An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
I had looked forward to Ken Ring’s prediction of a fine, hot December and January but unfortunately, his predictions haven’t been accurate for my area. So I have been catching up on some of last year’s winter work. The extracting plant has been cleaned, the RMP documentation has been completed and we are ready to start extracting.
I’ve also been cleaning up some old dark frames, removing the wax for melting out and getting those that pass the ‘whack’ test (a whack with the side of the hive tool to see whether the end bars break) rewaxed and put back into service again.
I have found that by leaving the frames out in the sun for half an hour, the comb softens enough to allow it to be removed without breaking the wire. It also helps if the frames are mostly wired with stainless steel wire. All that is required is to run a heat gun along the top-bar groove a few times to soften the wax so that it comes out cleanly with a hooked tool. Tweak the wire a little by putting a loop in between the holes in the end bar to tighten it up again, using the thin end of an old dental probe. Embed the frame with new wax and it’s ready for use again. (Only put foundation frames into the hive if there is a honey flow on; otherwise, the bees will chew holes in the new wax.)
I clean my plastic frames with a hive tool. I press the sharp end of the hive tool down at the base of the frame so that most of the comb is cut off cleanly. Frames seem to clean more easily from one end so if I find it’s hard to scrape off, I swap the frame around (end bar to end bar) and it comes off pretty easily. I then waterblast them to remove any pollen left in the indents of the plastic frame, and apply hot wax with a paint roller. The woolly rollers are better and can be cleaned when they become clogged with a little Handy Andy® in warm water. Rollers last quite a while that way.
The only problem I have found with the paint roller is that now the handle has plastic fittings to support the roller and these will melt if left in the hot wax for too long. I use an old electric frying pan to melt the wax (set on 3 or 4) but again, it can’t be left in too long.
There are several things to consider this month. According to California beekeeper Randy Oliver (www.scientificbeekeepeing. com), the best time to treat varroa is 18 February. Randy selected February as this allows two mite-free brood cycles of bees to be produced, which are your winter bees.
This advice may not apply to some North Island beekeepers as hives have brood in them all year round. What is most important is that every beekeeper in the surrounding area must treat at the same time; otherwise, you are wasting your time and money, as drones flying between hives will soon repopulate your hives again with mites.
It’s also a good time to start nucs for replacement queens or to carry them over the winter as replacement stock for those hives that go queenless or become drone layers. The only problem is that these nucs can’t be left in apiaries with strong hives nearby, as they may rob them as soon as the honey flow is finished.
I’m looking to start nucs with a frame of honey and pollen, one of emerging brood with an extra shake of bees and a ripe queen cell, plus a couple of newly drawn frames. If the queen fails to mate, I’ll add another queen cell a couple of weeks later and another shake of bees to give the bees another chance at producing a mated queen. If things don’t go to plan, I’ll perhaps only lose a frame of honey if they get robbed out but while the honey flow continues, the hives will be producing a few drones. However, from now on, the quality and number of drones diminish in your production hives.
Queen breeders don’t rely on production hives for drones, preferring to use specially fed selected stock so they can keep on producing queens late into the season.
It’s now time to remove your honey crop. Many new beekeepers make the mistake of removing frames of honey before it has matured and before the bees have fully capped all of the cells. I live in a high- moisture area and a majority of our honey comes into the honey house with a moisture content at or slightly above 18.5%. Therefore I have to dry the frames by stacking the supers slightly offset in a room with a dehumidifier to remove an additional one percent moisture. It doesn’t sound like much, but this represents 10 litres of water removed from about 70 supers. I actually read the moisture difference between the outside frames and the middle frames in a few supers to give me an idea of what the average moisture content will be when the honey is extracted. (Outside frames are higher in moisture.)
The method you use to remove the fully capped supers is also important. I use escape boards to remove bees from the honey supers. I have a lifter on the back of my small truck and can lift off most of the honey supers in one action. This makes it easy to inspect the hive for AFB before the escape boards go in. If it’s warm at night, I’ll add another super under the escape board to give the bees in the honey supers somewhere to go.
Often when it’s warm during the night, the bees are reluctant to leave the honey supers if the hive is already crowded with bees. The extra super is not necessary when the nights are cooler, as the bees start to form a loose cluster that allows more bees into the brood supers. I use a couple of circular escapes in my boards, but other devices are just as effective.
For those semi-commercial beekeepers without a lifter, you can purchase a pair of gigs from Gary Tweeddale that lift up to six three-quarter-depth supers at once (not really recommended) in order to slide an escape board underneath. Keep your chin clear as you slowly release the levers, settling the honey supers back on to the hive again. If the lever slips or is released too quickly, the handle could clout you under the chin. I use escape boards because I have enough of them to do two apiaries at once, which eliminates the necessity of a second trip (putting them on and taking them off with the honey). Once two apiaries are fitted with escape boards, and the honey is removed from one apiary, the same boards are put on to another apiary. And so the process goes, leapfrogging each apiary and eliminating the need for a second trip.
For hobbyists, this is perhaps the safest way to remove honey in a built-up area, as there is very little disturbance of the bees. Put them on in the evening, leave for 36 hours and remove early in the morning so the frames can be extracted while they are still warm. This makes extracting a lot easier; i.e., cold frames take longer to extract.
There are things to watch out for, of course. The escape must go on the right way up or it doesn’t work. Porter escapes use a one- way trap, with lightly tensioned brass levers to prevent the bees getting back into the escape. These are set at a pencil width but you need a couple of escapes in each board in case one gets blocked by a drone. There are other types that work just as effectively and you can also make your own.
