The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
The planning of hive management on a seasonal basis is useful up to a point. Many aspects of the particular year need to be evaluated and judgements made. To be considered are the present condition of the bees, including the health of the queen, the numbers of the colony, the pollen and honey stores of the colony and the presence of drones and/or queen cells; and the future prospects of the colony in terms of flora and weather. Beekeeping is not an activity that follows a program of fixed calendar dates; each year is different and management has to be modified accordingly.
With the passing of the late spring swarming tendency, hives are generally settling down to the working of the main honey flows. Each good rainfall is usually followed by a good growth of ground flora, with both nectar and pollen supply peaking a few weeks later. Depending on the season and hive management this may produce the inclination to swarm again in late January or February.
Checking the condition of the hive
Early in the season the colony needs to be evaluated. Is the queen laying well? Check the number of newly laid eggs and brood cells. If they are sparse the colony may have a failing queen. You can either watch for replacement queen cells being developed or else requeen from a commercial source. If queen cells are present in a healthy colony then swarming may be imminent, and control may be necessary.
Check the number and type of the bees in the hive. There needs to be plenty of young nurse bees as well as the older foragers. Are there mature drones present? They will be needed if the hive supercedes a failing queen.
The stored pollen and nectar needs to be checked also. The pollen is found stored around the brood nest. with honey stored further away. The simplest way to test the stores is to tip the whole hive and judge the weight. Make sure the hive is strapped together before you do this! With practice, you can tell when a colony is strong, when depleted, and when it needs extra storage space. When a hive is working a flow there is a heady rich aroma near the hive especially on a summer evening as they work to dehydrate the nectar to make honey.
If a good flow of nectar is anticipated then providing the hive with storage space is necessary. Boxes (called supers) are added above the bottom or brood box. It is general practice to restrict the queen to the brood box with a queen excluder. Frames that have only foundation should be placed with drawn comb frames. If a whole box of empty frames is to be added it may be necessary to entice the bees into the top box by moving some frames with brood up and placing them in the middle of the frames. Just make sure that the queen is kept in the bottom box or youll have brood amongst your extracted honey. Honey with real body! Frames to be drawn are best placed towards the outside of an established box, either in the brood box or a super.
If the bees have had a good season, and the stores are adequate, extracting can be undertaken. This is usually an autumn job but the season might require earlier robbing to control swarming or to create space in a full hive.
It is usual to only extract ripened honey, that is, honey that has been dehydrated by the bees to the right concentration and then capped with wax.
The steps involved are: uncapping, extracting, and storing. More detail on this will be in the autumn issue.
If the hive is becoming crowded and there is good prospects of pollen supply then summer swarming may tend to happen. If new hives are required then artificial swarming can be an effective control after new queen cells have been observed. This technique involves removing the old queen and about half of the workers to a new hive, with plenty of empty comb. Placing frames with some brood and nurse bees will encourage them to stay. The remaining colony rears a new queen and provided with enough empty comb and adequate stores they should remain.
If queen cells have not been made then reducing stores of nectar and pollen will reduce the risk of swarming. However, swarming is the natural method of colony reproduction so human interference may or may not be effective.
Checking for disease
Disease tends to be less prevalent in the summer, probably due to the shorter lives of foraging bees. A damp cool summer may stress the bees so keep a watch out for unexpected changes in the weight of the hive.
Ordering new queens for re-queening
If the hive queen is failing in her egg laying it is usual for the colony to supercede her by raising a new queen. However, this procedure sometimes goes wrong and the hive is left queenless, which is a terminal condition unless it is noted and corrected in time by the apiarist.
A beekeeper with a vicious strain can eliminate this with a new queen selected for being quieter. Similarly a boxed swarm of unknown parentage can be converted to a known and preferred line.
New queens can be purchased by mail from a supplier and transferred to the hive as the old queen is removed. This procedure is usually carried out in autumn, so queens need to be ordered in advance. Suppliers for this district can be found by contacting Doug Sommerville, our local Apiary Officer for the Department of Agriculture, located at Goulburn. Ralph Long also knows of suppliers.
Suggestions for inclusion in future articles and /or questions about beekeeping are welcome from fellow apiarists and from readers interested in beekeeping.
Late autumn is the time to remove that extra honey super, thus reducing the hive to a brood box and a super of honey for winter food. The hive should be thoroughly inspected for:
1. Any disease.
2. Old or inefficient queens. If the hive is not as quite or productive as one would like, replace the queen. Consider possible requeening of the hive in Autumn rather than spring. This way you get a good start next spring with no interruptions. If so orders for queen bees should be placed very early autumn.
3. Repairs and replacement of materials such as frames for next spring. These are got ready during winter as well as painting spare super boxes.
4. Hives should be raised off the ground. Dampness penetrates the hive and raised hives also get more of the winter sun. Marauders also find it difficult to get into raised hives.
5. Have insulation against the cold, in the form of bagging/roofing organized.
6. Take care with siting hives. If too well sheltered, bees may venture out thinking that it is a nice day and caught in the cold, may not make it back to the hive.
The inclusion of bee forage in designs is to be encouraged even if the actual harvest is not a priority of the property owner. Given the 3km distance that bees will range from a hive most plantings will be accessible to someones bees. Large scale commercial beekeeping relies on fossil fuel consumption to transport hives to follow the flows from region to region. This can be avoided by the foresight of suitable plantings. Quite a few of the street plantings in Sydneys inner city are ideal bee fodder, clearly the vision of a beekeeper in high places. Many of the listed plants have multiple functions apart from their bee forage value and so would be likely to be included anyway. Some thought for winter and early spring pollen and nectar sources will help maintain hive strength in the lean times and help numbers build-up in the new season, ultimately resulting in more honey for extraction.
Flowers and Herbs
There are, of course, many flowering plants visited by bees which can provide quantities of pollen and nectar. These can all contribute to the general floral bouquet of a honey. It is unlikely that any one would provide enough to impart a distinctive flavour or a significant honey flow. Some can provide other functions in the Permaculture garden as well, eg dandelion leaves for salads, roasted root for a beverage, lavender for potpourri. This list is by no means exhaustive:
Alyssum, Asters, Balm, Basil, Betony, Borage, Calendula, Catnip, Chicory, Clematis, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Crocus, Dandelion, Evening Primrose, Fennel, Geranium, Honeysuckle, Horehound, Hyssop, Ivy, Jasmine, Lavender, Marjoram, Mints, Nasturtium, Pineapple Sage, Poppy, Rosemary, Sage, Salvia, Savoury, Thyme, Verbena, Violets, Wisteria, Wormwood.
In the following tables
P = Pollen
N = Nectar
M = Major source
m = minor source
V = Variable major source
v = variable minor source
Tables to be added
J28 Summer 99-00