About the Apiary - December 2000

About the Apiary

November would be a month that a lot of beekeepers and orchardists would like to forget. Three cold fronts introduced prolonged periods of cold temperatures, high winds, frost and hail damage, and snow down south and on the North Island mountains ranges.

Bees couldn't fly for long periods, which put them under stress from lack of nectar and pollen. This cold weather also affects nectar secretion and has held back the flowering of some plants. I rely a lot on cabbage tree (Cordyline austraiis) to boost the nectar in the hives and as a reference point for starting swarm control activities. They have flowered well this year but produced very little nectar. Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is beginning to flower but is the same, not producing nectar. The odd Rewarewa (Knight tai excelsa) is still flowering yet should have finished a month or so ago.

Thriving colonies have reduced in strength and now could be building up on the flow instead of taking full advantage of it. Yet a few valleys away, hives out of the wind, have collected quite a bit of Kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) and are thriving.

I have received reports from beekeepers around the Southern North Island indicating that in a few areas the bees suffered badly during November. A number of strong hives that had half a super of wet honey have starved. In a lot of hives, its easy to read the frames and judging by the stages in brood development, most just stopped laying for a few days to a week. However, those black bees, the difficult ones to handle without all the gear, seem to thrive and are coming along nicely.

This unusually cold November has caused pollination requirements to halve in some areas with a resultant loss of income to the beekeepers as well as the orchardists. As stated above, some crops have delayed their flowering, which means pollination hives are going in later this year, and colonies might not be able to capitalise on the flows that occur directly after pollination. Clover is flowering along the road sides and in paddocks. All we need is for the ground temperature to rise and the main honey flow will be on.

There is one positive side to this bad weather. Before the weather change, our district was showing signs of drought and local councils were introducing water restrictions. The rain was a welcome relief and has set the pasture and bush up nicely for honey production but watch for late swarming.

Hives in cities are a different story. They produce their own microclimate with all the roading and concrete buildings provide additional radial heating which tends to produce flowers on tress and shrubs earlier than country areas.

City hives already have a super of honey stored and are well into filling the second one. Checking hives are a pleasure as the bees are concentrating on their work and not you. Once the flow is on, you can change from swarm control procedures to supering.

The hum from the hives and the smell of nectar permeates the air around the hive. Bees work very quickly under good conditions and can fill a super in a week so super ahead of time and keep the bees working.

There are two methods of supering. Under (lift the existing tops super and putting a new one directly above the brood nest) stimulated the bees as they have more room but it is a lot of work. Top supering is easier but a frame or two of honey should be put up into the new super to encourage the bees up into it. This method is quick and is usually adopted by most commercial beekeepers.

When to remove honey is always a question new beekeepers ask. They have waited all year and would now like to see some reward for their efforts.

Frames that are more than two thirds capped can be removed for extraction provided nectar doesn't come out of the cells when the frame is give a shake. A number of beekeepers extract their honey every few weeks. This has two advantages.

  1. Bees are stimulated into gathering more honey when wets frames are returned to the hive. Do this in the evening so that your excited bees do not disturb your neighbours.
  2. You separate off the different varieties of honey as it is produced. This tends to go from dark (early bush sources) to the light honey produced around Christmas (clover and Pohutukawa) back to darker honeys again late into the summer and autumn.

This gives the beekeeper a potpourri of flavours to spread on your toast, use in cooking or mead making during the winter. It can be quite remarkable the different shades and flavours that the bees gather.

Remember that not all the honey in the hive is yours. Bees require a super of honey to winter over on so leave them their share, or feed sugar syrup in the autumn to make up this amount.

With the approach of Varroa, beekeepers should be considering replacing frames that contain patches of drone brood. Putting whole supers of foundation frames on top of a hive doesn't always work. Bees are loath to go up on to foundation unless the hives is totally crowed with bees and are forced to. Foundation frames are best drawn out immediately above the brood nest in the third or fourth super. Interspace foundation frames with drawn frames to encourage the bees into the super. Each week move the outside undrawn frames into the center of the super to get them drawn or replace honey frames with foundation frames as you take them off. At the same time move those frames with drone brood up into the honey supers so they can be filled with honey when the brood emerges and then out for melting down after the honey is extracted.

Its also a good idea to replace any frames you can't see light through when held up to the sun. Again, move these to the honey supers and remove them when they are full or move them to the outside of the super so they can be removed in the spring.

Extracting is a messy business and you will only be allowed to use the kitchen once if you are not careful. Lots of newspaper and buckets are required. It takes twice as long as you planned and attracts bees around the house so be prepared and don't leave any combs exposed.

