Information and tips for beekeeping all seasons in Gippsland
Early Spring Management
Early September – Gippsland
- This can be a difficult time for the bees as we often get a few days of beautiful warm weather which gets the bees out and flying, followed by really cold almost winter conditions again. Resist opening the lid and looking at your bees in cold or cool weather. The Nosema disease is deadly on stressed bees, so:
- Do not open hives till a warm day in spring about 18 or 19 deg. Sunny and no wind.
- Do not feed sugar syrup, unless bees are starving or have plenty of pollen coming in. See below for details.
- Most importantly- do not disturb clustered bees.
- Do not split the brood in cool weather or if the hive is weak.
- Weak hives should be either re queened or united with a strong nucleus colony when the weather warms up to help bring them back to honey gathering strength. You may need advice from your local club or an experienced beekeeper.
- Only open hives when absolutely necessary if the weather is cool. If you have to, then be quick about it. Know what you are going to do and get it done and the lid back on quickly within a matter of minutes, as the brood chamber needs to be kept warm. Close up quickly with minimum disruption. Imagine if someone came and took the roof off your house just when you had got it warm and cosy inside. Then you would have to warm it up again which takes a lot of energy. If the bees are already struggling, this stress could be the last straw.
- Do not be tempted to lift out brood frames as spring breezes can be fatal to young brood.
- Heft the hive (lift up the back and see if it feels heavy or light) to see how stores are going. If it feels light, the bees may need some food to get them through these first few weeks of early spring.
- Also if you have more than one hive check the activity at the entrance. If one hive has activity at the front and the other one has very little happening, that is a sign that the hive without much activity probably needs to be fed.
- Are the bees flying? If so, are they bringing in pollen in the baskets on their back legs?
- If they need feeding: You have choices: Either take a frame of capped honey from a disease free hive that has plenty and put it into a weak hive. OR
- You may have a frame of frozen honey in the freezer or in the cool room, these need to be room temperature before putting into the hive. OR
- Have a 3 litre top of box feeder if possible. It sits on top of the top box under the lid. When the lid is removed the bees are not disturbed, chilled and cannot drown, when you feed them.
- Feeding sugar syrup when your bees are starving will keep them alive. But be aware that when you feed it they may think there is a nectar flow outside the hive. This may cause them to fly out looking for the source of this sugar and become chilled and die. It also may start the queen laying too early. So only feed a small amount of warm thick sugar syrup to prevent them from starving. Say no more than 2 ltrs per hive. Thick syrup only, thin syrup may make them think there is a nectar source outside the hive. Thin syrup also has to be processed by the bees and if the bees are struggling this may not be possible. So only feed thick syrup to stop them from starving. Check again after 3 or 4 days, dependent on suitable weather conditions to see if the bees are consuming the thick syrup totally. If the syrup has been consumed feed again on a suitable day a week later. If the syrup is untouched after a week or so the bees have their own food and the syrup will ferment, so remove it. Wash the feeder out for future use.
- Freezer bags containing sugar syrup can be placed under the lid but on top of the hive mat, with small holes pieced in the top of the bag to allow bees to suck out the syrup. Don’t allow it to drip into the hive.
- Sugar Syrup recipe for thick syrup. 2 kilos white granulated sugar to 1 ltr water. In other words 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Heat the water in the saucepan and gradually add sugar stirring over low heat until clear. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Feed warm syrup to the bees. If feeding warm syrup is not possible, then feed it cold.
- If using a feeder that fits on the top of the top box, the bees will not get chilled. The syrup can be poured in to the slot and the hive lid put back on within a minute or two.
- Don't open the hive for any other reason until the weather warms up.
Mid Spring - Hive Management
End of September to end of October
- As long as the weather is warm (about 19 deg or above), and the slight breeze is warm and the bees are flying well and preferably on a nectar flow.
- Inspect the brood box to check for disease (see Pests & Diseases). Make yourself familiar with pests and diseases so that you have an idea of what you are looking for. Local beekeeping groups/clubs have mentors that can help you with this.
- Puff smoke into the entrance. Wait a moment. Using you hive tool lift the lid off a little and puff smoke under the lid. Give it a few moments in which time you can be putting your gloves on. This gives the bees time to eat some honey as they will think there is a bushfire coming. Bees full of honey find it more difficult to sting. The smoke also covers the smell of fear pheromones.
- Remove the lid and place the lid upside down on the ground. A few puffs of smoke then remove the hive mat slowly and give a few more puffs of smoke across the top of the hive.
- Unstick the honey super with your hive tool, you may hear a crack as it comes apart. Take the honey super off and place it on the lid and cover with the hive mat or a smooth cotton Tea Towel or similar smooth cloth (Not a towel as bees get stuck in the fibres).
