Many of our new beginner beekeepers have now taken home a nucleus colony (nuc) in an eight frame langstroth box and a few questions have come my way.
Of most interest is the timing of adding new boxes and watching food supply. The most difficult time of the year (November in our cool Tasmanian climate) has now past and it is December. The colonies have been expanding quickly, maximising the brood growth to ensure they have large numbers of bees for pollen, resin and nectar collection. It is during November we have increasing numbers of hungry brood and a slight slow-down in flowering species. Our spring flowering has been mixed however Tasmania as usual has had pollen in abundance from July onwards. The summer nectar from our large trees and bush supplies is still reaching its peak and remains patchy. The blue gums have been flowering in a most sporadic fashion.
As well, a new colony is busy drawing out comb for the expanding brood and honey flow. It takes very large amounts of nectar/honey to produce this comb.
This is why most beeks do not take honey during November.
As your colony draws out the last outside frames, it is time to add another box. To encourage the bees to fill the second box, pull the two middle frames of honey into the new box and place the two new frames into the bottom box. This assists the bees to expand into the new combs quickly and create a larger area for them to lay eggs. It also assist them in not becoming honey-bound which would slow their brood expansion.
It is common after adding a new box to see previous honey (capped or uncapped) disappear at this time. You think they have been doing so well and then they appear to be going backwards. This is temporary as they are using it to draw new comb and providing they have visible nectar, they are doing well.
Try not to support the colony with sugar syrup as this should only be used in emergencies. Sugar syrup changes the pH of the hive inviting disease, it changes the natural pathogens in the bees and interferes with the quality of honey production. If we want good quality honey, then do not harvest or eat honey made from sugar syrup.
This is a watch and see time. Most of you have your boxes at two or three high now and it is most important to encourage the bees to build the best stores possible for their first winter. It is recommended to take no honey harvest in the first year, to enable a healthy, booming colony for your next summer.