Horizontal or Vertical Hives?

It is fairly well known that bees will build natural nests either vertically as in a tree hive or horizontally along tree branches or structures. So it is not surprising that long hives of various descriptions are becoming more popular across the world. 

I have had top-bar hives (Kenyan and long deeps) and found them difficult in a cool climate. All together I have found them much more difficult to maintain than warre hives and even the difficult Langstroth hives. There are two reasons that explain this problem.

Firstly, bees across the world are more likely to build horizontally in warmer climates and vertically in cool and cold climates. In warm areas, top bars hives do very well as do the traditional clay pipe hives and various other long designs made of straw and other material. Top Bar hives are common throughout Africa and the warmer parts of Australia, USA and Europe and the tropics.

In cooler climates, the bees naturally prefer, tree hives, warre hives and many other tall hives especially when they use tall frames.

Bees naturally want to nest vertically when the climate is cooler as they need much more energy to keep the nest warm and often need to cluster to preserve themselves.  This is more difficult in cold environments.

The second reason closely related to the first is the level of insulation in a hive. The further away from the equator requires increased insulation to assist the bees during winter. Different timbers vary in their insulating capacity but the thickness also assists. 

Bees in tree hives often have 30-100mm of timber surrounding their nest providing an excellent space to live for many years. The Warre hives in Tasmania are a minimum of 25mm to provide good insulation. But more essential is understanding that very thick insulation is needed if a horizontal nest is to survive in a cold climate.

So if you are considering a hive choice in a cool or cold climate, a well insulated vertical hive is a good choice. But if you are keen to go against this trend, then you will need to consider maximum insulation if you care for bee health and survival.

Happy Beeking!

Cleaning Up Your Wax

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At the end of a season, we spend a good deal of time processing wax. Most people want to know how to clean up the utensils used for that processing.

Setting up your wax area first saves a good amount of grief later, so use heavy duty paper to cover any benches, floors and walls that may get splashed. If it does spill, then wait until it sets before removing the wax because using hot water will simply spread it further. I also use an apron or old clothes since I accidentally splashed hot wax over a woollen jumper. That required placing paper towels over the material and using an iron to melt the wax out.

I dedicate a limited number of utensils to the wax melting task so I have a choice of leaving them waxy until the next job or cleaning them up at the time. I use two cleaning methods and I am sure there are more.

One option is to heat your oven to 200C. Put all your waxy tools onto a tray covered with paper, switch off the oven and place the tray into the oven for 15 minutes. They will be warm enough to then use paper towels to wipe all the utensils clean.

The other method I have found quick and easy is using an electrical heat gun. I use this to keep wax hot as it drains through sieves at times when the wax is cooling too quickly and blocking the sieve. For cleaning up utensils, I simply heat the tool and allow any wax to drip off, then use paper towels or an old cloth to wipe them down. They come out looking like new.

Happy waxing!

Autumn Attrition

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It is happening all over the state this year. I am getting many reports of dead colonies and it is a very sad loss. The owner of this hive was understandably upset.

With the poorest season and the most chaotic flowering for a decade, bees are dying. Some people are reporting losses of 4 to 5 hives from a 10 hive apiary, others 1 in 3. Many beekeepers are combining hives in an effort to strengthen hives for winter.

There is a natural process that happens in colonies where food sources are poor. The bees sacrifice themselves for the survival of the colony. Given poor sources of food in Autumn and Winter, this is a naturally occurring process. It is less noticeable in urban areas due to the wide variety of food and is why urban beekeeping is an important part of sustaining bees into the future.

This year there is more that just natural attrition. We are seeing whole colonies wiped out and nearly always from lack of food. In a diminishing colony, there may even be honey frames in the hive they have not used for food.  We usually think of honey as the food source but pollen is even more important. If pollen is poor or non existent it has a major impact and a colony can die quickly. When pollen is scarce, the queen may stop laying, nurse bees are converted to foragers sooner (once this happens their life span is short), winter bees are not produced, brood cannot be fed and become diseased or die.

Checking on hives is not just about seeing how much honey they have produced but also ensuring they are collecting enough pollen, have healthy brood and have a hive size they can look after. During drought conditions, smaller hives are beneficial to bees in fact, most times smaller hives are better for bees.