- You are now down to the brood box (bottom box). You need to puff some smoke across the top of the brood box to push the bees down into the frames.
- Unstick the frames with your hive tool. Remove any wax etc from along the top of the frames with your hive tool and put it in a spare container. Another puff of smoke across the top.
- Remove the 2nd frame in from the box wall and check for stores such as nectar, capped honey and pollen. Remove this frame from the box and put on the sheltered side of your hive. This gives you space to slide your frames across to see what is in each frame without causing too much disturbance to the bees.
- Look at the 1st outside frame (next to the box walls. It won’t have much in it, and if it has old dark cruddy cells in it, remove it and replace with a new frame and foundation.
- Now slide the 3rd frame towards the box wall and take out half way only to see what is in it. Check it has capped honey, nectar or/and pollen around the outside with brood in a half moon shape.
- Frames 4, 5 and 6. Do the same as for frame 3. Also looking along the bottom of the frames for any queen cells that hang off the bottom. Or are in the frame with other brood. These queen cells may or may not be removed depending on the state of your hive. You may need to speak to a mentor to know what to do.
- The workers make queen cells to rear a new queen if the current queen is failing and getting old, or if they are going to swarm, or in an emergency if their queen has died for some reason. They make more than one cell just in case something happens to that cell, so there are more likely to be four or five queen cells. When a queen emerges, she will kill any other queens that haven’t emerged yet. There is only one queen per hive. It takes around 15 days for a new queen to emerge, so give them a chance before you intervene. If they haven’t raised a new queen in that time, you may need to buy a queen and introduce it to the hive.
- Frames 7 and 8 do the same as frames 1 and 2.
- If frames 3, 4, 5 and 6 have brood which looks even and smells good then you can presume your queen is laying well.
- If there is no brood or scattered brood your queen may be failing and due for replacement or your hive may be queenless, you will need to seek assistance from a mentor.
- If your hive has very little brood, again, you may need the assistance of a mentor. It could be that your hive may have swarmed and it takes time for a virgin queen to be mated and start laying eggs, or your queen is old and failing.
- If frame 8 next to the cell wall and is almost empty, old, dark and cruddy, replace it with a new frame and foundation.
- A number of beekeepers in Gippsland run with two 8 framed brood boxes. This gives the queen plenty of room to lay and your hive is less likely to swarm.
- Decide if you are keeping two brood boxes or one. If one brood box, make sure your queen is in the bottom box and add the queen excluder (see below for further information).
- If running with two brood boxes and your inspection is finished, replace your honey super on top of the brood box and check it for stores. Use the smoker where necessary which is when the bees are becoming agitated. What does your honey super contain? Do you need to feed or is there enough food such as honey, nectar and pollen for your bees?
- Place a clean Queen excluder onto the top of the 2nd box as the honey box has now become the 2nd brood box. Your queen must always be in the brood box under the queen excluder regardless of how many brood boxes you have on your hive. A metal queen excluder has round edges and is softer on the bee’s wings than plastic.
- Place your hive mat and lid back on and your emlock strap or your spring clips.
- As you can see this thorough but necessary inspection of your hive takes time and the weather must be warm the whole time of the inspection for your bees to cope with it, which could be more than an hour or so.
- Provided that there were no queen cells at this inspection, an interval of ten days will give you time to act if the bees have started queen cells in the meantime. A mentor will help you with this.
- If you are lucky enough to encounter a heavy nectar/honey flow, you may need to check your bees every 10 days to two week intervals temporarily to ensure the bees have enough storage space.
- If you are running two brood boxes this is unlikely to be a problem.
- Generally fully inspect your bees once a month unless you have seen queen cells forming.
- Take your notes inside and write them up so that you know what you have done to this hive. Take whatever action you need.
- A couple of frames in the brood box with sealed/capped brood can be moved up into the centre of the honey super. When doing this gently brush the bees on the frame back into the brood box. This ensures the queen stays in the brood box and doesn’t accidentally be put up into the honey super. Nurse bees will go up through the queen excluder and look after the brood.
- Replace these frames with new frames and foundation in the brood box, this gives the queen plenty of room to lay eggs and therefore less likely to swarm. It also keeps the brood box clean and disease free by replacing the removed frames with new ones.
- This can be repeated monthly.
- Directions: Remove one outside frame from each side of the box as they are unlikely to have brood in them but they may have some pollen and honey. (Pop into the freezer for later use) If old and black destroy them. This gives you room to manipulate the rest of your frames.
- So the outside frames have been removed. Gently slide Frames 2 and 3 towards the outside of the box and so on until you come to the centre. So far you have not needed to lift up a frame of brood, so they can’t get chilled, but as you slide them you can tip them slightly to see and check the brood, brood pattern and stores around the brood. If easy to do so you can take a photo to look at more closely later.
