About the Apiary
The wonderful weather has continued in our district while those in the south have had snow and those in the north weeks of rain. Bees along the coastal strip are now working Banksias, Tree Lucerne, and Black Wattle, while those along the bush fringe a working Kohekohe and the last of the Rata.
Bee activity in the inland valleys has almost ceased. Ice from morning frosts takes an hour to clear, and inside the hive the bees have settled into a winter cluster. Along the coastal strip the bees are in a different climate. The three weeks of fine, still weather has induced the bees into thinking spring is here and the dribble of nectar has stimulated brood production. A month ago these hives there were patches of brood about the size of your fist on three frames. Now this has expanded to almost three full frames. Several hives that I thought had plenty of stores now only have three quarters of a super left and will need feeding in the spring.
I have been putting out the last of my queens and have been very surprised at the number of hives marked for replacement queens that have done the job themselves. Downy young queens with a good brood pattern and bee numbers in some hives have doubled. Looks all very positive.
While tidying up last year's nucs I came across a feral hive I had introduced into a super. The hive was originally in an overgrown Kiwifruit vine. The owner didn't want the bees destroyed and they were nice gently yellow bees so I decided to cut around them and remove them. I placed the bundle of wax and bees in an empty super and added a honey super on top and left them to it. The majority of the feral hives that are put into framed hives abscond next day or loose their queen and therefore after a month tend to die out. Those that do succeed take over the second super and when the queen is laying up there, the access to the feral comb in the bottom super is blocked by a queen excluder so the bees gradually leave the wild comb and take over the top super. Later the wild comb is removed and you have a hive in a movable frame unit. Unfortunately I missed out the queen excluder step so the hive developed in both supers and stored honey in the top super, so they still occupy some of the wild comb (see photo). All I could do is cut away some of the old comb and leave the rest in the bottom super. Hopefully they will remove any remaining honey from the wild comb and cluster in the top super. In the spring I should be able to be removed this and replaced with another fully drawn super.
A few of my hives have telltale wax at the entrance (see photo on next page), which is an indication of a night visitor. I have been a bit lax at putting on entrance reducers, as most of the hives will be part of the Southern North Island surveillance programme to determine the Varroa mite's spread. Rather than close all the hives up, I have been leaving a plastic container with 4 Talon brodifacoum bait tablets in the yards for them. With luck the mice will eat the bait and leave the hives alone. Each time I drive past these apiaries I replace the tablets until they stop taking them. I use a small opening on the container to prevent birds and hedgehogs getting at them and so the rats (if they are around) have to eat the tablets rather than transport them home and store them.
Down south and in bush areas, rats can be a nuisance. Any little hole in a super or a wide entrance is enlarged overnight. By spring they will have eaten out the honey reserves and the bees and will be well on the way to producing another generation. To protect their hives, some beekeepers fold a 75mm wide strip of tin plate 90 degrees lengthwise so that it sits across the baseboard runners and up the front of the bottom super. This forms a slight tunnel and prevents the rats enlarging the entrance.
So far this autumn I have found 6 hives suffering from advanced Nosema (see photo at left). Look for dead bees and dying young bees outside the entrance just as though they have been poisoned. I have treated these hives with Fumidil B and marked them for later action. If they do not recover in the spring, I'll shake the bees on to new frames and treat the old combs to remove the spores.
Bee work now turns indoors. Sort dark frames and those with drone comb out for melting. Any frames you can't see light through when held up to the sun, or those that just feel heavy should be put aside. As stated last month if you don't want to melt them down, they burn well or can be composted.
While sorting frames it's a good idea to scrape off the propolis and any burr comb from the frames and the supers. Apart from propolis bringing in money, cleaning any future brood frames is essential so that the bee space between frames is maintained. If propolis is allowed to remain on the end bars, the bee space gradually increases to an extent that it takes double the number of bees to maintain the brood nest temperature (very inefficient for the bees). The bee space between frames (centre to centre) is 33 mm but those who remember Bill's article on 11 frame hives last year, could reduce the bee space to 31mm if they want to experiment with a single brood nest configuration.
May our long spell of fine weather continue and you have fun beekeeping.