Bees can also die from many other causes like disease, beekeepers, pesticides, fungicides, spray drift and poisons left out to kill ants and wasps even kilometers away. Where bees have been dying, ensure they are not blocking the front entrance as this will quickly kill the remaining bees.

Take the time to watch your bees at the front entrance each day and check on your bees during difficult times like these.

Happy Beeking!

Top Bee Forage

After the hardest summer for a decade I have been reflecting on bee food. Boosting Autumn feeding is particularly important to help fatten the bees for winter. How do you know your bees are fat?  Most of us don’t have scales small enough!!  So the next best indicator is the level of pollen on the frames plus the amount of pollen coming through the door (at least three types is best).

My top ranked plants for bees at his time of the year?

 IVY Tree

IVY Tree

Ivy Tree (Hedera) has just finished flowering and the bees were all over it at a time when very little was flowering except in urban areas. There are quite a few bushes about for cuttings. It grows to a large shrub so plenty of flowers to supply to the bees.

 

 

 Lavender

Lavender

Lavender is often seen locally as purple or white types flowering during summer and autumn sometimes flowering for 6 months of the year. I find taking cuttings from the plants bees love to be a successful way to propagate. This nectar is exceptionally medicinal and nutritious for bees with the possibility of driving mites from hives. Every beekeeper should have a row of lavender bushes growing in their yards.

 

 CALListemON

CALListemON

Pink Champagne Bottlebrush (Callistemon) is meant to be a spring flowerer but in Hobart there are pink bottlebrushes that flower for most of the year and many autumn flowering versions. So look for local varieties that are flowering now. They are fabulous for bees and birds. There are a number of bottlebrushes that do well on the east coast and these will adapt well to our conditions. 

I could have chosen so many more plants like Autumn flowering Leptospermums, Autumn raspberries and Correa alba that all provide a food source for bees, so knock yourself out and get diggin'! A variety of pollen and nectar sources helps the bees thrive before winter. Planted now, they will have time to get established for next year. 

And of course, starting a patch now for the Spring wild flower planting will be next on my list. All my old cottage seeds will be added.

Happy Beeking!

Wintering Down a Langstroth Hive

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I was sent this outline of a hive that needs to be prepared for winter. In a cool climate the bees need as much warmth retention as possible so each box needs a honey frame at 1 & 8 (for 8 frame boxes). They need the empty spaces removed so they can cluster close to honey and be able to maintain all the comb.

Bees are happiest on fresh comb, so removing older comb is beneficial. As a rule, 1 year comb is fresh wax and sometimes with honey, 2nd year is honey storage, 3rd year is brood use and then it is replaced. In a natural hive the bees get wax moth to chew out the brood comb as a natural replacement process but most people have an aversion to wax moth in a hive.

So here is an approach to wintering this hive. Box 1 needs inspecting. If it is empty, it needs removing but I suspect it may be full of brood so ensuring it has honey on the outside frames is all that is needed. As Box 3 is empty it needs to be removed. If there is an odd frame with brood that could be placed in another box close to brood, the rest of the dark comb cleaned away and the box prepared for Spring.. Box 5 needs to be placed under Box 4. Bees prefer not to walk over their capped honey, so this will place all the capped honey on top

This hive is in an urban area and will possibly still bring in some nectar during the next month.

Some would argue that one box of honey could be harvested but with this severe year and the promise of a very cold winter I would err on the side of caution and leave it until Spring. If the bees do well over winter it could be harvested then, but for this year, the bees need all the honey they can eat.

Oh so much easier with a warre hive!  Happy Beeking!

 

Slow As A Wet Winter

 Wintered Warre

Wintered Warre

That's me getting my blogs out but winter is upon us in the southern hemisphere and it has come early after the poorest year in the nine years of my beekeeping. Never before has the quality of nectar and pollen been so unreliable and it has led to robbing, hive attrition, poor queen production and lack of swarms. Honey production has been patchy and many beekeepers have seen much chalkbrood and abandoned hives. While Warre hives have survived quite well, it has not been at the rate we usually see. This all leads to trouble wintering down our hives. If bees are not well fed before winter they may not survive.

Warre hives are easy to winter down provided they have close to a box of honey. Even though that box is smaller in volume than an ideal Langstroth box, the bees use far less honey in a warre. For wintering, remove any empty boxes and top up the quilting box with untreated pine shavings.

