An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
The morning dew and warm still days are keeping catsear and pennyroyal flowering while on the bush fringe lacebark and scarlet rata are flowering. Some hives on farm land near the bush have stored quite a lot of new nectar around the brood nest. I was also quite surprised that kohekohe and five finger are already putting out bracelets of flowering buds. These two normally flower in the winter but might flower a lot earlier this year.
The most import things to do this month are to winter down hives and check that your mite treatment has been successful. Fork out the last of the drone brood, or sugar shake or alcohol wash a couple of hundred bees and determine you mite levels. Even 1% means you have 300 mites in a two high hive which is too high a number for coastal hives as most will have a little brood in them through the winter, allowing the mites to continue breeding weakening those bees that emerge in early spring.
At the same time do a brood inspection. Check that you bees have not been robbing a diseased hive nearby. Look in the areas of emerging brood for those cells that haven’t emerged. Flick of the cappings with the tip of the hive tool and look at the developing larva underneath. Hopefully all will have healthy pupa but check quite a few to be certain.
Make sure each hive has adequate honey stored to keep them going when brood rearing revs up again in early spring (August). A two high hive should have a least a super of honey. Any less means that you need to feed now or early in the spring. It’s far better to do this now while bee numbers are high but don’t spill any syrup out or on the hives as this will induce robbing.
Close entrances down to 100 millimetres by 8 millimetres, or narrower if the hive is small. Mice getting into a hive will use everything to winter over and raise a new family. They can do considerable damage to the wax in wooden frames plus will eat most of the stored honey consigning the hive to an early death by starvation.
Provide some upper ventilation. I use a split (crown) boards with a 25millimetre entrance, but a few match sticks around the crown board will lift it sufficiently to provide adequate ventilation, allowing the moisture given off by the bees to escape. Hives with open mesh floors shouldn’t require any upper ventilation. Open mesh floors also have the advantage of cause brood rearing to finish early making mite control easier.
I’m also providing some insulation under the roofs of nuc hives to assist them to keep warm.
You also have to be realistic at this time of the year. Hives that aren’t covering most of the frames with bees have a greater chance of dying during the winter. You can winter bees in a four half frame mating nuc provided it has two frames of honey and is packed full of bees. There must be enough bees to maintain a cluster which is in contact with frames of honey. Unite a strong hive on top of a weak hive rather than try and take the weak hive through winter. A strong hive can easily be split again in the spring when queens become available.
Make sure the hives will get sun sometime during the day through winter and protect them from prevailing winds. Facing a hive sideways to the prevailing wind will cause less draft in the hive.
The odd wax moth can bee seen on the outside of the hive waiting to enter the hive after dark. They will also seek out your stored supers and if they get established, will produce their own heat to keep breeding and damaging frames during the winter. Protect your honey super frames. Turn supers up on end and leave them in a sunny, open shed until it really gets cold. If you already have wax moth in some frames, freeze them or stack the supers up and sealing the top and bottom with paper and give the stack a dose of formic acid (approx 15 mililitres per super). Best if this is done in the open as formic acid will cause metallic objects to rust.
I store my supers in an open, old diary shed, on pallets to allow an air flow through them with a queen excluders on both top and bottom to prevent rats and mice from getting in.
The drought has hit farmers hard - a lot hadn’t prepared for it. I only saw a few farms with lucerne and red clover crops. These were stocked with a lot more sheep than their neighbours. This new generation of farmers have forgotten that you can cut down willows and tree lucerne to provide stock food in an emergency as well as providing nectar and pollen for bees and shelter for stock when it’s hot.
Plan this autumn to take cuttings and plant them into pots ready to give away to farmers once they have established a good root mass. They might now see the value in these so called weed species to their farming and our bees.
The drought has also affected some bee hives. The dribble of nectar coming in has stimulated some hive to produce brood from their winter honey stores. These hives will need sugar feeding to restore their winter stores.
Hawthorne berries are now red and ripe. These trees provided valuable pollen and nectar in the spring and you can now harvest the berries. They make a very nice sweet-and-sour sauce that goes with any red or game meat dish, especially duck and it’s good for your heart. I gathered two kilograms of berries last year and regretted we hadn’t collected more. Google ‘Haw-sin sauce’ (also known as hoisin sauce) for the recipe.
Winter down hives. Check feed and the effectiveness of mite treatments. Make sure the top-bar hives have 10 frames with honey in them. AFB check. Slope bottom boards and fit mouse guards. Replace rotten or damaged supers and bottom boards. Attend to fences, check for wasps and control grass. Go through the honey supers and reject any old dark frames you cannot see light through. Store frames with foundation or light frames on the outside with darker to the middle. Freeze stored honey frames to kill wax moth eggs and larvae, or store in a shed that is open and has a good air flow through the supers. Those in the North Island and perhaps top of the South will have to watch more closely for wax moth infestation. Those in the southern parts of the South Island can smile as they do not have wax moth problems.
Drought means possible tutin problems. If you have tutin with five kilometres and high scoli poppa (Scolypopa australis) numbers, test your honey before selling it. Clubs can have their members samples composite tested.