Lindsay's Apiaries

    About the Apiary

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


   About the Apiary - November - 2016

Some of the spring sources around our house are a few days late in flowering this season. Although the weather hasn’t been good for spring build-up, the bees are doing fine thanks to a little feeding. Cabbage tree and hawthorn are yet to flower down here but further north some are flowering, stimulating swarming.

My bees had only one good flying day during October to pollinate the peach trees in my garden, so hopefully they did the job on that day. Most other days they have only been out for an hour or so, closed in by southerly winds and low cloud, while up the coast 100 kilometres away, it’s been fine and warm.

In cities and urban areas where reflected heat and sunlight from pavement and buildings stimulate early growth, some of the summer sources are already flowering. Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) is in flower in the southern suburbs of Wellington. Kōwhai (Sophora tetraptera) and tree lucerne (Cytisus proliferus) have had a long, sustained flowering and are still going in some coastal areas. A lot of kōwhai trees are being planted to provide food for native birds but our bees can also take advantage. However, the nectar from this tree can cause bee losses as it’s a narcotic, and it takes the bees an hour or so before they can fly back to the hive. A sudden weather change can see these foraging bees chilled and lost to the hive.

Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium) has flowered and dropped its flowers without a bee visit due to cold, wet weather. Mānuka is starting to flower on odd bushes on north- facing slopes but it’s too early to come to anything. Hangehange (Geniostoma rupestre) is budding up and ready to flower. This under- story shrub is the first of the bush sources to produce an excess of nectar. You will know when it’s flowering as it puts out a heavy perfume in the bush.

Many ornamentals are flowering that are attractive to bees, such as Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata). Any citrus is good for bees. Look around your area and see what your bees are visiting. Squash any queen wasps gathering nectar. This act could save you lots of grief later in the season.

Despite the weather, bees have been powering ahead and in too many hives I’m finding queen cell development starting. If hives are showing early swarming tendencies, I’m splitting them and moving the old queen and a good proportion of the brood to another position. The field bees will return to the old site, which greatly reduces the population in the queenright hive and increases the population of the hive on the original stand with a queen cell. Sometimes I just take capped brood and bees to make nucs. I’m not equalising hives by spreading brood as I’m still finding a few hives with AFB and don’t want to spread it.

Managing hives to peak on the flow

The honey flow in my area comes in two parts: early bush/kāmahi flow, followed by a dearth in November and then the main honey flow in December. By early to mid- January, it’s all over. Unfortunately, not all flowers turn off during the summer drought, so the bees start eating their stored honey and turn it into brood. We have to time the peak bee population to be available to capitalise on when everything starts flowering in December.

With this in mind, the main honey flow starts in only four weeks from the time you receive this journal, so we must all keep an eye on hives to alleviate swarming while continuing to feed them during this changeable season. Supers should be going on early as hives expand in bee numbers. Don’t wait until you see white wax appearing under the brace comb on the inner cover. Populations are expanding enormously so must have somewhere to hang out. Bees hanging out of the front of the hives during the day, or staying in the top feeders, are sure signs that a hive needs supering and is possibly making preparations to swarm.

For new beekeepers with only foundation or plastic frames without drawn comb, bring up a couple of outside frames from the super below to encourage the bees into the new super. As more nectar comes in, spread the frames containing nectar among the foundation frames and put a couple of foundation frames on the outside of the brood nest in the second box to get them drawn out. Don’t put foundation frames in the bottom super, as the bees won’t draw it out all the way to the bottom because of the cold and will sometimes chew holes in wax foundation sheets.

In order for bees to draw frames out, conditions have to be warm, a nectar flow on and the hive must have surplus bees. Bees will also want to make drones, so give them a half frame without wax so they can produce drone brood. If the bees have enough drone brood, they will draw out all your foundation frames with worker brood, which is far more beneficial to your beekeeping and can make varroa control easier.

Hives should be going into the flow with a minimum of six full-depth frames of capped brood with bees covering at least two full- depth boxes of frames (three if you use three- quarter-depth boxes). In some areas with shorter flows, it’s best that hives are three full- depth boxes high and full of bees. Six frames of brood will produce about 25,000 bees that will emerge from the capped frames, which will take the place of the nurse bees so they can get out and start foraging. You want as many bees as possible into the air gathering nectar. Smaller colonies can be manipulated through Demareeing to release nurse bees into the air.

Varroa strips have to be out of the hives before the flow starts. Apivar® has to be out two weeks ahead of the flow. Check varroa levels two weeks later with a sugar shake or an alcohol wash. Fewer mites means more honey produced.

During this month, pastoral areas could suffer a dearth of nectar and pollen where nothing flowers between willow/dandelion flowering and clover flowering. Hives may need to be fed pollen supplement and sugar syrup if there is nothing available so there isn’t a break in brood rearing. If nothing is coming into the hive, the bees will stop feeding the queen and she will stop laying eggs or the bees will start eating the eggs, then small larvae as the bees get hungry. If this happens, 21 days later there will be no new bees to collect nectar.

Planning ahead

If you can, plan to get the first lot of capped frames off before the end of December so you don’t have to test for tutin in the honey. If you take it off as it’s capped you will taste the different honeys produced from different sources as they flower. If you take it all off late in the season, you will get a blend of what was produced through the season.

