An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal
Fennel and lacebark are still flowering in the Wellington region, with lots of ornamentals in the city. There is brood in the hives but this is reducing, and some older queens will soon stop laying if there’s nothing coming in.
In early April, wasps started hanging around hives in numbers, so nectar sources must be getting scarce. Some beekeepers are putting out Vespex® but the wasps are not seriously getting into it, preferring nectar that has, up until recently, been provided by the giant willow aphid. These wasps soon learn to just walk into hives and take what they want. Smaller hives should have robbing screens. Restrict the entrances of bigger hives.
I’m also putting out more baits to knock out the mice and rats around the apiaries. A few dollars in baits can save having a hundred dollars of damage if they get into a hive.
The Wellington region was lucky to miss the rain that the two recent cyclones deluged on the upper half of the North Island. These floods have had adverse consequences for beekeepers as well as farmers. Hives had been placed where farmers hadn’t seen flooding before; yet so intense was the rain in some areas that apparently safe areas flooded, causing beehive losses. The only thing that can sometimes mitigate these losses is good communications with our farmers, and perhaps replacing stones on hives with straps so that the hives will float.
It can be quite surprising that capped brood can still be alive if floodwaters recede quickly. The bees will try and clean up the comb around the brood nest and warm it up, but often you have lost most of the bees so their efforts are minimal. They haven’t a chance of cleaning all frames and once the mud starts to dry, the bees will refuse to use the combs.
I have tried washing out frames but this wasn’t very successful unless I got them completely clean. I have found it’s better to add clean, drawn frames to any hives that survive and put the dirty honey supers on top to be robbed out. I also add frames of brood because all open brood in the hive will have been destroyed. If you don’t add more brood, it’s likely that the hive will dwindle as the older bees die off during winter.
Most will be removing their miticide treatments put in during February but how do you know if the treatment has been successful? It’s important that all beekeepers monitor hives two weeks after the completion of the treatment. Resistant mites are spreading, helped by migrating beekeepers. Unless you monitor you won’t know: you are only making an assumption.
I was lucky to be given an alcohol washer while in Canada. They are fairly easy to make. All that is required is two 500-gram plastic honey jars, a small round of 8 mesh (eight mesh to the inch), a blade knife and a soldering iron. You may be able to get a small amount of 8 mesh off an old pollen trap.
Cut out the tops of the plastic lids, leaving about three millimetres of plastic around the edge to give the lid some strength. Cut the mesh so it’s a bit smaller than the outside diameter of the jar lid. Then, using a soldering iron (after placing the mesh between the lids), melt the plastic around the edges (a little at a time so it fuses together). Some beekeepers may be able to go to a firm that does plastic welding (repairs plastic car bumpers), and they may be able to do it for you. I use methylated spirits watered down 50/50.
Some may choose to use a sugar shake as their monitoring technique, but these don’t work in the damp as the icing sugar doesn’t flow and you have to repeat the shake a number of times to get an accurate count.
If you have mesh bottom boards, it’s a lot easier. Grease the bottom slide with a little cooking oil and check in a week or so. Divide the number of mites falling by the days. In all cases, you want less than one mite per 100 bees or less than one mite a day dropping.
Then we give a sigh and say that’s done, but it isn’t. Out there will be hives that haven’t been treated, like feral hives from cast swarms that will start dying and your bees, being bees, will scavenge every bit of honey they can find. Unfortunately if they find a hive failing due to mites, most of the mites will hitchhike back to your hive on the robber bees, and in less than a month your hive could be dead.
The idea is to monitor and find the odd hive that still has high mite numbers and re-treat. It’s a good idea to re-treat the whole apiary if you find one, as there could be more out there.
The most recent Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) residue report mentioned that amitraz has been found in honey. Amitraz is the chemical in Apivar® but these strips are formulated to give a controlled dose which should be well below threshold levels. Are beekeepers doubling the dose (one strip per five frames of bees is the usual registered use) in order to overcome resistant mites, taking honey from the brood nest that still contains residue from the last treatment, or are some playing with homemade chemical treatments?
Beekeepers have to recognise that some strips in some areas just are not performing as efficiently as they used to because mites are gaining resistance to the chemical. Putting in double the number of strips just makes resistance happen a lot faster.
Likewise, taking honey out of the brood nest is risky. Apart from having residues in the wax, beekeepers also could be extracting the sugar they fed during the last round, which could make the honey unsaleable due to C4 sugars.
Some of us are treating more often with alternative chemicals but still sticking with strips. It could be said that we now using two treatments at once: a fumigant and a chemical treatment. This method, we hope, will delay the resistance problem for a bit.
We must all be looking to experimenting with alternative treatments. They aren’t as effective and require more visits, but at least they keep your bees alive. With acids, more is not better. I overdosed a heavily infested apiary with formic acid and killed the open brood that was showing viruses, but also killed three queens. Unless you can find replacement queens at this time of the year, the hives will have to be united with another.
So the take-home message is to monitor, monitor, monitor, four to six times a year so you know what’s going in your hives. If you don’t have time to do this, then you’re likely to end up with fewer beehives, and that will be the number you can comfortably manage.
A few years ago I was seeing apiaries with large numbers of hives. Seems that these beekeepers have found that an area can only sustain a certain number of hives. Sure, you can feed pollen supplements, but until these can sustain three brood cycles without natural pollen, they are by name a supplement only. We will know when the formulas are right when bumble bees can be raised on it.