Now if you are using the Langs, you have a much bigger challenge, so here are some principles to consider.   The first principle is bees need honey close to their cluster (so a good frame of honey on frame 1 & 8 of each of your lower boxes and two ideal boxes of honey above the brood area). Having honey frames on the outside of the box is very good for insulating against the cold as well as being a food supply.  The second principle is no empty spaces, so if a box is nearly empty then remove it and if there be any good frames of brood or honey add them to other boxes or store them to feed the bees in spring. Bees struggle to keep empty spaces warm or free from disease so they pose a significant risk.

The third principle is the honey needs to be accessible. In our cool climate the cluster needs to be able to work their way to the top of the hive consuming honey and pollen as they go. They prefer good honey supply above their cluster because if is becomes very cold they do not like to move sideways to access honey. Queen excluders just don't work in these climates so remove them. But you can’t do that on a flow box without removing the whole box as well else brood be laid in the flow section. The only time the excluder and flow section should be left on in winter in Tasmania is where you have good supplies of honey in the box above the brood and then further supplies in the flow section. In this case the bees will survive well without being brood bound. All this honey will help the bees survive winter and give them a great start in spring to then face the November dearth (scarcity of forage). If you have a lot of honey in the box you could winter it over and then only harvest the extra in spring. 

Without honey, bees will die within 72 hours so leave them plenty.

Happy beeking

It's all in the Temperature

 Warre Quilt for Insulation can be used on Langstroth hives

Warre Quilt for Insulation can be used on Langstroth hives

I was going to call this post 'Lifting the Lid on Winter Inspection' but was concerned someone may open a hive in winter! Unless you live in a warm climate then you could be making a big mistake. The cluster in a hive needs to maintain warmth of 32 to 35 degrees C. That is some achievement in a cool climate. As you move away from the cluster the temperature can drop quite dramatically. Near the end of winter, the bees have been nurturing brood and are working hard to maintain these high temperatures. Below 15 degrees C the brood will die. We know there are three things that help bees survive winter.

Firstly, having a box of honey above the cluster helps to both insulate and feed the bees, and they need feed to stay warm. Secondly, the hive set-up assists the bees. If there is good insulation at the top of the hive this will help keep some warmth just above the cluster.. The old timers in our cool climate add carpet squares between the hive mat and the lid. Some of us use a quilt box as used on warre hives. Filled with pine shavings it provides good insulation as well as moisture control. The third thing that helps bees during winter is their ability to seal up every crevice and crack to reduce heat escape and cold drafts. 

When a hive is opened, all this seal is disturbed and takes many days to repair. In winter it takes even longer. When we open a hive even on a warm winter day we risk a serious loss of heat and the possibility of an unsealed hive for many days, so if the weather gets cold as it often does, we may be harming the bees. I know it is hard waiting for the start of the season but keep your nerve and wait until we have some consistently warm weather. 

Happy beeking!

Rescue Frames

Recently, I rescued a very damaged hive, ripped apart in a storm. Several of you have asked how I set up the frames. I learned this technique many years ago and have no idea where it came from, but have found it an easy and useful tool.

 Five nails on top bar, three at bottom

Five nails on top bar, three at bottom

The design requires a frame, 8 small flat-head nails, string and a rubber band. I use deep frames as natural comb is longer than the smaller frames so it reduces the need to cut the comb up. The end result is a comb held in by a string mesh.

To set up, we only nail one side of the frame to create a string mesh at the back as well as the front. It enables the frame to be laid on its side while the the comb is placed in the frame and the outer string then put on.

 The starter loop

The starter loop

There are five nails placed in the top bar and left protruding enough to take a two string depth. Three nails are placed in the bottom bar. You only need to nail one side.

 

A loop is tied in the string and it attached from the bottom side to the nail on the top side. The string is woven around each nail and attached in the same manner. This forms the bottom mesh of the frame and all the string wires should be on the bottom side only.

 The bottom mesh

The bottom mesh

At the last nail I often wrap the string around twice to help it stay in place as I am placing the comb. On the top side, the string does not need to cross to the bottom side of the frame. It is simply wound back across the nails.

