Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

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


   About the Apiary - November - 2015

As I write this in early October, the bush is full of fragrant scents and the scrub near my apiaries is full of flowering natives. Rewarewa is budding up, something that only happens in our area every four years or so. Barberry has just started (a dark, strong honey), willow shelterbelts are in full flower (replacing the earlier flowering willows) and the bees are expanding rapidly.

I am interspacing foundation frames with part-frames of nectar in the third and fourth super to keep the bees building wax and to give the bees much-needed space.

I split any hive producing queen cells to produce two (perhaps three) four-frame nucs. These are moved to another apiary to prevent any field bees drifting back to the original hive. If the queen cell has not been capped, I generally leave the nucs sealed in the shade for a couple of days so the bees can complete the queen cell.

Another technique I use is to remove a full- depth super or more from a four-high hive. This drastically reduces bees and brood, puts a stop to swarming preparation and gets the queen back into full lay again. Hopefully the hive will be back up to strength by the main flow. If not, one of the now fully grown nucs (i.e., filling a full super with bees and brood) can be united back on top of the original hive. With luck, the field bees going down through the hive will dispatch the old queen. More bees in the hive means more bees into the air gathering nectar.

Controlling swarming

In the cities, hives are swarming, perhaps because some new beekeepers simply cut out queen cells, hoping that this will suffice. They often miss the odd queen cell that lies parallel against the bottom bar, so the hive swarms and there goes the honey crop.

While undertaking the nine to 10-day routine of inspecting hives to look for queen cells, keep in mind that not all queen cells are swarm cells. As the pressure goes on the queen to produce brood, some queens will begin to fail. The bees detect the lack of pheromones and produce about five queen cells around the edge of the brood area.

Always put aside the frame with the first queen cell you come across. Place this in a nuc box or just lean it against the side of the hive. Don’t simply destroy any queen cells without first checking for eggs.

When you are in swarm control mode, it’s easy to just cut out every cell you come across with the hive tool. I know, as I have done this again this season. The result on the next inspection is a queenless hive, which has no way to correct itself without your intervention. Don’t just put a new queen cell or a mated queen in the hive that you think is queenless, as there may already be a virgin queen in the hive. The bees may roar when smoked (indicating it’s queenless) but a look at the brood frames will tell you if there’s a virgin in the hive.

A queenless hive will store nectar and pollen in the brood area in a disorganised way, just dumping it anywhere. But in a hive with a new virgin or just-mated queen, the bees will begin clearing and cleaning a saucer-sized, half-moon shaped area of cells.

If you still are not sure, add a frame of brood with eggs and check in five days. If there are no emergency queen cells, it indicates the hive already has a queen: it’s just that she is not laying yet. Before swapping frames between hives, check each hive for disease. AFB is a disease spread by beekeepers.

Mark your queens

You may also be surprised how many hives have supersedure queens (both mother and daughter) in a hive. It can be up to 30 percent. You can only tell the age of the queen if you mark your queens. Water-based paint (Uni POSCA pens) can be purchased from most poster/art supply shops or beekeeping supply companies. [Editor’s note: see page 45 of the October 2015 journal for the international code for marking queens.]

Practice catching and marking drones before you attempt to catch, hold and mark a queen. You can also purchase queen holders if you are not happy with catching them with your fingers. Apply a minimum of pressure to hold her while painting her thorax. Less paint is better than more. Don’t paint the queen’s head, as she will often be superseded. Two- queen hives build up very quickly and out- produce a normal single-queen hive.


The plentiful supplies of pollen and nectar coming in will soon end in our rural pastoral areas. Early bush sources tail off towards the end of October and there is very little in the countryside to replace it. There is perhaps a two to three-week dearth of nectar and pollen before clover starts producing when the bees have to rely on what they have already gathered and stored in the hive. That box of willow honey is quickly turned into bees, leaving the hive short of reserves by the end of November.

Keep an eye on food resources and feed when necessary. Commercial beekeepers just keep feeding until the main nectar flow starts in early December. Some are now very careful as to how much sugar syrup they feed, as they don’t want C4 sugars in their honey. A way around this is to feed dry raw sugar in strong hives. The bees will only use the raw sugar when no other sources are available, so the amount stored is minimal.

New beekeepers starting with a nuc will need to keep feeding them sugar syrup (one part sugar to one part water) until all the frames in the super are drawn out and they are mostly full of brood. When the hive has bees covering nine frames, put on another super and draw the bees up into it by lifting an already fully drawn frame into the new super.

Every couple of weeks, move the centre frames out one on each side and replace with a foundation frame from the outside of the super. Don’t assume that the nuc hive is free of varroa. Put in a strip for every five frames covered in bees. This hive isn’t going to produce spare honey so can be treated at any time. Use another form of varroa control chemical in the autumn to prevent resistance building to one chemical family.

Top-bar hives also swarm. Hives full of bees should also be split as once the hive is full, the bees have nowhere else to put the nectar. If there are no queen cells available, split it anyway but leave a bar with eggs as well in the split. Check in five days and remove any queen cells that are already capped. These would have been produced from older larvae, whereas those not capped will have been produced from an egg, resulting in a better queen.

