Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

  An informative and sometimes humorous column published in
  The New Zealand Beekeeper Journal


   About the Apiary - December 2012

November weather so far has been a lot better than October’s where we only had three days in which queen could mate.

It’s mid-November and most of my hives have bees in three supers. Those hives with honey stores are making queen cells in preparation for swarming. These hives unfortunately will have to be split in half but will be united again once the honey flow starts and the bees have switched to storage mode. In the meantime I’m hoping they will raise a queen, allow her to mate and start laying before I reunite these hives. Hives do better when headed by a young queen so just before uniting, I’ll find the old queen next I’ll take her and the brood frame she is on and put them into a nuc box along with a frame of honey and pollen. I will allow her to build up through December before putting in a new queen cell just after Christmas when you get better matings.

Caring for Nucleus colony

A lot of new beekeepers have just received their first hive. Generally its best to start off with a nuc as your confidence builds as the bees numbers increase.

On receipt of the nuc, put it into the middle of a super. Feed the hive continuously for a month with a bottle or a type of top feeder on top of the frames where the bees don’t have to move very far to get at the syrup. Don’t disturb or look through the hive for 10 days. Let the queen get established as the head of the colony. This is most important as a new queen can get balled if the hive is disturbed too early.

Checking the hive for the first time.

Simply look for eggs to establish that the new queen is laying and then close the hive - it’s not necessary to see her. If for any reason she flies off, leave the hive open for half an hour and she will return. Continue to check the hive every 10 days and continue to feed the hive for a month.

As the bees start to draw out the foundation frames either side of the brood nest, move the original honey or pollen frame on each side out by one frame. Place a new foundation frame in this space,thus expanding the size of the brood nest. The queen will lay in this frame when there are enough bees to draw out the foundation and cover the frame. Repeat the process until all frames in the super are drawn out. Failure to continually expand the brood nest could result in the hive swarming. Even a nuc will swarm if it becomes crowded.

Add the next super when all frames are drawn out and are covered with bees.

Take a frame of emerging brood and place it in the centre of the second super to encourage the bees up into the super. Bees are often reluctant to go up into a super of foundation.

If you are using a mix of different sized supers;) i.e. full depth super for brood nest and ¾ depth for honey supers), and want the bees to move up into the new ¾ super, move one of the full depth frames into the middle of the ¾ super. Leave space in the super below so the frame sits normally in the ¾ depth super. The bees will build drone comb under the frames but this can be removed when it’s capped as a means of removing varroa mites. In the mean time, the bees will have started drawing out the middle frames in the top ¾ super. When two frames are more than half drawn out, the full depth bait frames can be repositioned back into the middle of the full depth super below.

Don’t let the bees put a seam of honey across the top of the brood frames as this will induce swarming – i.e., the colony can’t expand the brood nest upwards.

To overcome this problem, give the bees more comb space by inter-space a drawn comb in between the frames of brood, (i.e. checker-boarding) , into the middle of the second super. Use foundation frames if drawn frames are not available.

In cooler areas, instead of spacing one brood, one new frame, keep two frames of brood together. This doesn’t stress the bees too much as it is easier for them to keep a pair of frames warm. Place the frames of brood removed from the super into the centre of the next super above.

If you are going from two supers to three high with only foundation frames available, again inter-space the foundation frames in the second and third super to provide room. The bees will then be fully occupied drawing out the foundation frames.

If you use queen excluders, continually make room in the brood chamber so the queen has somewhere to lay by move outside honey frames and the odd frame of emerging brood up into the second or third super. Shake all the bees off first so the queen isn’t moved up above the queen excluder.

New plastic frames. Allow new plastic frames to air for a month or two then coat them with wax. Bees are loath to move onto this type of frame when new, so order them well ahead of when they are to be used. Don’t mix natural waxed frames with new plastic frames as the bees will tend to draw out


A strong colony of bees can fill a super in a week, so give the bees room to store this nectar. An experienced beekeeper generally can look at the brood nest and estimate how many supers to add at once. Four or five frames of capped brood mean another supers is needed a week later just to give the new bees some room. Add to the mix and incoming nectar flow and the hive may require two supers. As stated previously, bees are sometime reluctant to move upwards unless baited up into the new super with a frame of nectar on which the bees are already working.

A week or two later (with the help of another person), tilt the second or third super back slightly so you can look for queen cell development along the bottom bars. The bees generally start queen cell development in the top brood super and then work downwards and they will build them out to fit the space. This means that a cell developing along the bottom of the frame will be build along the level rather than downwards so watch for these.