At the final nail, we use an easy to attach system. Create a loop 30-40mm (several inches) from the final nail. A rubber band is attached to the loop and then is easily stretched to the end of the frame.

 Foundation as comb example

Foundation as comb example

During a rescue, the frame is laid on its side (nail side up). The top string is undone, the comb is laid in the frame and either cut or pushed into place. Ensure the comb is placed with the cells leaning slightly upward so honey will stay put. Do up the top string and stand the frame up. It is now ready to store in the hive. The bees will reattach the comb and chew through the string.

I keep a box of these frames in my swarm collection kit just in case a cut out is required to remove the colony.

Happy beeking

 

Why Beekeepers Fail in Year 3

 Fresh comb from the bees

Fresh comb from the bees

We know that as many as 75% of untrained beekeepers fail to keep their colony alive in their first year. But it also appears many of them have difficulties in their third year. There are a number of reasons for this but high on my list is old dirty comb. The bees hate it and will either leave (abscond), continue to leave (swarm) or cease to leave (die)!

New beekeepers have often started off with nucs or swarms with lovely fresh comb. They are usually busy concentrating on all those new-learned skills of lighting smokers, expanding hives, examining brood and bees, and taking photos for social media. So it is not surprising that understanding how bees change their environment over a few years is often not seen and understood until trouble begins to appear. Bees naturally like new comb for brood and honey, and the bees are much calmer and healthier when they have it.

Some of our hives (Warre Hives) naturally encourage this process of renewal in the way boxes are added, but in Langstroth hives a good deal of intervention is needed to achieve the same result. My rule of thumb is to renew comb every three years. Some commercial beekeepers suggest four to five years however they are often keen to keep costs low and honey production high.

When we see awful comb that is dark, hard, full of pupa cocoons and poorly used by the bees, I would encourage you to replace it with a fresh frame. But if we are to renew comb every three years, this action alone is not enough and we need a systematic approach. In cool Tasmania we often winter over with four ideal boxes (equivalent to two deep boxes), and in Spring when the brood is high in the hive, we remove the bottom box and all the frames in that box.  The frames are cleaned and repaired, and the box is checked for repairs and prepared for reuse.

In effect the hole hive is dropped down by one or two boxes every year and provided with fresh comb on top for the honey flow. In a Warre this rotation happens naturally. Other hives will need to have a plan to refresh comb regularly.

This comb regime will give you happier and healthier bees as well as bees that want to stay in your hive.

Happy beeking!

All Those Bees!

 Bees, bees, bees

Bees, bees, bees

I’ve had several calls from concerned beekeepers wondering why they have masses of bees when they know things are often slowing down before winter. This is not unusual when we do the mathematics.

So the longest day of the year was a few days before xmas and the queen would have been laying the maximum number of eggs. If there are spare cells as well as plenty of pollen and honey she may lay up to 3,000 eggs per day. Given they take about three weeks before hatching, then there are many new house bees about three weeks after that (mid January), then many more forage bees about three weeks after that, (early February). So while she is now slowing down her egg laying, the bee population is still very large from 6-8 weeks ago when she was laying abundantly.

We are at the colony cycle where the bees are in their largest numbers. So with warm weather and lots of good food about, the bees will be numerous and busy. Added to this. Bees can markedly increase their activity if they know a low pressure cell is approaching, so keep an eye on barometric readings. They can sense this change well before we see the signs, and will be coming and going with much earnest.

It’s easy to mistake a thriving colony like this with robbing or wasp attack or over-heating hives.  Your careful observation at the entrance will help work out what is happening. In the meantime don't be too hasty in reducing the entrance as they need a good entrance to allow for such heavy traffic. Enjoy the fact the bees are at the peak of their season right now and are making preparations for their winter-over ie maximum bee numbers, maximum stores and minimum disease to keep the colony thriving through the cold months.

Happy beeking!

Thinking of Winter

 Papering two weaker hives.

Papering two weaker hives.

It is the first week of February, or from another view three weeks before Autumn starts on 1 March. The season has been abundant with mass flowering in our native and introduced species.  The beginners who started with their small nucleus hives have experienced one of the best seasons in a decade and some have harvested honey. But we must not be complacent because this is the time to start thinking about next season, and we need to consider a number of things.

