An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
As I write this in early January the bees are filling up the hives at a ferocious pace due to a nice spell of warm weather, ample rain at night and profuse pohutukawa, rata and clover flows. Even the odd bush source, (whitewood) is flowering – a lot later than normal, but coastal manuka fizzled with cool, windy weather during its Christmas flowering.
Five and 10 frame nucs are completed full except for a small section on a couple of frames where the queens are still laying. Six high hives are full and some have induced swarming. Bees need a lot of comb space to store nectar before they reduce the water content down below 18%. It never ceases to amaze just how quickly the bees will full up a super on a good flow. Generally I put on supers two at a time until the supers are all gone and then hope the bees will gradually honey down the queen into the bottom super. Sometime the bees have different instincts.
New beekeepers should be interspacing foundation with drawn frames to keep the bees building out the comb. Drawn out combs are your most valuable asset. You need between three and five supers of drawn out comb for each hive unless you continuously extract. In a poor year bees may not look at building out new foundation but given fully drawn comb, they could produce a crop for you. In a good year they could fill the lot.
Well that was the message for January but now its February another very busy month. What you do now sets up your hive/s for the next season to come.
There are three very important things to do this month:
1. Remove the honey crop but leave enough for winter stores.
2. Treat the hives for varroa
3. Requeen hives that have a queen older than 12 months.
Once the combs are more than 90% capped they can be removed for extraction. Taking honey while it’s not capped or during damp weather leads to fermentation.
How much depends upon your area and the knowledge you build up over the years. I live in an area with early flows, hence I winter the hives stronger and full of honey so the bees build early to peak as the nectar flow starts. After the main flow other minor sources tend to be flowering. Although there is not enough to store, these sources are enough to stimulate brood rearing which means the bees some years consume the majority of the honey stores and by the time autumn really arrives, the hives could be short of stores and may need sugar feeding to put on enough honey to get them through the winter. In most cases a hive will need a full depth super of honey to winter over on. Anything more than this is your for the taking.
The bee books tell you how to remove it using different methods. Some are quick like blowing or using fume boards and are more suited to rural areas where flying bees will not upset neighbours.
Hobbyist beekeepers in urban areas tend to use escape boards as they are less disruptive to the colony and neighbours. These go on in the evening apply a little smoke to start the bees moving downwards and the honey supers are removed first thing next morning before your neighbours are have breakfast. Brush out the handful left in front of the hive; cover, extract and return in the evening.
To make them work efficiently there must be space in the supers below for the bees that once occupied the honey super. If there’s no space below, they won’t go down. While the hives are still populous and nectar is coming in, provide this extra space by putting on a super under the bee escape. Fill it with frames if you have them.
There are other reasons why they don’t work:
Placed on upside down.
Brood in the frames (those that don’t use queen excluders could find drone brood in the odd honey frame). The bees won’t leave brood. Scrap down the cappings and give the bees 24 hours to clean away the mashed lava.
There are different models that don’t have a one way valve that work well if only left on for 24 hour. After 24 hours the bees will slowly start to find there way back into the super. Porter bee escapes have tiny springs that prevent the bees returning but they can become jammed with drones hence the need for a couple of escapes in each board. The springs should be adjusted to a pencil width. Also clean away any propolis around the springs. They should only have a light tension, set at the route of the spring.
One of the most important things to do before taking off any honey is to fully inspect the brood frames for AFB. It’s most disconcerting to find a few cells of AFB on a hive full of honey (personal experience). Such a waste but better that it be found now as extracted supers from an AFB hive are a time bomb; meaning that each hive they are put back on, will come down with AFB within the next 18 months. It doesn’t take long to inadvertently spread the infection to a number of hives making all the supers from those hives also suspect. Luckily most hobbyist beekeepers will not see this disease in their hive but always be vigilant. A hive not building the same as the rest should always be investigated. Mostly a dud queen or hives that have swarmed but also keep disease in the back of your mind.
