Hiving A Swarm

The Swarm at Bathurst St Dec 2018

The Swarm at Bathurst St Dec 2018

By popular demand, I am posting the video I put together for the TasTAFE Humanitarian Students who look after the Bathurst St bees. One of their hives produced this beautiful swarm which I had the pleasure of collecting and placing in a hive.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to collect hives and provide homes for them.

Choosing a Hive

I am often asked about the pros and cons of different hive types, so here are a few things to consider. In a different b blog I posted about horizontal and vertical hives in our cool climate, so in this section I will just consider the 3 main vertical options - flowhive, langstroth and warre hive.

Flowhive

Flowhive

A Flowhive is a Langstroth (Lang) box with a smart piece of plastic technology on top. In Tasmania, this hive requires a little more work than an ordinary Lang. The advantages are they look good with their gable roof and nicely machined boxes, and the bottom box is a deep one with the capacity for natural comb which bees like but it pays to know some aspects that may be difficult in Tasmania and other cool climates. Firstly it has to use a queen excluder to keep the queen out of the flow box. Queen excluders are rarely used in our climate for a number of reasons. We have a short honey flow, so excluders can wear out the bees a little faster, the excluder and flow box may need removing before winter and replacing at Spring, and if left on, could cause the colony to starve even with honey in the upper frames.. Flow Hives do better with an ideal or so full of honey above the deep box to allow the bees to move up to the top of the hive as they chew through the honey stores. If a queen excluder is left on, the bees may die even with honey stores because they will not move a cluster up through an excluder. Further to these considerations we have honey like Prickly Box that can crystalise inside the flow frames making it impossible to remove the honey. Since the Flow Hive has been introduced in Tasmania, we have not had a bumper year so have not realised the full extent of this problem. Some Flow Hives have been very successful here but usually for those in urban areas with larger honey flows and in areas of slightly higher temperatures. Having a deep box and ideal boxes can make it difficult to ensure new comb is developed on a 3 year cycle although there are methods that can be used to do this work. These are the most expensive of the options, about 5 times the cost of a Lang hive.

Langstroth Hive using all ideal boxes.

Langstroth Hive using all ideal boxes.

The Langs are the most common and readily available hives. They were developed for industrial production of honey. Some people say they can produce more honey than other hives however this is not always true. If you are keen to be opening the hive often and interacting with the bees within their colony the Lang certainly allows that although the constant interference can effect the colony and sometimes stop queens from laying. Lang-shaped boxes are built for the convenience of the beekeeper and not for the comfort of the bees they prefer about 350 square). To compensate for this and the increased likelihood of disease it is important that a high density of bees are kept in Langs, Too much space and they cannot maintain the comb well or maintain the internal environment well. The biggest difficulty in our climate is the high level of moisture in these hives which can lead to mould and bee deaths. There are work-arounds to this problem. In Tasmania, the usual configuration of all 8-frame ideal boxes provides lightness and the capacity to rotate old comb out of the colony. If you want an easy to access hive and want to spend time with the bees, then this is a good option. This is the least expensive of the hives although good quality material is not always available locally.

Warre Hive

Warre Hive

The Warre or French Peasant’s Hive is more like a tree hive where bees build natural comb and inspections are kept to a minimum. They look attractive, are well insulated with thick walls, and in a square shape that helps the bees during winter. They need little honey to winter over. The hives are good for those that have less interest in honey production and have more interest in pollination and supporting bee survival. The hive has less disease problems as the bees lay their brood in fresh comb every year. There are still times when some work is required of these hives, but the boxes are smaller and easier to lift than Lang boxes and overall the bees are calmer as they are on natural comb. Honey is harvested earlier in the season after the bees have survived the winter cold and then not harvested again until the next spring. The honey is black comb honey with a very high nutritional and medicinal value. These hives are about double the price of a Lang hive.

If you are still confused, do a beginner course, and continue to explore option.

Happy beeking!



Bee Grants

Facebook Promo Bee Grants.jpg

I love a good news story! Bee Literate Tasmania and the authors of the successful Bee Book have made a little money and have launched a bee friendly gardening initiative for Tasmania. If you know of any group that already run a community garden or want to build a bee garden, then please encourage them to put in an application.

I have hosted the Application on Natural Beekeeping Tasmania website because this is such a fabulous way of supporting bees. I want to make Tasmania a Bee Sanctuary and this is just one of the powerful ways we can achieve such a dream.