If you don’t find any eggs in the queen cell buds along the bottom bars, it generally means the hive is safe from swarm for another 10 days. If you are not sure, put the honey supers on the up turned roof in front of the hive. Starting from the side, remove a couple of frames until you reach frames with brood and then inspect for queen cell development. Sometime the bees draw a few cells along the edges where there’s no comb. Move any frames that are not fully drawn out to the outer edges of the brood nest so you only have fully drawn frames in the middle. This restricts the space where the bees can draw out queen cells making them easier to see during a quick inspection.

To enable bees to fully drawn new foundation, (top to bottom, side to side), put them into the second or third super when a honey flow is on. If you give the bees an empty frame, (i.e., no wax, positioned third one in from the side with a bit of paint dobbed on the top bar for easy identification), they will drawn it down as drone comb. Therefore all you foundation sheets out as worker comb. Bees need drones and if they feel they are short of drone comb, they will make drone cells along the bottom of your new foundation frames.

Mark the frames so that you cut out the comb every 18-20 days, trapping a good percentage of mites in the drone cells. Once the honey flow is well under way (end of December), remove this drone comb frame altogether. This lets the bees concentrate of honey production rather than waste energy on drone cells that don’t add to the honey collection.

We were told at the NBA Conference in Nelson in 2010 that the manner in which the bees draw down this drone comb is an indication of swarming. Straight, fully drawn comb is OK; one that is wavy (up and down in a couple of places), indicated the hive is likely to swarm.

Next check the top honey supers. Are the bees working the middle frames only? Then move them out slightly, putting drawn or foundation frames between. Again, inter-space drawn and undrawn combs to get them all drawn out.

Bees require a lot of energy to drawn out combs and also need honey to make wax. Once they get into wax making, they can draw out frames fairly rapidly.

If you don’t have at least three honey supers to put on each strong hive, you will have to remove and extract the frames of fully sealed honey early, or as the completed each super. Otherwise they will store it in the brood supers. Once they have filled the brood supers, they turn off nectar collecting and a very hard to turn on again. Give the bees room to expand and store honey. If you run out of supers and frames and can’t extract the frames that are already filled, go to the supermarket and get a cardboard box the same size as a super. Cut out the bottom to make a 100mm X 100mm hole and move a honey frame into the box. The bees will come up into the box and start building natural comb when they run out of space. Bees don’t discriminate as to what sort of storage container they use. In an intense flow, (a one in five year flow), beekeepers will put on all the spares they can find, often robbing the burn pile just to keep the bees working.

Top-Bar Hives

We have quite a few beekeepers in New Zealand have long hives or top-bar hives. These are good to play with but require a whole lot more work initially. With Langstroth hives, the bees will move up but some are reluctant to go sideways past the pollen frames. To keep the brood nest building, keep giving them space by moving the pollen and honey frames out one as they become covered with bees. Move the brood nest away from the entrance by a couple of frames as the bees tend to build to wards the entrance first. Like all hives, top-bar hives required at least a super or the equivalent of honey to winter over successfully. Too often these hives do not gather this amount unless they get strong enough without swarming.

Wyatt A Mangum PHD, has just published a book on top-bar hive beekeeping “Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure Combined, is available exclusively from It’s a heavy book; 411 pages, full of photos and easy to read. It’s perhaps the bible for top-bar enthusiasts. His website is also good for information.

Things to do this Month

Check feed. Check for failing queens. Introduce nuclei. Super hives - get them on before the bees need them.

Swarm control. Make nucs out of any hive that swarm or combine weak hives to make full-strength units for honey production. This is the best time to get queens mated for those making their own replacements or ordering queen cells.

Prepare the honey house equipment. First honey extraction in some areas. Full brood frame check for AFB before removing any honey or combining hives. Get the honey off before the 1st January to meet all the testing requirements for those in the tutin/scoly popa areas. If it’s a dry, warm summer, there could be problems for some.

Fit foundation into comb honey supers. Put on when the first ¾ is being used for honey storage. (This is left on to prevent the bees storing pollen in the comb super frames it there’s a break in the good weather).

Check hives for mites. Randy Oliver recommended we do a quick knock down middle of the year rather than wait until the end of the season. Keep those mite numbers low.

All the best for Christmas and I hope the New Year goes well.

Frank Lindsay