Now is the time of year that you set your hives up for the next season. Most commercial beekeepers replace their queen each year. Why, because a queen less than 12 months old is less likely to swarm and secondly new queens produce more bees, therefore more honey than a second year queen.
It’s easier for the queen breeders to raise queens while there is a honey flow on. There are plenty of drones about and settled weather means better mating.
A lot of commercial beekeeper put 10 day old protected queen cells into hives forcing a supersedure of the old queen. Not everything always goes to plan so a number of nucs are also raised to cover those that fail to requeen.
The hobbyist’s option is to use mated queens from the queen breeder. De-queen and requeening a full size hive with a mated queen is full of risks. Older bees recognise their queens and will not accept a new queen straight off. The best method to requeen is to start with a nuc - two frames of emerging brood and two of pollen and honey, plus a shake of bees off another brood frame. Block the hive with grass and store in a cool shady place until evening. Remove the attendance and place the queen cage in the hive with the screen side exposed to the bees can feed the queen. Place the hive in the apiary and allow the bees to release themselves by eating through the grass. If left on the same site the older field bees will return to the original hive making acceptance easier. Three days later check the brood area in the nuc and remove any queen cells the bees may have started. Release the tab protecting the candy end of the cage so the queen can get out of the cage then leave the nuc alone for 10 days and then check for eggs.
If all goes well you will see eggs meaning the queen has been accepted. Leave for another four weeks for the queen to settle in then proceed to find and kill the queen from the original hive and unite the nuc on top with two sheets of newsprint to allow a slow mergence of the nuc bees with the main colony.
First timers can provide extra insurance by instead of killing the old queen, make another nucleus hive. When you find the old queen, simple put her and the frames she is on into another nucs and make up the nucs as above but this time you don’t have to worry about acceptance.
If all goes well with the new queen the old queen can be killed and the bees re-united or she can simple left in the nucs to build it up ready for winter. Between now and winter perhaps the bees in the nuc will produce a queen cells and supersede her giving you both a hive and a nuc with a new queen.
The third major thing that should be done this moth is to treat your hive for varroa.
Brood rearing is on the way down while varroa numbers are now climbing. It’s important to keep varroa numbers as low as possible so that viruses are not transmitted to the brood as these can affect the hive long after the mites have been controlled. You also need to produce a couple of generations of bees, produced in a varroa free environment to take you through the winter. This last one is not so important in coastal New Zealand if you have Italian bees as hives close to the coast produce a small amount of brood all year round giving you replacement bees. Those using Carniolan’s will find that brood rearing ceases early so having two generation of mite free bees is more important.
Commercial beekeepers try and requeen and treat at the same time. The time period between the queen emerging to the time she is mated and laying creates a break in brood rearing. When there is no young brood coming on, all the mites have to stay on the bees making them easier to control in one treatment.
If you are not using one of the three strip formulations, you need to put your treatment in early as this gives you time to repeat the treatment if for any reason it fails. And yes using “organic acids” is a learning experience. Such things as the day time temperature, the overall hive population, brood area and the number of supers on the hive can all have a bearing on just how much to apply.
What’s also important is coordination of treatment to all hives around you so that they are all treated at the same time. A few hives left untreated can undo all your good work.
Clean and sanitize the extracting plant. Check that all gates and taps are closed, (honey is very silent when it’s flowing on the floor). Check for AFB before removing any honey supers.
Extract honey and super again with extracted frames. Requeen with cells or make up nucs from non-producing hives. Check that the hives have sufficient stores (a super of honey) Remove comb honey early to prevent travel staining (bees have dirty feet).
Close down entrances and realign the honey supers if you have created a top entrance by skewing a honey super as soon as the flow finishes to assist the bees defend their hives from robber bees and wasps. Treat and monitor mite fall after 1o days or check the number of mites in drone brood. Coordinate treatment times with all beekeepers in the area.