Find the application here http://www.naturalbeekeepingtasmania.com.au/bee-grant

Please help by promoting this idea through your communities.

Happy Beeking!

Plastic!

IMG_4279.JPG

Plastics are a product of the petro-chemical industry. Why would anyone want to put these types of decaying substances near bees?

Plastics are creeping into everything, foundation, frames, paint on the boxes and even the boxes are being made of plastics. The ‘badest’ of all plasticis polystyrene (EPS). The Flow Hive component is all plastic. Now, many beekeepers are storing and selling honey in plastic.

Recently I collected a nucleus hive from a local queenbreeder. I try not to disturb starter hives but noticed they were stalling in their progress, so it was time to take a closer look. I was shocked to find 2 frames with yellow plastic foundation in the hive and the girls were struggling to put wax on it. Instead they were jamming themselves into the fresh comb frames and into the lid. As soon as I replaced the plastic, the colony became calmer and doubled in size. Had I left them any longer, I could easily have had queen cells developing trying to solve the bad pheromones in the hive.

Why are beekeepers not questioning the purity of their products and the health of their bees when it comes to plastics? Apart from being an environmental disaster when disposing of the product, it poses a real danger in so many ways. The moment it is made is starts to decompose and the warmer it becomes, then the faster is this decay with increased out-gassing of toxic and cancerous chemicals. Most plastics are endocrine disrupters in humans so I would hate to imagine what they do to bees. Any closed space will see these chemicals contaminating wood, wax, honey and the bees.

Given bees are able to smell bee pheromones from 8 klms, you can imagine how much chemical smells can upset their assessment of brood and queen scents as well as forage smells. so you will understand when I take much pleasure from those that keep bees in natural wood environments that allow the bees to function at their best. I secretly get some pleasure hearing the reports of cockatoos chewing plastic and EPS hive lids, and rats chewing holes in plastic bottom boards and boxes (poor animals), but I hope it encourages beekeepers back to wood.

Let bees live in natural environments and you will have happy beeking!

Summer 2018-19

Nosema ceranea

Nosema ceranea

Last season (2017-18), after a bumper year, we had the worse drought in a decade with many people losing hives and others struggling to keep their bees healthy. It was so poor, the European Wasps were in plague proportions and were attacking bees and eating out honey stores. Our hopes were high for this season and the Spring promised good honey flow following the rains. But there were early indications that while the drought may have broken, the bees were starting from a low base and were still struggling.

The worse thing about a drought year is not just the lack of nectar. It is the very poor protein quality coming in the pollen. In drought, pollen is in low quantity and variety but also lacks the essential vitamins, minerals and other proteins needed for healthy food, healthy brood, healthy queens and strong foragers. Mating was poor, queen laying was delayed and the bees lacked vital essentials to winter well.

When our late Spring arrived and the weather warmed, we eventually got to do our Spring maintenance, replacing bottom boards, removing bottom boxes and checking food stores for the girls. Initially we had some patchy spring honey flow, then in late November the annual dearth seemed to hit hard. Many beeks were reporting reducing honey stores in the hive, wax production slowing, and swarming slowing.

We have had poor weather throughout December.

Two interesting issues have appeared this season. Firstly, we have had significant outbreaks of AFB, EFB, Sacbrood and Chalkbrood, with a secondary disease also taking hold. So intervention has been important to ensure clean and safe conditions to reverse or contain the diseases. It is not surprising such outbreaks have happened following poor nutrition last year and mediocre conditions this season. The gut microbes of the bees and immunity is low and any sugar feeding weakens the gut even further. The wasp may have brought another disease as they can be the source of Nosema Ceranea, a microsporidian beginning to infect Apis mellifera. While there are few signs of the disease it does lead to a failure to thrive, then possibly chalkbrood and sacbrood before nastier diseases take hold. We need to start testing for this disease and understand how to improve the health of the bees naturally.

The second important aspect of this season is many people are reporting the brood remaining high in the hive. Normally the honey flow moves the brood down to the lower boxes in cool climate beekeeping. So many hives have a mass of empty space at the bottom often attracting wax moth, and making it difficult for the bees to keep the comb clean and healthy. The density of bees becomes markedly reduced and disease can take off. We are encouraging people to remove further boxes from the bottom if they are empty. The bees will love being in a denser environment.

Happy beeking!

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

IMG_3695.JPG

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

IMG_3571.JPG

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

IMG_3568.JPG

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!