Extracting equipment and tips about frames

All that the small beekeeper requires is a couple of deep plastic bins that fit into each other, leaving a 100-millimetre gap between the bottoms of each. Drill hundreds of five- millimetre holes in the bottom of one tub so that it holds the wax cappings but allows liquid honey to slowly pass through. I haven’t seen anything in the catalogues produced by New Zealand beekeeping supply companies but you can see what I mean by looking on the Mann Lake website:

I have used two bins, one that is three quarters of the depth of the lower bin to good effect. These had plastic lids, making it easy to seal at the end of the day so the honey drained overnight. Cappings can be returned to the hives (do this after dark so the bees don’t cause a nuisance) and put in a top feeder to clean out. Once dry, the wax can be melted into blocks and stored. Put it together with other beekeepers’ wax and get it refined back into foundation again.

Speaking about wax, during my spring inspections I remove brace comb and comb on top of and under frames (created because the bee space is wrong) and place it into buckets for melting later. I clean off about a paint pail of wax in each apiary. Having clean frames makes it easier to inspect hives and you don’t squash bees when replacing the supers. Squashed bees spread nosema and if the bee happens to be the queen, you set the hive back six weeks.

I have seen beekeepers just throw wax on the ground. One MAF Apicultural Officer used to put $10 notes on the ground in front of the hive. When asked why he was doing it he said, “Well, you are doing it by leaving all the wax on the ground. What’s the difference?”. Apart from being a waste of money, it’s also dirty beekeeping. Wax with honey attracts robbers and with high concentrations of hives can quickly spread disease. Please keep your apiary sites clean and tidy.

Note that in New Zealand, most of our honey granulates (crystallises) within a few weeks of extraction. This is a natural process but it can be improved by stirring in a tablespoon full of smooth purchased granulated honey so your honey takes on a smooth crystallised form. Stir until it is spread right through your honey, screw the lid on tightly to prevent moisture entering (honey is hygroscopic), then leave in a cool area (13°C). Honey can be restored to a liquid form by gradual heating. A common method is to leave a glass jar of honey in the oven while it’s cooling after cooking a roast meal.

Place wets (sticky frames) on the hives after dark for the bees to clean out and remake. If you put them on earlier, the bees will get excited and fly around the neighbourhood looking for the source of nectar that is nearby, creating a disturbance. By constantly extracting frames as they are fully capped, hives will produce a greater amount of honey, in most cases stimulated by the empty frames. There is a drawback to cutting frames back to the midrib. When there isn’t a honey flow, the bees will refuse to drawn them out unless stimulated by sugar feeding.

Never mix plastic frames and wax foundation frames in the same honey supers, as the bees will draw out the natural wax ones first and build them wider, leaving the plastic ones alone. They will sometimes build natural comb between the plastic frames, especially if Manley frames are used. R.O.B. Manley was an English beekeeper in the early- to mid- 1900s and wrote several books; perhaps the best known is Honey Farming. (It’s well worth reading as a lot of the plants and practices are applicable to New Zealand conditions. Read it just for the queen introduction description in chapter VIII).

Manley is credited with inventing wide 43-millimetre frames (eight to a ten-frame box) and his practice of sugar feeding in the autumn. Eight frames requires less work than 10 frames for the same amount of honey. This wooden frame design left no room at the end-bar sides and often the bees propolised them, making them hard to remove. I used six of the wide Manley frames and two normal Hoffman frames in the centre of the honey supers to make them easier to remove. Start with the Hoffman frames in the middle and gradually move them out as the Manley frames get built out. Nowadays with plastic frames, the bees don’t wax/propolise them in, so this problem is overcome. Remember to air your plastic frames before they go on the hive. Bees don’t like the smell of new plastic frames. The more wax you roll on, the quicker the bees draw out the frames, but not so much that you lose the hexagon indentations.

As you get more experience and more hives, you will need to change your methods and purchase an extractor. Have a five- and 10- year plan and purchase an extractor to fit your future purpose; i.e., purchase one that will last you a lifetime. Many types are available. Tangential extractors throw the honey out sideways, while radial ones cause the honey to flow out the cells towards the top bar and on to the side of the extractor. An extractor is now produced in New Zealand that is a hybrid of each.

Both types have their uses. Radial extractors are used for normal honey while tangential extractors are suited toward thicker honeys, but with a honey loosener (pricker) there is very little difference. (When I had 150 hives, I used to have one of each.) If you intend going commercial, consider a horizontal radial extractor. It’s easier to work, there’s no extra lifting, it requires fewer people but these extractors are five or more metres long and require extra room to get around them. The beauty, apart from the labour savings, is that frames can go back into the same boxes they came out of. Any frames removed during/after extracting because of damage or frames that are too old should be replaced by foundation frames to keep everything in order.

Most hobbyists start with a serrated bread knife (put in hot water between uses) and graduate to an electric or steam knife. In Europe they use what we term an uncappings scratcher that is long-toothed like a wool-carding comb. Used horizontally, they slice off just the capping layer, leaving the frame cell wax intact. It’s very clean with no wastage of wax, but relatively slow compared with a knife.

Drawn-out frames are a precious asset. It costs a lot of honey to get them drawn out, so look after them.

Final thoughts

Once you get into a routine of nine-day inspections, or if you split all hives so they are unlikely to swarm, it’s just a matter of seeing that hives have enough food and room to keep expanding. Any that aren’t growing compared to the rest should be requeened or split to make nucs after checking for AFB.

Beekeeping is all about timing. If it’s not raining much you are out there in the thick of it, working all hours until the honey flow starts. The drawback is that the bees can be grumpy when they are all home and stings go further into your hands when they are wet. Perhaps I should wear gloves.

Beekeeping is all about timing. If it’s not raining much you are out there in the thick of it, working all hours until the honey flow starts. The drawback is that the bees can be grumpy when they are all home and stings go further into your hands when they are wet. Perhaps I should wear gloves.

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