Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

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


   About the Apiary - December - 2015

The main honey flow should be under way. As I write this, cabbage tree, hawthorn and kamahi are in flower and rewarewa is just about to pop. Clover is just starting to flower and so is mānuka on the very warm northern slopes (inland; it will be much later in our area).

This is what we’ve been waiting for all year, nursing bees through the build-up period and controlling swarming. Now we have colonies bubbling over with bees, just ready to bring in the nectar.

Will it last in these dry conditions? Perhaps if we get a good shower of rain every week, we could get a prolonged flow; however, it’s an El Niño year and production varies during these periods. Some western parts of the country do well while eastern areas tend to dry out quickly. We have had years where apiaries in some eastern areas have produced only nine kilograms per hive.

Sometimes we also get an overlapping of flowering species (like kamahi and rewarewa) that the bees prefer, meaning they collect from these sources rather than collecting high-value mānuka honey. We place our hives and it’s up to the bees to decide what they prefer to bring in.

Maximising honey collection

Our aim is to collect as much honey as possible. Bees are stimulated by the amount of empty drawn comb in the hive. Empty comb immediately above the brood nest gets bees out and working, but undersupering is heavy work for beekeepers and disruptive for the bees. Better to put on two or perhaps three honey supers at once.

Some books state that you don’t put on an extra super until you see the bees white waxing in the middle of the top honey super. This can often be too late as to do this, the bees will have had to use their own bodies as storage vessels to hold and process the nectar. Bees need to pack the wet nectar into the hives as it comes in and then process it during the evening. If the hive fills up with honey, the bees stop collecting and are hard to get going again.

The adverse part of oversupering is if there is only a dribble of a honey flow, the bees seem to chimney up, filling only the four centre frames of each super. Even though this creates more work for the beekeeper, the hives will have outproduced those that had insufficient supering.

Another alternative is to take off the completed (nine-tenths capped) honey as it’s produced and return the wets to the hive again to refill, but remember we should always do a full brood inspection for disease before removing any honey.

Walk outside in the evening, and listen to the hum and smell the fragrance of the nectar as the bees expel moisture from the honey. Some beekeepers used to talk of ‘hundred dollar days’ during the warm, still days of early summer. With today’s honey prices, it could be a little more. Those who have a hive on their scales will see the flow progressing. The weight gains can be surprising to those who haven’t seen this before and now we can do this electronically from a distance, making trips out supering worthwhile rather than just working on instinct.

For the hobby beekeeper, it’s easy to remove one or two capped frames and process it without any equipment. Newly built-out frames are easy to extract. Use a kitchen fork to break down the wax cappings, then use the side of the fork to take the wax off to the midrib of the wax foundation. Do this gently so you don’t break the wax midrib. Uncap into a large pan as honey drips everywhere.

Use plenty of newspaper under everything, as it’s easier to clean up. Pour the honey in a muslin bag or nylon stocking and allow it to drain naturally, which will strain out most of the wax.

Return the wet frames to the hive in the evening after the bees have finished flying, as wet honey stimulates the bees to get out and search for this new nectar source. By morning the bees will have cleaned up the frames and will have started drawing them out again.

When putting on extra honey supers, draw the bees up into the new super by lifting an outside frame from the super below in which the bees have already begun storing nectar.

Production hives and swarm control

In January I will be putting protected queen cells from a few selected production hives in all the nucs I have made. Hopefully most would produce enough to feed themselves through winter.

If I want to have more production hives, I could combine two of the now five-frame nucs together (remove one of the queens with a frame of brood and restart the nucs off again). Bees can be combined without fighting when the honey flow is on, as there’s lots of nectar coming into the hive.

I have managed to control the majority of swarming by taking four-frame nucs from populous hives every couple of weeks, which hasn’t affected the hive’s overall development. I also have made nucs from any hives that started queen cells by using one for the nuc and removing all others from the hive. If I allow the nuc ‘swarm cell queens’ to go through to next season, they may have a propensity to produce a bee that likes to swarm, so I replace these with a known breed of bees that produces well, winters well and hopefully doesn’t swarm.

Boosting honey production

All beekeepers look forward to gathering and eating their own honey. Honey is really only produced from populous hives; i.e., two or three supers of bees. Some hives may not have achieved this type of build-up.

There are ways to get a small (single super) hive to produce honey by restricting brood production. In my early beekeeping days, I often used to accompany the late Eltham beekeeper Trevor Rowe on his rounds when my wife was visiting her family. Trevor would pinch out the queen on his small hives as the clover honey flow started and allow the bees to raise their own new queen. By the time the new queen started laying, the majority of the brood had emerged and this new field force of bees was out working and had collected a box or more of honey. Very few bees are needed in the hives when all the brood has emerged. If you want to keep the queen, put her in a queen shipping cage and an AZ-BZ introduction cage. However, you will have to check in five days and destroy any queen cells the bees have produced. Otherwise, you will end up with another queen or perhaps the hive will try to swarm, seeing there would be two queens in the hive.

Trevor’s method still could work today; in fact, some commercial beekeepers use a modified version when they requeen their hives with cells during the flow. If the honey came off within 20 days, an early varroa treatment would catch most of the mites on the bees, making it easier to clean them up. It’s a good idea to requeen early, as drone fecundity drops off towards the end of the season due to poorer pollens and the reduced desire of the bees to produce drones.

In those days (1980s), Taranaki farmers had hedges to protect dairy cattle from the winds that can rip through the region. Farmers relied on hay production for winter feed, so beekeepers benefited in a number of ways. They got three supers of barberry and boxthorn in the spring, up to three of clover off hay paddocks and another couple in the autumn when boxthorn flowered again. Some hedges were up to 20 feet wide at that time.

