Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

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

  Keeping the hives ticking over  

   About the Apiary - December - 2014

Most of the pohutukawa trees around Wellington are budding up to flower in December. However, some trees are already flowering in the warmer areas affected by radiant heat reflected off roads and in paved areas.

The same is happening with the scattered bushes of manuka on north-facing slopes. Clover has been in flower for a month, tempting the bees but only offering pollen. It needs to be hot and dry to produce nectar, which hasn't happened so far this season.

If everything has gone well, the hives will be overflowing with bees ready to bring in the crop. Once the flow starts, you can do the final inspection for queen cells and then forget about swarming, provided the hives have lots of storage space and the weather remains settled. Super hives by putting two supers on at a time as in a good flow the bees can fill a super in a week. They also need extra comb space to store the nectar as it’s being ripened.

If you only have new foundation frames, lift up an outside honey frame containing nectar from the super below into the new foundation’s super. If none is available, place a brood frame into the middle of the next super. This is called baiting the super. Bees don't see foundation as storage until the frames are drawn out.

If you have both drawn frames and foundation, bait the new super with a honey frame in the middle, then inter- space foundation and drawn frames: this will encourage the bees to draw out the foundation more quickly.

If you have different sized supers for honey and brood, don't worry. Lift the full-depth frame from the brood box, but leave the space empty directly below so the frame can hang down partly into the original super. The bees will draw drone comb below the frame as well as start to draw out the frames beside the original brood frame in the honey super.

In 18–20 days, return the frame to the brood super below but first cut away the drone comb below and feed it to the chickens (if you have them) as the comb will almost certainly contain varroa.

Drone comb trapping can remove 50% of your mites over two drone brood cycles so is worth doing; however, you won't get these results if you have more than 3% drone comb in the rest of the frames. The solution is to cull brood frames with patches of drone cells so the bees use the drone comb you supply. I place an empty frame (without wires or wax) on the outside of the brood nest in the second super. When the hive is strong enough and has an abundance of nectar and pollen coming in, the bees will start to draw out drone comb. When it’s capped, the comb is cut out and the empty frame is replaced for the bees to draw it out again. However, don't allow the drones to emerge as this will double the number of mites in the hive.

Start making splits

Now is the time to start making splits to overwinter to make up for losses or for an increase.

As you super your colonies for the flow, move the top super back five to six millimetres to create an upper entrance between the top super and second-to-top super. This helps the bees provide an airflow to assist with evaporating the nectar, but also some bees will start using it as an entrance.

On your next inspection, move a frame of emerging brood, one of open brood with eggs and one of pollen up into the middle of the top super. The bees will immediately start to draw queen cells but they may select a larva that is older than 24 hours to make into a queen.

On the fifth day after pulling the frames up, cut out all the capped queen cells and leave one or two that are yet to be capped. The ones left were produced just after the egg hatched so will turn into well-fed queens. At the same time, put in a split board or if you haven't one, move the top super forward to create an entrance and divide the top super off with a piece of tin or coreflute, with the entrance facing the same direction as the previous opening. All the bees using the top entrance will now service the brood in the top super and before long you will have another colony that will gradually build during the honey flow.

I was told the name for this procedure is called a ‘walk-back split’. Beekeepers can make splits without having queen cells available and the bees will choose a cell and build it out to be a queen cell, provided there is a flow on. However, sometime the bees may have chosen an older larva to make into a queen and as you know, the first queen to emerge becomes the mother of the hive. This type of split is called a ‘walk-away split’. The advantage of visiting the nuc again on the fifth day and cutting out the capped queen cells is that you get a better queen.

Caging the queen

When taking the honey off you have to inspect the brood for disease, so why not find and cage the queen at the same time? Leave her caged for two weeks and then release her again after checking that the bees haven't produced any queen cells. If they have, you have a choice of what to do with them: create another nuc or simply cut them out if they are surplus to requirements.

If you don't want the bees to produce queens, visit the hive again after five days and cut out all developing queen cells. On the eighth day after the queen is released, all the sealed brood apart from the drone brood will have emerged. This means that the majority of the mites are now phoretic (i.e., on the bees), waiting for the larvae to reach the right age for them to enter a new cell. It's a very simple matter to treat and kill most of the mites in one hit over the next three days (as the drones emerge). You can try an oxalic acid (OA) dribble or, if you prefer, put in one of the fast-acting strips (Apistan® or Bayvarol®) for a week or so, then remove them so they can be reused later in the autumn as a final clean-up before winter.

