We are now approaching the most critical part of the season for all beekeepers. All eggs laid in the next 6-8 weeks will produce the bees that will build up your hives and bring in the honey crop in December.
Hives expand at different rates depending upon the queen's egg laying ability and the food sources available. If hives become overcrowded, (when they reach 40,000 bees) and are headed by an old queen, swarming could result. Consequently it is most important that you inspect hives every 10 days checking for swarm preparation; ie queen cells with eggs or larvae in them. One of the easiest methods is to just tip back the super which contains the brood and look along the bottom bars for queen cells. If none are found, you need not look any further. To help make this easier, as you go through the hive, cut off any queen cell buds along the top and edges of the frames but leave those along the bottom bars. Remember that these cells are build as a requirement of the hive but are only used by the queen when problems occur.
If you have more than one hive, and one is weaker than the other, equal them up. First check for disease and then take one or two outside brood frames & bees and add them to the weaker hive. Remember to find the queen first otherwise you could be transferring your queen into the other hive and then you will have another problem - having to buy a new queen for a queenless hive. (They are late this year). You can repeat this every few weeks until the hives are of equal strength.
Another quick method is to swap the position of a strong hive with a weak one during the day. The field bees are quickly accepted and this boosts the weak hive considerable. This method can also be used to reduce bee numbers if a hive is making preparations to swarm.
Normally at this time of the year you should have about 4 - 5 full frames of brood, (this could be spread across a number of frames). More than this, - good, but watch that the hive doesn't get overcrowded and make preparations to swarm. A quick rule of thumb is that a full depth super with bees covering all frames contains 25,000 bees. You can quickly judge if a hive is over crowded when the bees cover all frames and or down on the bottom board. Add another super to give room.
This year my hives still have a full super of honey on top and the bees still have pollen and honey in the super below (they are three high). I leave the hives with plenty of honey for a number of reasons:
1. Easier management in the spring (fewer hives to feed).
2. We have a early flow so hives have to be wintered strong.
3. As a method of swarm control; strong hives are split, a top nuc established, which is reunited at the beginning of the honey flow (two queen system).
To make a nuc: take two frames of honey (one with some pollen), and two frames of sealed, or better still, emerging brood (I take outer frames as the brood area is smaller therefore easier for the bees to keep warm). Put these into the centre of a new super; take another frame of brood and shake the bees on top of the nuc. MAKE SURE THE QUEEN IS NOT PUT INTO THE NUC.
In the hive, move the existing frames into the centre and replace with either drawn or foundation frames on the outside. Place a split board with the entrance to the back or side, on top of the hive. Place the super with the nuc inside on top of this. (You can either cover the four frame nuc with a sack or fill the empty spaces with frames). Put a caged queen (candy end up) between the brood frames and plug the entrance on the split board with fresh grass.
Within a day or two the bees will start to chew through the grass and become oriented to this entrance. Check the queen has emerged and laying after 10 days. Once eggs are seen you can use this nuc to unite with the main hive (after killing the old queen) or can use it for expansion or as a replacement for one that may have died over the winter.
Mid-October. When you go through your hives and if you find all the brood in the top super, with some along the top of the frames in the super below, a good trick to give the queen more room to lay in and prevent swarming is to reverse the top and bottom supers. You can also equalise hives if you have two or more hives to make management easier.
To recap: Remember to keep the stores up (a minimum of 3 frames of honey - feed if below this and give the bees room to expand, ie add an extra super (bees in the bush areas are now bringing in honey). If the bees make preparation to swarm, we suggest you artificially swarm the hive by taking a split board and making a 4 frame nuc placing it on top of the existing hive, (watch for the queen). Use this same method to requeen your hives. Unite using newspaper, once the new queen is laying well. ALWAYS CHECK FOR DISEASE BEFORE SWAPPING BROOD OR REMOVING HONEY,
NOTE; I've just been around some of my hives in the Hutt. Nectar is coming in, foundation is being built out and some of the strong hives have started queen cells - its all go.