cheese with Rhubarb & Lovage

Servings: 4
Author: Gill Meller


  • 2 or 3 rhubarb sticks
  • 50g (1⅓oz) golden caster sugar
  • 4 or 5 lovage leaves, finely chopped, plus a few whole leaves to serve
  • 4 tsp runny honey
  • 4 slices malted bread
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 200g (7oz) fresh, soft goat’s cheese, sliced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Trim the papery bases from the rhubarb sticks, then gently wash the sticks. Cut each one into 3-4cm pieces and place the pieces in a single layer, if possible, in a large heavy-based pan.
  • Scatter the sugar and the lovage leaves over the rhubarb. then drizzle over 2 teaspoons of the honey and 2 tablespoons of water. Shake the pan and plan on the hob over a low-medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cook for 3-4 minutes or until the rhubarb is just beginning to tenderize and the syrup is thickening slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  • Toast the bread slices on both sides, then place them on a grill pan and drizzle over the olive oil and the remaining honey. Top with an equal number of goat's cheese slices and place the toast under a hot grill for about 4-6 minutes, until the cheese is lightly brown and bubbling. Carefully remove from the grill and place a slice of toast on each of four plates. Top each slice with some of the warm rhubarb mixture, dividing the mixture equally between each slice. Season with salt and pepper, then finish with scattering of fresh lovage leaves to serve.


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Photography: Andrew Montgomery (recipe), Paul Hayes Watkins

Header Image by Robin Sergi.