Other things to watch: you must totally seal the honey supers (no holes or cracks in the honey super) because once the bees are escaped, other bees will rob the exposed honey. You also can’t have any brood in the honey supers as bees won’t leave brood. No brood or frames with pollen (not even a little) should be extracted as they can contaminate the honey. Scrape out the brood and place the frame below the escape board so the bees can clean up the frame, ready for the next extraction, or leave pollen frames for winter food.
Commercial beekeepers’ hives are placed well away from houses and public places. These beekeepers generally blow the bees out of the hives, which is quick and simple, but leaves a lot of bees in the air for a while until they sort themselves out. The beekeepers carry a stand to place the supers on, which also has a shoot that directs the blown bees into the entrance of the hive. Some use a chemical like Bee Go®, a product that you don’t want to spill in your vehicle as it’s very difficult to remove. Specially designed cloth-impregnated top boards are placed on the hives for a couple of minutes and as the chemical evaporates, it drives the bees out of the super. Even though it has a foul odour, it’s not on the hive long enough to contaminate the honey, but is best used by skilled operators.
During a heavy flow, supers of capped honey frames can be removed and upended on the hive roof for five to 10 minutes. By this time the bees will have left the super and gone back into the hive. The flying bees are not interested in these exposed supers as they are too busy bringing in nectar, but this operation can only be done during a heavy honey flow. Again, this method is only used by experienced beekeepers as it can initiate robbing if the flow suddenly stops.
Use a minimum of smoke—just enough to control the bees. Too much smoke and you can spray ash all over the frames. Ash is hard to remove by filtering, so you can end up with black spots on top of your honey. Honey can also take on taints and excessive smoke can end up in the honey flavour. The idea now is to get your honey off early so that varroa treatment can be applied to the hives. Some treatments (strips) can be applied at the same time as the split boards are put on, as the board isolates the honey supers from the bottom brood supers. If you don’t use lifters, inspect the hive for AFB after the honey supers are removed. Use a blower to remove the few straggler bees left in the super immediately above the escape board, then use a board to cover the supers to prevent any dust contaminating the stack of supers.
In the past, commercial beekeepers used to leave the supers open to allow the bees to escape on the way home. This method can cause accidents and bad publicity for the industry so is now frowned upon, plus it can lead to a traffic infringement notice for insecure loading. Cover your loads with shade cloth as a minimum.
Because I have had a smattering of AFB in three apiaries, I will be implementing a full quarantine system where boxes will be numbered and marked with an apiary code so they will be put back on the hives they came from.
Once the honey frames come out of the extractor, I’ll be checking them as they go back into the supers and any old dark combs will be replaced with foundation. (My horizontal radial extractor allows me to return the frames to the super they came out of without any additional marking of frames.) I’ll stack the old ones to be melted out later in the season to recover the wax and what’s left in the cheesecloth bags will be spread on the garden as mulch. I’ll return the wet (sticky) honey boxes to the hives they came from, which will stay on the hives until well after the robbing season has finished.
Although this creates a lot of extra work, hopefully it will isolate any problem hive gear in which AFB is found after robbing. If I find AFB in the coming spring, this method will make it easier to find the supers again that came from that hive(s) in the shed so that I can remove them from the operation.
Check for AFB before removing any honey. Extract honey, remove comb honey (as soon as it’s capped to prevent travel stain: bees have dirty feet). Rear autumn queens, introduce purchased queens, and produce replacement nuclei. Put on entrance closures to make the hive easier to defend. Don’t allow robbing to start when the flow finishes by leaving honey exposed for too long. Estimate varroa numbers and treat hives that are reaching the threshold of five mites per 300 bees. If one reaches this threshold, treat all hives. Treat hives anyway with an alternative treatment to knock the numbers down if you are going to do a full treatment later.
Keep an eye out for wasps. I haven’t seen many yet but they could be out there as it’s been a mild spring. Nests are found in ditches and in banks within 500 metres. Kill them with a little insecticide powder down the entrance before they start producing new queens.
As you know, I provided a list of suggested books in my December apiary column. A book I forgot to add to the shopping list is Honey Farming by R. O. B. Manley (ISBN 13: 978-1908904249). This book is for the up- and-coming commercial beekeeper.
Although written in 1944 and perhaps dated in some aspects of bee biology, this book offers advice that is relevant today for those contemplating going into commercial beekeeping. It describes Manley’s early history, essentials, pasture climate and apiaries, apiary equipment, bee breeding and the passing seasons. These early chapters pass on knowledge gained through years of experience with Italian bees and the English countryside and honey plants. The advice given can be adapted to conditions in New Zealand; i.e., requeening, feeding, supering, wintering, etc.
Comments like “early flows can mean the bees eat out their honey reserves before winter” apply here as well. Our Langstroth full-depth supers are smaller than the Dadant supers, but recent trials with single super hives in the South Island indicated that the full-depth super is large enough to support a productive hive. It just needs a little more management in the spring to prevent swarming. Ignore the AFB advice in Manley’s book as we have regulations that require us to destroy infected hives.
One of the important pieces of advice he offers is to have adequate finance before starting in beekeeping, to cover the three- year build-up period where little extra honey (money) is produced. This still applies today. When I started beekeeping commercially, I had access to free timber. I just had to break up pallets to make supers and frames. However, I found my redundancy didn’t cover our living expenses and extra gear requirements in the second year, so I applied for the dole to tide me over. I submitted a business plan, which was accepted, and I was grateful for the assistance. If I had read this book 30 years ago, I might have had an easier ride into commercial beekeeping.
This book boasts an excellent index. It is available on the Internet from several locations: Book Depository UK, Northern Bee Books and many others.