Firstly, next season will not provide honey unless we have large numbers of fat bees in the spring. Your preparation now is important. In our cool climate, we need four boxes of ideals(or two deep boxes) to winter our bees. This will consist of two boxes of brood and two of honey. with a high density of bees on each frame. If you have not wintered down a Langstroth hive, find someone that will show you how it is done, as it will help your bees survive. The Warre hives will need two to three boxes to winter over and the boxes are turned 90 degrees so the combs run across the entrance. The bees are able to keep themselves warmer and survive winter better in Warre boxes.

Secondly, the bees need to be fat bees to survive the winter. They need plenty of honey now to increase their weight. The honey flow has slowed even in urban areas and the bees, knowing the longest day of the year was before the holiday break, are already reducing the number of eggs the queen is laying. Most species of bee will cease laying although the Italians will continue to lay a small amount if the winter is mild. Colonies will need plenty of honey and pollen left if they are to survive winter and start early next spring. In my apiary, all harvesting has ceased in the Langstroth hives and the Warre hives may have a final honey box removed before winter given they need less honey stores to winter over.

So what to do with hives that will not survive winter. They are not able to bring in enough stores before winter and may not have enough bees to cluster well to keep the colony warm.

I have four small hives to deal with. Today I joined two of them. One was a struggling survivor swarm with no queen and although they currently have a queen cell, it is much too late for them to build the numbers up in the next six weeks to bring in enough stores. In fact the stores will become even more scarce. The other box was a nucleus with a failed queen. I had found a frame of young larvae from a strong hive, notched under a number of larvae rows and placed the frame with some nursing bees into the box. They successfully raised a new queen. She has been industrious but given the low bee numbers has not built a large enough colony for winter. I move this box to sit with the other small box last week. They have orientated well and today I place a sheet of newspaper between the two hives and joined them together. Now I will have a stronger colony with a better chance of preparing for winter.

They may still need more frames of honey or even more bees added from the other remaining small hives. We will check them next weekend for our local area beekeepers' gathering and see how they are going.

Happy Beeking!

 

 

Looking for Larvae

 Larva Development

Larva Development

An important skill for beekeepers is checking bees have healthy larvae. I am often asked to clarify what to look for so given the rainy day, I have sketched up a larva in its development stages. The number of days is a little loose give a queen takes 5.5 days to complete this stage, while a worker takes 6 and a drone 6.5 days. This part of the process is fast and needs heaps of royal jelly, pollen and nectar to enable a larva to increase in size so quickly (over a 1000 times its original size), and the house bees are very busy in their feeding schedule topping up the food many 1000s of times during these days.

The royal jelly and other food can be seen covering the base of the cell. It must be white and glistening to indicate it is healthy. Any discolouration, dullness or smell raises concerns and needs checking out.

Also of importance is the temperature. Any reduction in temperature will delay development. The bees need to work hard to top up the feed, warm up the cells and check on all the kids after we have lifted a frame for inspection. So before you inspect your hive make sure it is a warm day with little breeze and be careful not to have a frame in the sun drying out the cells.

The less you mess, the stronger your hive. Bees are amazing architects and agriculturalists and do it better without us interfering.

Oh and PS!  Before you start... Larva is singular and Larvae plural, Pupa is singular and Pupae plural

Happy beeking!

 

 

Late Season Nucleus Hives

It has been a busy season thus far and the bees are so grateful for the abundant forage. They are not amused by the lack of heat and dry weather. It has made queen mating hazardous. This spring has had more failed queens than I have ever seen. Other beeks have had the same experience in our cool and unreliable climate.

In spring and summer, I achieved 27 nucleus hives mostly for new beekeepers. These were nearly all started with 4 frame nucs containing 2 frames of brood and 2 frames of pollen/ honey. This is very successful in the early part of the season, however now we require a different approach. There are still drones for mating, the weather is relatively warm although we don't have much time to ensure a strong hive is built before winter. To address this, any splits or nucleus hives are started with a minimum of 8 strong frames of which 4 to 5 are brood.

 A Slit-Board Nucleus hive from a strong colony

A Slit-Board Nucleus hive from a strong colony

Even with a strong start, there needs to be a productive queen to build a strong colony. With good forage and warmth it is possible to build the 4 ideal boxes or 2 deep boxes required for wintering over in a cool climate. If the bees do not thrive, they will need extra warmth and honey to survive.