Mite control

If you use an OA dribble, put in your usual autumn treatment. A word of caution: the directions for use given on page 154 in the green varroa book (Control of Varroa, revised edition, by Mark Goodwin and Michelle Taylor) are based on a formulation using 97% oxalic acid. The stuff we get in New Zealand is 99.6% pure, so requires a change in formulation to achieve the 3.2% oxalic acid weight by volume (w/v) mix. The correct amount for 99% OA is 45 g, not 78 g. If you want further advice, go to and search for ‘The learning curve – part 3: the natural miticides’ and look at the tables for different strengths of OA.

If you are isolated from other beehives, i.e. more than four kilometres away from the next hive, it could be that you may not need to do another treatment in autumn if you have achieved a good kill. How can you tell how good the kill was? Monitor the hive with several sugar shakes or alcohol washes, or if you have mesh bottom boards, monitor the fall for a week and calculate the rate of drop.

Whatever approach to varroa control you use, try and keep mite numbers below 5% and preferably below 1% all through the year. You will get a higher honey production if the summer weather is kind to us: hot and dry with little wind.

Monitoring supers

As December goes on, I check the top couple of supers and move fully drawn frames outwards and the undrawn ones into the middle of the super where it’s warmer for the bees to draw out.

If the flow turns out to be just a dribble, the bees may draw out frames only in the brood nest rather than any in the honey supers, especially plastic ones. In a good, fast flow, the bees will quickly draw out any foundation or plastic frames. Don't mix plastic and wooden wax foundation frames in the same super. If you do, the bees may ignore the plastic and draw wider wax frames or may make their own comb between the plastic frames. The secret with new plastic frames is to air them well before they go on the hives and not mix plastic and wooden frames. If the bees have only plastic frames available, they will draw them out.

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 measures finish with the start of the flow.

Combine weak hives to make full-strength units for honey production or divide up the weak hives to make nucs. This is the best time to get queens mated for those making their own replacements or ordering replacement queens.

Prepare the honey house equipment. Undertake the first honey extraction in some areas. Do a full brood frame check for AFB before removing any honey or combining hives. Get the honey off before 1 January to meet all the testing requirements for those in the tutin/passion vine hopper (Scolypopa australis) areas. If it’s a dry, warm summer, there could be problems for some but the prediction is that it could be wetter and cloudier than normal.

Fit foundation into comb honey supers. Put cut comb supers above a three-quarter super to prevent the bees storing pollen in the comb super frames if there’s a break in the good weather.

Check hives for varroa mites. Randy Oliver recommended we do a quick knock down in the middle of the season rather than wait until the end of the season; i.e., at the beginning of December before the flow is ideal. Keep those mite numbers low: if there are strips still in the hives when the flow starts, get them out quickly. All the best for Christmas and I hope the New Year goes well for you all. Take time off for family because soon it will be full on again.•

Using a hot air gun to uncap frames

A couple of YouTube videos are available explaining how to use a heat gun to melt cappings. Here is one posted to the B-List by Bill Truesdell from Bath, Maine, along with his comments below. He actually took more time than I did to uncap a frame: I waited a bit longer for the gun to heat up. watch?v=RL7vbrJ6Pvw

“Tried the heat gun for decapping frames and it worked fine. It is great for hobby beekeepers. Takes a few seconds to uncap a frame, both sides. There are occasional hiccups but much less than I had with either a hot knife or scratch decapper. Plus, the mess is near zero compared to them. Got mine from Amazon, a Wagner 700-1000 watt heat gun which was #1 seller.

I work in our kitchen and spread poly sheets on the floor. Before heat gun, there would be drippings between the uncapping station and the extractor. With the heat gun there were none. Cleanest extraction I have ever had. Only drops of honey on the floor were from my tipping the extractor to get the last of the honey and then only a few drops.

Also rigged a 1/2 inch drill to the extractor and life is good. Between the two, I cut the time I normally need to less than half. Plus the frames were near dry. No aches or pains, an added benefit especially with my torn bicep.

The only drawback is zero wax, but I like that since the strainers were also zero wax so had no issues with clogging. I have plenty of wax from prior extractions and old frames. All in all, a happy camper.”

Frank Lindsay