An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
Farmers have taken their first cut of silage and are topping paddocks to stop the grass from going to seed.
The cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) and hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) have made up for their late start and have flowered profusely, adding valuable nectar to the hives. Manuka is now flowering on the warmer northern faces in my area, but so far the bees haven’t taken much notice of it as kamahi is flowering, which the bees find more attractive. In the bush areas and suburban gardens a lot more is flowering, contributing to the abundance of pollen and nectar coming into the hives.
That stop-start weather last month stimulated a lot of swarming. Most hives that were split in half have been successful, but one I visited was rather disappointing as both halves had swarmed, leaving a patch of brood in the second split all together. An overwintered five-frame nuc is now being supered with honey boxes. It has 10 full frames of brood (mostly capped) with bees covering the frames in two full-depth supers, plus they had produced a lot of capped queen cells. Hopefully I have cut them all out as it’s not a good look to have neighbours slightly terrified by a mass of swarming bees flying overhead. If they restart queen cells again, I’ll split the hive into three and produce bees rather than a honey crop.
With the kamahi flowering (the main crop in my area), the honey supers are going on two at a time. I generally don’t undersuper but where the hive is found to have an egg in a single queen cell (usually along the bottom bar of the super immediately above the last brood super), I cut it out and then put a honey super directly above the brood super to create room for the bees to expand into and another on top of the existing honey supers. During these last inspections, I also move outside frames in the honey supers into the middle to stop the chimney effect of the bees storing nectar right up through the middle frames of each super. New beekeepers should continue to bait the supers they put on by taking an outside honey frame from the super below and placing it into the centre of the new super.
By the end of the month some will be taking off their first super of honey. Wet extracted combs stimulate the bees into greater honey production. Hives where the honey is regularly extracted produce more than those that are supered up and left until February before the honey is removed.
A word of warning for suburban beekeepers: return those wet honey supers after dark. Wet frames will stimulate thousands of bees into looking for a nectar flow close to the hive, flying round and round looking for a very close nectar source. Put wets on after dark and by morning the bees will have cleaned up the frames and will settle straight into their normal work.
For those looking for a Christmas present for the beekeeper, books are always at the top of my list, although I don’t generally wait until Christmas when I see an interesting book come on to the market.
The BBKA Guide To Beekeeping, by Ivor Davis and Roger Cullum-Kenyon, is a beginner’s book published in the UK in 2012. I consider this book to be as good as any on the market.
This book was written to assist beekeepers gain their National Diploma in Beekeeping qualification in the UK. It’s not very long (just 182 pages), but is well set out and crammed full of colour photographs with coloured blocks of text for important information.
Yes, it does cover all the varieties of UK hives, which are different from our Langstroth hive, but provides good background knowledge for any new beekeeper and explains the difference between top beespace and bottom beespace. Some of the honey plants are different also but many are already established here, thanks to our early settlers. The book is divided into 10 chapters that cover bees and beekeeping, the colony, the hive, the history of bees, the beekeeping year, the queen, swarms, bee and colony health, plants and hive products, and how to get started. This book is up-to-date, offers alternative methods for treating varroa mites and identifies all the other diseases. I know of only a few good books produced in the UK and this is one of them.
Check to see if it’s available locally but if not, it can be purchased through The Book Depository (www.bookdepository.co.uk) which offers free postage. The print ISBN is 978-1-4081-5458-8. It’s also available via http://ibrastore.org.uk/index.php?main_ page=product_info&cPath=1_5&products_ id=264
Other good beginners’ books include Kim Flottum’s The Backyard Beekeeper (ISBN-13: 978-1-59253-607-8), and The Beekeeper’s Handbook (fourth edition) by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile (ISBN 978-0-8014-7694-5). For more comprehensive information, see the recently published Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Dewey M. Caron and Lawrence John Connor (ISBN: 978-1-878075-29-1) and Bee-Sentials: a field guide by Lawrence John Connor (ISBN 978-1-878075-28-4), available from www.wicwas.com.
Before you start buying overseas books, make yourself familiar with our locally produced books like Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand by Andrew Matheson and Murray Reid (fourth edition), ISBN 978- 1-877568-52-711. It’s also available as an e-book from exislepublishing.co.nz.
For the new and up-and-coming commercial beekeeper, my best buy for tips is Some Important Operations in Bee Management by T.S.K. and M.P. Johanson, produced by the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) in 1978, which compiles the Johansons’ articles into a paperback book. Each chapter is devoted to a different subject such as making a nuc, uniting colonies, wintering, feeding, queen rearing, etc. Check this before you set out to do anything. Although it’s an old book, it’s still available and well worth having.
Check feed. Check for failing queens. Introduce nuclei. Super hives: get them on before the bees need them.
Control swarms. Make nucs out of any hive that swarms or combine weak hives to make full-strength units for honey production. This is the best time to get queens mated for those making their own replacements or ordering queen cells.
Prepare the honey house equipment. Undertake the first honey extraction in some areas. Do a full brood frame check for AFB before removing any honey or combining hives. Get the honey off before 1 January to meet all the testing requirements for those in the tutin/passion vine hopper (Scolypopa australis) areas. (If it’s a dry, warm summer, there could be problems for some.)
Fit foundation into comb honey supers. Put the super of cut-comb foundation frames on top of a three-quarter-depth honey super to prevent the bees storing pollen in the comb super frames if there’s a break in the good weather.
Check hives for varroa mites. Randy Oliver recommended we do a quick knock down in the middle of the year rather than wait until the end of the season. Keep those mite numbers low.
If the supers are all on, you can relax and spend time with your family. All the best for Christmas and I hope the New Year goes well.