In this circumstance, I often use a split board to create the nuc above a good hive where they can share the warmth of the stronger hive. Should the queen fail or the colony fail to thrive it is easy to paper the weak colony back onto the original one.

Happy Beeking!

The New Season

 Acacia in blossum

Acacia in blossum

Spring is nearly here following a very wet winter. The rains are appreciated after some of the worse droughts on record. Last year was the worse honey flow in 59 years according to my beekeeper friends.

The season ahead however may be one of the best honey flows for many years. We have watched the eucalyptus trees budding up, we have black gums still flowering and the bees have continued to breed this year during winter.

There is an old farmer's saying in Tasmania and it is known to the old beekeepers as well.  'If the wattle (Acacia) blossoms are good, the season will be good.'  And everywhere I look at the moment is a mass of Acacia blossom. It is providing excellent pollen for the brood nest although not much nectar.

So check out the mass blossoming of wattles as you travel about. This promises to be a good year for bees.

Happy beeking!

Wasps!

 Vespula germanica

Vespula germanica

Those bloody wasps have just destroyed one of my hives. They are as bad as I have ever seen this year and I am sure the dry conditions have encouraged them.
I have spent two days trying to find the nest without success... I am peeved!
So, I have been hunting for solutions.
The wasps are meat eaters and come in looking for dead bees. Luckily, when they pick up the bee (or dead wasp) and take off back to their hive, they are slower and easier to see, making it possible to see the direction they are flying in to reach their nest.
So what to do...
Firstly, close your entrance to a few centemeters wide. The bees can defend their space better.
Secondly, if your bees are hungry, feed them to keep them strong and able to defend themselves.
Thirdly, use a wasp screen. Here are two options which you can make fairly easily.

This site has good background on wasps in Tasmania and suggests a glass sheet with a bee entrance at the top. (Thanks Karla, our Apiairy Officer)
http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/biosecurity/plant-biosecurity/pests-and-diseases/european-and-english-wasps
And our friends at Kiwimana have designed a mesh screen cover using the same principle.
http://kiwimana.co.nz/robbing-screen-wasp-and-robbing-honey-bees-afb/

I am heading to the shed to make a glass one!

Happy Beeking!

Bee Tea

This is a dry year and a number of beeks are having to feed their bees before winter. I have discussed the acidity levels in natural hives before (3.8 to 4.5pH) and that sugar syrup raised this to the level in which diseases love to thrive (6pH). Due to the chemical arrangement of sugar in this form, the bees find it hard on their digestive system just like humans do. It weakens them. Where sugar is inverted (still sugar with sucrose and fructose but without the molecular bond), then the bees will find it more like a nectar or honey rather than a sugar like a cane syrup. The lemon assists to weaken the molecular bond.

Feeding is a last resort to keep the bees alive. So here is a method which is an adaptation of Bee Tea. It supports the bees and is more digestible. Only ever use white processed sugar for any form of sugar syrups or bee tea.

  • I take two cups of white sugar and
  • add a squeeze of half a lemon
  • prepare leaves of chamomile and thyme (use organic teabags or fresh herbs)
  • add a few grains of mineral salt
  • add one or 1.5 cups of 'just off the boil' water. Allow to infuse for 3 or 4 minutes, pour into the sugar and stir.

The mixture will go cloudy at first however continue to stir until it becomes clear again. Allow to cool fully before putting it into a top feeder. Ensure no syrup is able to drop into the hive as dampness is the enemy of bees. Feeding bees in the open is not recommended as it may set up robbing bees and spread disease.

Give the bees a break between feeding to encourage them to continue to forage outside the hive.

And remember, don't eat the honey produced from feeding. It is very unhealthy for you.

Happy beeking!

 

End of Honeyflow

Autumn has arrived and we are seeing less forage about. Urban beekeepers will still have some sources however if you are in the country areas, you will know that the leatherwood and gums have mostly finished. It looks like we may find some black gums that flower during Autumn and early Winter.

In suburbia or fabulous garden areas, the bees may have enough nectar to draw out comb but it will be limited and elsewhere it is impossible. The bees now will want to fill every cell they can with nectar but where there is non available, they may start using their reserves. To conserve the colony, they will reduce their numbers.