If you are increasing the numbers of hives per apiary, plant both early and late pollen sources for them. Most of the hives on farmland rely on plantain for autumn brood rearing. Open your eyes. Bees need 45 kilograms of pollen a year and the amount they store in the autumn has a direct bearing on the number of bees they can rear during the winter, unless we all swap to Carniolans. These are very good bees, but not much good if you want large, populated hives early in the season.
Some may disagree with this last statement. If you do have a method that works for Carniolans, tell me about it.
Something I missed doing last month is to put insulation under the hive roof. We see the overseas pictures of snow on hive roofs, but between the roof and the hive mat is a polystyrene sheet to hold in the heat. Note that these are not tin roofs.
For some reason, hobbyists have copied the commercial beekeepers who migrate hives by using sprung tin roofs. We all used to use telescopic roofs, which provide an overhang and deflect rain off the top supers. Sprung tin roofs allow commercial beekeepers to stack hives close together on trucks but they afford very little insulation, so the bees are constantly using honey as a fuel to generate heat within the cluster. You only need to feel the temperature of sugar syrup in a hive top feeder to realise just how much heat a hive gives off. All this extra work is shortening the lives of your bees.
You can provide insulation under a sprung tin roof but a hive strap is required to hold the roof on; otherwise they will blow away in a storm.
Now I’ll dive off in a different direction. Small hive beetle is spreading around the world. SHB has been found in the Philippines in 2014. If we get SHB in New Zealand, it will totally affect the way I keep bees. I’ll have to clean all the mess up around my house. I won’t be able to put two or three honey supers on at a time. I’ll have to extract all my honey within four days of removal from the hive unless the council allows me to dump a refrigerated container on the road reserve, which is unlikely. Beekeepers piling on the supers and helicoptering them into the back blocks wouldn’t be able to put on so many supers, as you need to have bees to cover all the frames to protect them against SHB.
If you don’t think SHB will get here, then think again. We stayed with beekeepers a few years ago in New South Wales and found beetles in our luggage as we were repacking to come home. Beekeepers have found beetles in their pockets three days after looking at hives. It’s just a matter of time, but we can all do something about finding it early.
Hayley Pragnell from MPI’s Bee Pathogen Programme has come up with a nifty idea of putting clear Polygal Twinwall polycarbonate roofing (used in sunrooms) as a refuge for small hive beetle in beehives. She provides a 200 by 200 mm square, but I don’t think it needs to be that big as beekeepers in NSW use only a quarter of this size in their hives. However, the idea is brilliant. Place it on the top bars under the roof and every time you open a hive, check the Polygal to see if anything is in it. Surveillance takes just a few seconds, instead of looking for something running away from the light. I got my Polygal from Brad Hodgson: firstname.lastname@example.org
If we had Polygal in most hives in New Zealand, especially in the cities, we have a greater chance in detecting the beetle early. Early detection improves the chances of eliminating it, even though in most countries this has not happened. Mind you, it’s a small chance but worth the effort and hopefully by the time SHB gets here, we will also have traps that can attract the beetle to them in our high-risk areas. In some areas the bees may propolise the ends, so these may have to be checked occasionally to see if they are still open.
There’s so much out there in the world that we have to try and protect our bees from. There are worse mites than varroa (and these are in Asian countries we trade with), but we aren’t actively looking for them; trophallaxis for instance. An annual survey is really only to assist overseas exports but it’s not active surveillance. All of us beekeepers are the front- line surveillance team. Make yourselves aware of all the exotics and start looking for anything unusual in your hives and phone it in to the Biosecurity Hotline: 0800 80 99 66.
At this time of the year, some may be thinking of taking a holiday somewhere warmer. I suggest taking in a conference in Australia (or further overseas; USA if you can afford it). You are bound to learn something when you get together with other beekeepers. Check out the Australian Honey Bee Council newsletter for the dates: http:// honeybee.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/March-2017.pdf
I recently attended the 66th Entomological Society of New Zealand Conference held at Victoria University of Wellington. They had sessions on bees, wasps and other invertebrates. Students at our universities, members from the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research and others are doing some clever research, some of which relates to beekeeping.
The ‘nature team’, Angela Simpson and Bryce McQuillan (info@ brycephotography.co.nz), really impressed me with their photography and dedication. This young couple go out day and night looking for insects and take pictures of them on their little setup that uses top and bottom lighting on a white background. This brings out all the insects’ detail which is normally hidden, as most camouflage themselves into the background. You may have seen their work as it’s very easy to add an insect to a paper or poster if it’s on a white background. They travel all over New Zealand, unpaid and allow anybody to use their photos.
Although most of the conference wasn’t related to bees, it was all very interesting and opens your eyes to what’s out there. Well worth attending. Next year’s conference will be held in Whanganui.
Winter down, check mite kill, dispose of honey (hopefully the packers will start buying soon now that the MPI mānuka regulations are out).
Grade and sort combs into brood, extracting and damaged. In fact, all frames these days should be as white as possible.
Control wax moth for those that need to. A few beekeepers are shrink-wrapping pallets and freezing them for a week in the local cool store.
Check for wasps. Even though it’s been a wet year, hives in some districts are being hammered at the moment.
Control the growth around hives. Prune back vegetation so the sunlight gets to your hives.
Start planning for the coming season. Drone production should start 50 days before they are required. Order plastic frames well ahead of time to give them time to air. The thicker the wax, the quicker they are drawn. This will also give our suppliers something to do during the winter.
Register for conference: here in New Zealand or any in Australia and/or the USA; plus we have Apimondia in Turkey this September. It’s worth the investment: you always learn something new and perhaps it’s tax- deductible, or could be a valuable marketing opportunity.