After all the expansion of a new nucleus colony to increase brood size (see earlier b blog), a slightly different approach is useful during 'honey flow'. It is important for the brood to always have frames to expand should the bees wish to do so and, if there is a large and/ or fast nectar flow, there needs to be even more room. Without room, the bees will put nectar in every available cell including those in the brood frames. Soon the brood is locked under honey and is said to be 'honey bound'. When this happens, the queen will slow her laying or the bees swarm. So here are some thoughts to continue expansion of the brood while increasing stores for your first winter over.
Two principles that may help...
Let the bees decide how high they want to take the brood. In a Langstroth, if the brood is only covering a small area of the top frame, then do not move brood frames up. This could weaken the brood area. They may have found their own equilibrium and want to keep their brood at that height. As long as they have room to the sides, this is fine. If the brood area in the top box is high and large, continue to lift some frames to the next box. These choices depend on how early you started your nucleus colony, the weather and forage as well as the strength of the colony. Some hives are already at four boxes while late starters are just filling their second box. As long as the colony is strong, they still have time to reach a good size before winter.
Bees do not like to continually walk over their capped honey. This is like wiping your feet on the carpet all the time!! It gets grubby fast. Bees need easy access to empty frames for the storing of nectar.
With the good honey flow this year, particularly in suburban areas, we need to increase the space more quickly than with the brood development. When four or five frames are filled with uncapped nectar or capped honey it is time to add another box. In some flows like blue gum and leatherwood, the bees can fill a box in a week, so plenty of room is required. Keep a close watch on the bees coming and going. If the weather is good and traffic is high there is a good chance that the nectar is building quickly.
In this first year of allowing a new colony to expand it is often useful to move capped frames to the outside allowing them to fill the fresher frames in the centre. When the box is 50% full add another box this time under your first honey super. (This box is above the brood frames but below the first honey frame.) This gives the bees another chance to expand their brood if they wish or to continue to stack their pantry with nectar without constantly walking over the comb. If the flow is very fast you may need to add another box within the week. Remember this first year is about building the strongest hive possible before winter. Therefore it is best to leave all the honey for the bees.
We have a short season and a cold winter in Tasmania, so ideally by March/ April I like to see a nucleus in its first year with three to four ideals of brood and three ideals of honey. As the weather cools, the bees will slow their gathering and in fact may use some of this honey, so you may not be going in to winter with as much honey as you first thought.