An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
As of early January, beekeepers on the west coast of both islands are in a better situation than those on the east whose pastures are drying off and going into drought, thus ending the honey flow.
Hopefully they were able to produce an early crop, while some in the west and around cities still have nectar coming in, although the pace has now slackened off in some regions.
February is a busy time in the apiary. We are taking off fully capped frames of honey, getting mite treatments in and preparing hives for winter. Leave enough honey for the bees to winter over on. I leave them one full-depth box completely full of honey, with some extra frames of honey in the bottom super. Most of this honey is used in the spring to produce bees but if a dribble of a flow continues after the main flow, this can stimulate brood rearing and the bees can consume their stores early. The result can be that hives, although strong, will need to be fed sugar syrup to supplement their reserves.
It’s important to get honey off early in the morning before there’s not a lot of bee flight activity, as exposed honey can stimulate robbing. If there are lots of bees with nothing to do, as soon as they get a sniff of honey they are out investigating: it doesn’t take long for robbing to start. The hive bees try to defend their honey, resulting in a stinging mêlée. If this happens in the city, block the entrance with grass and turn the sprinkler on the hive.
It’s also crucial that every beekeeper inspects two or three frames of emerging brood for AFB before removing honey. Miss a few cells and the disease is quickly spread to other colonies when returning the wets for the bees to clean out, or when putting them back on in the spring to stimulate brood rearing.
Hobbyists in urban areas should return wet honey supers in the evening as wet honey frames stimulate flight activity. If put on during the day, bees will soon be flying everywhere looking for the source near the hives, disturbing the neighbourhood.
February is about as late as you can naturally make up nucs with queen cells and get good queen matings. Drone production is easing off and unless you are feeding drone- producing hives, their production quickly ceases with the end of the honey flow. All hives should go into winter with a young queen or one with a beautiful laying pattern; i.e., hardly any missed cells. Young queens are less likely to swarm in the spring. Nuc boxes—in fact, all hives no matter what their size—should be full of bees going into winter.
It is essential that all beekeepers treat their colonies at the same time. Someone delaying for a month or two can negate everybody’s mite treatment around them, with the result that we all start losing hives to varroa in June when mite numbers build up again. Coordinate treatment times with your neighbours and clubs so we all go into winter with very low mite numbers.
Californian beekeeper Randy Oliver, who has presented at the NBA Conference and at a Waikato field day, says that we all should start treating on 18 February each year in order to get a couple of cycles of mite-free brood produced before winter.
I have cut this article short as I wanted to include my report about the Canterbury field day, which focused on varroa treatments. The most important thing is to monitor after the treatment is completed, especially if you are using alternative treatments. Alternative treatments can give only a 50 to 90 percent success rate, so you need to follow up on those hives where treatment hasn’t been totally successful. Those in the upper North Island should also check for resistance to the strips. In fact, we all should. Don’t assume your treatment has been successful. Bees can move away from strips.
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. Treat anyway with an alternative to knock numbers down if you are going to do a full treatment later.
Keep an eye out for wasps. I haven’t seen many yet perhaps due to the wet spring, but they are out there. 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. It’s also a good idea to put out mice baits in a plastic bottle so animals don’t get at them. Rats and mice can do a lot of damage in a hive, so keep their numbers low.