We've been over in Brisbane for ten days and when we came back (despite the cold) I noticed just how much everything in the garden and bush was budding up ready for spring. Wattles, Tree Lucerne, Banksia, Kowhai, are flowering, supplying the hive with early sources of nectar and pollen.
September / October are very important months, for work done now sets up the hives for the season. Most commercial beekeepers are now starting to do feed rounds. They tend to take more honey off and therefore have to feed sugar back to provide a reserve - this also stimulates the bees into rearing brood. Because of the large numbers they look after, they also have to start doing their BL inspections earlier that hobbyists.
In the cities things are so different. Sources abound and the bees easily find them and commence brood rearing without any need of stimulation. During fine spells, bees are madly bringing in pollen and everything looks rosy. Take the opportunity on the next fine day to see how your hives are doing.
- Clear away any grass that has grown close to the entrance.
- If the bees are landing short of the landing board and getting lost, add another piece of timber so they can crawl into the hive.
- Are the bees flying well and bring in pollen - yes indicates queen is laying.
- Lift the lid and check for dampness. A little is permitted but frames and the super shouldn't be wet - lift the lid if more ventilation is needed.
- Look down into the top super and make sure you can see sealed honey on the top part of at least 4 frames.
If the weather is warm you might want to do your spring inspection. First read you bee books on spring inspection and disease identification. Start by putting the lid upside-down on the ground in front of the hive and put all the supers on top of it.
Clean the base board or if you have reversible ones, turn it over. Replace it if it's starting to rot. (Nothing annoys you more than trying to pick up a hive full of honey just because the bottom board has given way under the weight). Then put the bottom super back on the hive stand, (the entrance should still remain restricted). If you did your beekeeping right last season, you would have worked all the old, black, damaged frames to the outside. If you'd done this, its now easy to replace these with new drawn combs, (used for the first time last year in the honey super). Any bees on the frames can be shaken off by giving the frame a sharp bump with your fist.
As you put these aside, run your eye over the frames and look for any old capped cells - you're looking for scale in the bottom of the cell. Flick of the capping and look inside. It could be a number of things: an old pollen cell, bees inside fully developed could indicate chilled brood at some stage, or a dried up mummy (white or black) of chalk brood, or the odd cell of honey - no problems but if you find a thin black scale at the bottom of the cell, that's not easily removed - suspect BL.
Proceed to check all the remaining frames in the bottom super for old capped cells or scale. If you have new brood in the bottom super (a very strong hive) flick off the odd cell capping and check the larvae below. Look for any cells that are darker and slightly sunken. These could contain larvae with chalk brood or sack brood or BL. If you're not sure push a stick into the cell and stir it around. Draw it out slowly to see if it ropes. Most will rope once only but BL will continue to rope. If you suspect BL leave the stick in the cell, close up the hive and call in another beekeeper or MAF Palmerston North (06 351-7935 - ask for Ted Roberts or James Driscoll) to confirm what you have seen.
Also check the patten of brood. Spotty means you need a new queen, good tight brood patten with only the odd cell missed means the queen is OK. Best to replace the queen every second year, so order now if one is required but remember spring queen are often had to get.
If everything looks good, check all the frames in the other supers. Don't leave the hive open for too long (7-10 mins max) as the brood can quickly be chilled. If you can't inspect the hive all at once, do what you can in ten minutes and then complete the job next week.
Sometime you can spot things wrong just from what's happening on the bottom board. There's the odd hive that's not working and should be investigated. The first one of these I looked into, there was a roar when they were opened and bees were scatted all over the frames (not in a cluster), so I can safely say this one is queenless. Quite a few go queenless during the winter. I also noticed large pieces of cappings wax at the entrance - a sign that a mouse had been eating the honey frames, (another reason to look in). Next time I'm passing, I'll unite a nuc on top of it using a sheet of newspaper.
The other main thing to keep an eye on is feed. Try not to let the hive die out; maintain a minimum of three frames of honey - a weeks supply for a strong, developing hive.
However, as I said last month no matter how good a beekeeper you are, some will be dead when you inspect them. Dead from starvation, (bees in a cluster with their bodies buried in the cells is the beekeepers fault), or they may have absconded (not a bee to be seen and all the honey robbed out), something was wrong with the queen.
More at the meeting.