As an alternative, one could move a few bars apart and put a normal Langstroth super on top so the bees have more storage space. True traditionalists would reject this practice, but why not collect more honey rather than just having bars?

Drone brood removal

All chemicals used to control varroa have subtle effects on your bees. At times some will result in sterile drones, which affect your queen matings. Some chemicals affect the queens. Introduce IPM (integrated pest management) techniques that require you to treat only when a threshold is near.

Over the years the varroa threshold has reduced from 10 percent to one to three percent. This is because our bees are being affected by viruses when mite levels get high, which can persist long after the mites have been reduced in numbers. At mite levels less than one percent, hives produce more honey. In times when nectar is scarce, this could be a factor.

In all my production hives, I put in an empty (unwired) wooden frame in the second or third super. I place it in the third frame position in from the outside to get the bees building drone cells. (I put a paint mark on the top bar for easy identification.) Once the bees sense they have enough drone cells, they will then draw out all the foundation frames into worker cells.

If there are only few drone cells available, the bees will make more by changing your good worker foundation into drone cells in the corners. Once the drone cells in the unwired frame have been capped, I cut them out (an 18–20 day cycle works best for me). This will eliminate at least 50 percent of the varroa over two to three brood cycles, which means that your mite threshold and the need to treat early is put back a couple of months in the autumn. Treatment times depend on your wintering conditions. You want two generations of bees produced in the absence of mites for good wintering.

To successfully reduce varroa with drone brood removal, there must be less than four percent drone comb elsewhere in the hives. Move any frames with patches of drone comb to the outside of the hives (frame position one or 10). Remove it when any worker brood has emerged, or simply remove it (cut out the patch of capped drone brood) and feed the frame to the chickens to clean up.

An alternative is to use a cappings scratcher and dig out all the drone pupae at the pink-eye stage. This method also gives you an indication of how many mites you have per 100 cells, as mites prefer drone brood to reproduce in. It’s also nice to see brood frames that are completely filled with worker cells and drone cells only on your specially marked drone frames.

For further information, refer to http:// biotechnical-tactics-ii/

I am also playing at using the flash method using formic acid to keep mite numbers low. This is a combined effort rather than relying on just one chemical control.

Changes in beekeeping practice

Travelling around the countryside, you now see lots of hives in places not normally inhabited by beehives. It used to be that the average size of an apiary was 16 hives. Some districts have fewer hives in their apiaries, as the number of hives per apiary is dependent on the amount of forage surrounding the apiary.

Now we are seeing apiaries with up to 60 hives, often placed well away from natural pollen sources. Perhaps these places are the only ones left to winter bees. All this has been made possible by higher returns from honey and the development of new and improved pollen supplements. Some bees are quick to take up the supplements, some aren’t. One should remember that bees cannot live on supplements alone, as it will take perhaps only two generations before they collapse (shorter life cycle).

Proper nutrition is so important for healthy bees. Work in with your farmers and start planting pollen and nectar sources. At my age, I’m now planting for the next generation of beekeepers, as trees take years to mature. In years to come, I hope you will all look back on the Trees for Bees initiative as a game-changer for our industry. Support research whenever you can. The returns are often hundreds of times more than the initial monetary input.

The new factory farming of bees by bigger businesses means that food is now brought to the bees rather than them going out and collecting it. At a recent branch meeting, someone asked whether this type of feeding could produce a bee that becomes dependent upon supplementary feeding.

We look across the fence at dairy farming practices. At one time, supplements (molasses on the hay) were fed in the winter to boost the nutrition of the hay, but this gradually changed with the call for greater production from the same land mass. Cheap forms of supplements saw this practice increased to the point where grass became the supplement on some high-intensity farms.

The change in policy by Fonterra to limit the amount of supplements a cow can be fed each day has seen the cows on these intensive farms becoming thinner (starving), as they have to re- learn to use grass as their main source of food again. It takes time for the cows to adjust back to normal grass farming.

Could the same thing happen to our bees over time, seeing how we generally breed for our best wintering and honey-producing hives?

Things to do this month

Check feed, check pollen. In some areas, November has a period of dearth of nectar and pollen. Unless hives are fed with sugar syrup and pollen supplement, they will go backwards. If there is a brood break at this time of the season, it can affect the number of bees in the field during the main honey flow, so watch hives closely and don’t let them run out of reserves.

Check hives for AFB. Hobbyists should get their COIs (Certificate of Inspection signed by an approved beekeeper) in before the end of the month.

Raise queen cells and super hives. Put on another honey super as soon as the bees are covering three frames, as a strong hive can fill a super in a week.

Undertake swarm control: do a quick check by splitting the hive and tilting the supers back, looking along the bottom bars of the second super for queen cell buds with eggs or young larvae in them until the main flow starts. Once queen cells have started, remove all but one and split the hive—continually removing queen cells is not the answer!

Remove old dark frames or those with a lot of drone brood: move them to the outside if they contain sealed worker brood for removal on the next round. Replace with foundation frames in the second super interspaced with frames of brood. Fit foundation into comb honey supers.

Monitor varroa mite levels. Plan on getting your strips out just before the main honey flow starts next month.

Frank Lindsay