Things started changing when hedge cutters came into prominence with their huge rotating blades, and changed even more when rotational grazing came along, helped by the development of electric fencing. Now, beekeepers in the region need to have a lovely settled season to produce an above- average crop (the average is 35 kilograms) from pasture land.

There are perhaps more skilful ways to achieve bigger honey crops, but it also requires more gear. One way is to Demaree a hive; i.e., place the queen and the frame she is on into a super of foundation frames (on the bottom board) below a queen excluder. Apart from the requirement of additional frames, a second visit is required in five days’ time to remove any queen cells begun by the bees in the brood super above the queen excluder due to the absence of the queen (which is now below the excluder).

The plus side of the Demaree method is that the new brood is healthier, being produced on all new wax. This considerably reduces their exposure to varroacides already in the old frame wax.

Trevor Rowe had another trick to determine whether a hive needed another honey super without looking in the hive. Trevor didn’t use hive mats so when the bees moved up into the top super, they sealed the roof on with propolis. Any hive where a roof was hard to remove needed an extra honey super.

Time was of the essence and Trevor had a thousand hives to look after. All frames were hand-uncapped, and many were simplicity frames. He used to tape his wrist and cut off the cappings in one action, like using a sword. You get very skilful when there are thousands of supers to extract. Now we just push them into a machine uncapper and the job is done for us.

Sugar feeding

Many new beekeepers are experiencing their first season, having just acquired a hive or nuc. These are small units with perhaps only a couple of thousand bees flying. There aren't enough bees to sustain the nuc and build up quickly, so we feed them a one-to-one ratio of sugar water by weight (i.e., one kilogram of sugar to one litre of hot water to dissolve). Feeding continues until the bees have drawn out all of the frames and you have a full super of bees.

You can stop feeding as soon as you see bees working clover and storing more nectar than you are feeding them. It’s really surprising how quickly the nectar is brought in. We say it literally pours in, but bees are out there visiting millions of flowers a day in a five- kilometre radius of the hive. Each bee tends to work a two-metre-square patch, marking flowers as they go, so they don’t waste effort visiting the same flowers that have recently

been visited. This scent wears off when the plants refill with nectar. Some flowers do this within a few hours; others take a day to produce more nectar from their nectaries.

Some plants, like clover, are made up of many small florets. As each floret is pollinated it turns down, starts developing seeds and dries up. Nectar in these small plants don’t last long under the heat of the day. Clover dries out by about 11 am on hot, sunny days but will keep secreting when the days are dull, warm and humid. When one source dries up, bees switch to a different source until that finishes. Trees like pohutukawa drip nectar nearly all day, and there are so many flowers on each mature tree it’s like having 100 square metres of ground.

Those with top-bar hives should keep pushing the main brood area back a little from the entrance to get one or two new bars drawn down. Take out the fully capped frames to create more space in the rear. Otherwise, the hive is likely to fill, which could lead to swarming. Store these bars in a sealed container, as you will need at least 10 bars full of honey for winter stores.

In some years, swarms continue right into January but hopefully not this year. We also have colder years when the flow doesn’t start until the end of December. In these years, beekeepers keep feeding hives in anticipation that the flow will start shortly. Here’s hoping by the time you receive this, the flow will be under way.

Bees in the city do far better than those in the countryside. Strong hives in a good area can produce up to 100 kilograms per hive when everything goes well.


Check feed. Strong hives need a minimum of three frames of honey to take them through a week of inclement weather.

Check for failing queens. Brood goes patchy (spotty) and bees will start a few queen cells, usually on the edge of the brood area. Remove the old queen and introduce a new queen by uniting with a nucleus to the failing hive using two sheets of newsprint: this method is safer for the new queen.

Super hives: get them on early in the month before the bees need them. Swarm control measures finish with the start of the flow, but do a final quick check along the bottom bars of the top super with brood in it. This is much harder to do if the queen is restricted to a single brood nest and you have the hive already supered.

Combine weak hives to make full-strength units for honey production, or divide up the weak hives to make nucs for autumn or next spring’s replacements. This is the best time to get queens mated for those making their own replacements.

Hives can be requeened with cells during the honey flow, preparing them for the winter with a new queen. Simply put a protected cell in the middle of a honey super that’s crowded with bees. This should give you the possibility of an 80% replacement and creates a brood break, freeing up more bees to gather nectar. Extra nucs have to be made to replace those that requeen successfully.

Prepare the honey house equipment. Check how your honey extracting room stacks up against the provisions in the RMP (risk management programme) documents on the MPI website. (The new Food Act is coming into effect soon, so prepare early.)

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 eliminate the need to have your honey tested for tutin. All honey after 1 January must be tutin tested in the tutin/passion vine hopper (Scolypopa australis) areas (all of the North Island and the top quarter of the South Island).

Fit foundation into comb honey supers. Put the super of cut-comb foundation frames on top of a three-quarter-depth honey super to prevent the bees storing pollen in the comb super frames if there’s a break in the weather. Bees collecting pollen cause travel stains on the newly capped honey frames, which detracts from their new white appearance. El Niño means it’s going to be dry in some regions, so check tutu for Scolypopa before considering comb honey production. Of course, there are some massive farming areas where tutu has long been cleaned out by farmers. It should be safe to proceed, but test to verify when it’s produced.

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 you are requeen hives using cells, isolate the honey supers and give the hives a quick treatment with an acid before the new queen’s larva is capped (23 days). If there are strips still in the hives when the flow starts, get them out quickly.

The book Some Important Operations in Bee Management by T.S.K. and M.P. Johansson would make a good Christmas present for new commercial beekeepers. The book is available from The Book Depository (

All the best for Christmas and I hope the New Year goes well for you all. Take time off to be with your family because beekeeping soon will be full on again.

Frank Lindsay