Essentially the equipment you require is as follows: An extractor (hire it from your local bee club) honey knife, strainer, muslin, squat square plastic bins that are available now from plastic wholesalers are ideal to uncap into. Plan the activity and get another beekeeper to assist you. Two hands are better than one for this job.

To set up the uncapping bin, a piece of wood is secured across the middle with a nail sticking up on which the frame is placed to uncap. A piece 2-cm square of wood with a nail driven completely through is ideal. Place the end bar on to the nail, so the frame can be spun around to uncap the other side.

In the urban areas is best to remove honey using an escape-board as this method least disturbs to the bees. Place escape-boards on the hives 24 hours before hand and brush or shake the remaining bees off the frames cover the super and carry to the extracting area. Honey is easier to spin out of the frames if it is warm (i.e. straight off the hive). Uncapping is easier with a hot knife. A serrated bread knifes is excellent. Heat the knife up in a jug, wipe it dry and then using a sawing action move the knife down the face of the comb so the cappings wax falls away from. Indented areas of cappings can be scratched away with a fork.

Manuka doesn't spin out as it’s a thixotropic honey (jelly like) so has to be handled differently. Rollers are available to prick the honey so that it can be spin out or one can scrap the frame down to the midrib, warm the cappings and wax and filter.

All honey granulates in time, as it’s a super saturated sugar solution. Crystals build on each other and you end up with a course grain honey. A smooth grain starter honey (purchase from the supermarket) can be added to your honey and stirred in. Cover the honey and by storing in a cool place (14 Deg C) for a day or so, the honey will start to granulate. Stir the honey two or three times a day but don't introduce air into it. When you see a bloom appear in the honey it can be bottled and left to fully granulate.

Summer is also a time when you neighbours enjoy their swimming pool. Bees require water to cool the hives and find these a most convenient source. If you receive these complaints, consider provide a source close to the hives. This can be a tray of wet sand or a container with floating objects in to allow the bees to land on.

If you are going away for Christmas holidays put extra supers on your hives. If they are still in the shed, the bees find it very hard to fill them.

No matter what you do, some hives will swarm. It can be heartbreaking. All that work, one missed queen cell and the hive takes off. Some hives continue to swarm and you are left with just a frame of bees.

Sometime it's quite a bit later we discover the hive has swarmed. Its very evident the hive population has decreased and you can see the remains of broken down queen cells along the bottom of some frames.

Normally within 10 days after swarming the new queen is mates and starts laying but some hives don't. Some queens are lost on the mating flight or go into the wrong hive on returning. How can you tell whether there is a queen in the hive after it has swarmed?

Bees that are queen less or have a virgin queen "roar" when smoked. They all begin to fan their wings. Queen less? Look over all the frames for a virgin queen. She will be stunted (ready to mate) and will move very quickly over the frames. Not always easy to see and takes practice. However if you look at the middle brood frames you can also tell whether the bees have a queen. Honey scattered in cells through out the brood nest suggests it is queen less and you will have to order a new one. However if you see two or three frames with honey in a semicircle around the top of the frames and clean empty cells in the middle, you have a queen. Look in a few days time and you will see eggs. Close up and let the hives build up again for next year.

Weak hives do not produce much honey. Best to unite two weak hives together and get some honey off them. If both hives have good queens, make a four-frame nuc with one and unite the rest of the bees to another hive.

When uniting hives place the hives with the queen ON TOP of the queenless hive (separate hives with two sheets of newsprint) otherwise the bees coming down through the paper will kill the queen. Put on an extra honey super and watch that honey coming in.

Catching swarms can also have its problems. Small after swarms headed by virgin queens, about the size of a football, are hard to settle. They will go into your hive but next day take off again. If you catch one of these, add a frame of brood to it from another hive and they bees will not leave the super.

Queen wasps are now making an appearance. I have squashed two in the last few days around my hives. They were looking for easy meat by taking dying bees in front of the hives. Remember everyone you kill is another wasp nest that doesn't develop.

Things to do this month. Check the food levels in your hives. Strong hives require a minimum of three frames of honey for a week of bad weather. Check for failing queen. A spotty brood pattern means the queen should be replaced or unite a nuclei to hive. Prepare honey house equipment: clean down with hot water and sanitise everything. First extraction in some areas but check for disease before removing and honey. Continue swarm control measures for those with later flows. Keep the weeds down from in front and around the hives. Fit foundation into frames.

All the best for Christmas and may we all have a bumper New Year

Frank Lindsay