The bees will kick out the drones, reduce the breeding of forager bees and start breeding long lived bees (known as diutinus bees).  Forager bees live for three weeks and wear themselves out through constant foraging trips. The diutinus bees can live for four to six months and assist the bees to winter over. Some have amazing thermal capacity to keep the cluster warm and all will be reliant on the honey, pollen and propolis stores.

So have a good look about for what vegetation is flowering and producing nectar.

If you use a lino mat as an inner cover place a sample carpet mat on top for Autumn. This will help the bees keep the temperature up and the hive dry as they cap off their honey.

Keep an eye on your honey levels and aim for at least two honey ideals for the coming winter.

Happy beeking!

Bee Stings Galore

During the last week I was told about two instances of multiple stings from bees.

The first was about two beekeepers picking up a swarm. They rightly understood that swarms are usually very quiet and rarely sting. However this is only true for new swarms. If a swarm decides to 'set up camp', they immediately use much of their stores to start the comb. This can happen within a few days and when it does, the bees have something to defend - their new home!!

With no veils and suits on the beeks, the bees were able to inflict much damage to sensitive skin.

The second case involved an over-confident beginner who noted the films/videos where people in shorts and 'tank-tops', with no smokers would play with bees.  All went well the first few times. Then, not heeding the weather conditions and the sound of the bees, the lifting of the lid was enough to have the bees attack multiple times. 

In both stories they love attacking the face!  The lessons? 

Always wear a veil.  If bees stings the eye it means permanent blindness in both eyes, so never risk it. Better still, wear a suit and gloves.

Never assume swarms are not going to sting. Most of them are fine but some are not.

Always light the smoker even if you don't use it. The smoker is the best way to cover the pheromone from a bee sting and stop a frenzy of bees. Smoke the skin, then remove the sting. If you have bees bothering you during inspection, smoke your suit, hands/gloves and body. This nearly always stops the bees without blowing smoke all over the quiet bees, the comb and the honey.

Always treat bees gently. Use slow movements, low noise, and avoid jarring their frames and hive. They will reward you ten-fold and treat you kindly next visit (they can face-recognise and have a collective memory).

Happy Beeking oh brave souls!!

Droning on about Bees

 Natural Comb built for Drones

Natural Comb built for Drones

I have a number of reports about dead drones or lower numbers of drones as we head toward the end of summer. This is perfectly natural and is created by the colony as the seasons change. When working with natural comb, one gets to see this cycle even more clearly.

In our cool temperate Tasmanian climate we experience short seasons for honey production, snow in many seasons, the highest number of rainy days across Australia and often many seasons in a day. It calls for a unique approach to our beekeeping however the cycles still follow the pattern of length of days/sunshine hours to prompt bee behaviour.

In Spring (September to November) as the colony rapidly expands, the bees ensure they create large numbers of drone cells for the peak of their breeding season. They raise the numbers to about 25% of the colony. You can see how plentiful they are on the frames and hanging outside virgin queen hives at this time of the year. And they are just the drones at home! Many of them are flying from hive to hive and congregating in the mating areas.

By Summer (December to February), the bees reduce the number of drones to about 15% and by Autumn (March to May), they reduce further to around 5%. When the temperature drops to 13 degrees the bees start their clustering. As Winter(June to August) gets closer, they ensure all the leftover drones are not fed and tossed out of home. When Spring again arrives one of the first tasks of the colony if the production of drones.

With natural comb production during Spring, the bees will quickly draw an abundance of drone comb and if you are only familiar with foundation, you might think they are overdoing it. The bees however, know best and they are keen to ensure they are able to reproduce and thrive. When they do not need to use foundation and build their comb, they ensure they have plenty of drones for a short period. The drones are helpful to the hive for temperature control, humidity control and bringing calmness to the colony. In fact they greatly assist the hive in its expansion through these tasks. As the season progresses, they reduce the number of drone cells, sometimes filling them with nectar.

An observant beekeeper will learn a natural sense of how much drone production occurs in a healthy, vibrant colony. Where drone comb is greatly excessive it may be another indicator of possible swarming or supercedure of a queen. This is a useful indicator when we appreciate how much drone production occurs in the natural cycle of a colony.

Happy beeking!