Hive of activity

By: Grass Esposti

Spring. When weather conditions make us smile, blossoms and flowers appear, bees are busily bringing in food and beehives are rapidly increasing in size. Only ducks and toddlers in puddles seem to have appreciated our recent wet and windy conditions.

Meanwhile, bees emerging from winter have often depleted their food stores and risk starving. From September to November, beekeepers regularly check their hives to ensure food is available and provide feed for the bees if required.

This month, the natural phenomenon of swarming often occurs. Swarming is presently at its peak, but checking your hives regularly for queen cells will prevent your hive from swarming. Alternatively, your hive may become queen-less because the queen has failed – mostly due to the extreme pressure and stress of spring hive activity.

A honeycomb featuring queen cells with their distinct, elongated peanut shape.

Personally, I detest the word “failed” since the poor queen, like most mothers, was probably just exhausted and overwhelmed supporting the hive.

At this time of year all beekeepers check to see that the queen is alive, well and laying eggs. If your queen is okay then preventing other queens from being born will stop the bees from swarming and keep the hive intact. When performing a spring hive inspection, ideally on a warm windless day (ha ha!), aim to check the following:
•    Is the queen present?
•    Are there plenty of eggs, larvae and capped brood? Capped brood refers to newborn bees that are nurtured and protected in a cell capped with beeswax.
•    Is there food (honey) in the hive?
•    Is there a good egg laying pattern?
•    Are there queen cells? These have a distinct, elongated peanut shape and hang down vertically from the frame. Capped brood lies horizontally on a frame.  
•    Check varroa treatments have worked and remove the chemicalstrips designed to kill varroa. Varroais a devastating mite that sucks bee blood.

It is daunting for newbies to perform hive inspections, let alone try to identify eggs, larvae, or queen cells. At times, there are so many bees you seriously doubt you will ever confidently identify your queen at all. Rest assured that you will soon learn to spot HRH. Start your inspection by removing one or two frames. Check them and then lean them against the external side the hive.  This now leaves you with more room for the rest of the inspection.

Proper protective clothing and avoiding wearing a skirt or shorts makes sense during this process. Check the queen is not on the frame, then gently shake the bees off into the bottom of the box. This will free the frame of bees and you will then be able to detect any queen cells.

During November, Warkworth Beekeepers Society teaches more about swarm control, how to re-queen a hive and how to split hives. Buzz along and join us at our local educational apiary.

Info:; Ph 021 0264 9674.

Grass Esposti, Warkworth Wellsford Beekeepers Society


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