- This leaves you with frames in the centre which will contain mostly brood. Slide them apart to give yourself room to put 2 good clean frames with clean drawn comb, or good frames with new foundation, into the centre. Correct your spacing by sliding your frames back into position.
- Check your brood, food supplies of honey and pollen as you go. You can also check for queen cells to make sure your hive is not about to swarm. See Swarm prevention and control.
- If you have two brood boxes check your top brood box and replace two of your oldest blackest frames that don’t have brood in them.
- Add your queen excluder, and top box, hive mat and lid.
- Re queen your hive if your queen is over two years old or older, or is not laying very well. See a mentor if you haven’t done this before.
Early Summer Management
December - Gippsland
Late Spring and early summer could be a time for collecting swarms see ‘Swarm Control’ and ‘Catching a swarm’ in General Beekeeping.
Only inspect hives when the weather is suitable. Sunny, warm day of above 19 deg with no wind where possible.
- Have you added your Queen Excluder? If you are using a queen excluder it’s time to add it if you haven’t already done so.
- Take note when inspecting the brood box/es: For brood disease and any other disease, pests such as small hive beetle (SHB), chalkbrood or wax moth.
- See if queen cells are there, honey and pollen supplies and look for eggs, larvae (uncapped brood) and capped brood so that you know the queen is well and laying.
- Replace old black frames with new. Clean the bottom board, and replace Small Hive Beetle traps if necessary. The brood box then won’t need to be disturbed again for another month.
Honey box/s: Check honey stores, if the honey box is ¾ full, either extract sealed/capped honey or add another box. If the frames are 85% capped then it’s safe to extract. Less than that and the honey is not cured enough and still has too much moisture so the honey can go rancid. Check honey boxes weekly or fortnightly at this time of the year. Remember that stacking the boxes too high means the bees have a lot more work to do climbing up through the stack to deposit nectar. The frames also become dirty with the bee activity.
Changing from two brood boxes back to one brood box for the summer. If running two brood boxes through winter and spring to build up your bees, which most beekeepers do in Gippsland, then you have the choice of keeping two brood boxes with the queen excluder on top of the 2nd brood box, or changing down to one brood box for the summer. Some beekeepers run 2 brood boxes all the time, and some only run 2 brood boxes during winter and spring. This is explained in the Mid Spring article.
Freezing: At any time of the season put used frames and boxes into the freezer for a couple of days before re using them. This kills Hive Beetle, Hive beetle larvae, Wax Moth and Wax Moth larvae. So just by freezing for a couple of days you kill a lot of problems with it and start off without these to contend with. Use the freezer throughout the season when recycling frames and boxes.
Keeping Notes: Keep notes on Seasonal Hive Management you will be amazed how much easier it is with notes to go on. It is also Good Management Practice.
Is your hive flourishing? So the bees should be building up to larger numbers. As by now we have had warmer weather and they should really be flourishing. If not you need to know why.
Check in the brood box and take a look at the brood pattern. This is a great example of a good frame of brood. Honey around the outside then pollen of various colours and then the brood. The pollen is close to the brood to make it easy for the nurse bees to feed the larvae (grubs).
Are the larvae (grubs) pearly white? Are the capped cells a light brownish colour? Does it smell good? If so, pop it back and pull out the next frame and check that and so on.
Is there room for the Queen to Lay? So while you are checking the brood box, is there enough room for the Queen to continue laying? If not, the bees may swarm. You may need to take a couple of frames of capped/sealed brood out of the bottom brood box and pop them in the centre of the box above, brushing off the bees on the frame so the queen isn’t accidentally taken up with the frames. So shake the bees from the frames into the brood box before putting them in the box above. If the queen was on the frames she would have been shaken down into the brood box. Replace those frames with new frames preferably with drawn out comb. New foundation would also be fine. This gives the queen room to lay more eggs.
To help prevent swarming:
- Keep your queen young, so buy a new queen every year or every two years. Young queens don’t usually swarm in their first year.
- Make sure there is no overcrowding in your hive. Check to see the queen has plenty of room to lay her eggs.
- Make sure you add a honey super before the rest of the hive is too full. Add a honey super if you haven’t done that yet. Add another honey super if the first one is ¾ full of honey and nectar.
- A honey bound queen (if lack of space has forced your bees to fill up the brood frames with honey there is no space for the queen to lay eggs therefor is honey bound. This is likely to cause the hive to swarm.
- If your hive is very strong and you need another hive, then you can split a strong hive into two smaller hives. See splitting hives.
- If it’s a very good season and your bees are on a honey flow, you may need to extract excess sealed/capped honey more often to keep the height of your hives to about the equivalent of three full depth boxes.
Hives should be building up with plenty of young bees if the weather is warm. The workers should be bringing in plenty of nectar and pollen. The following are tips to prepare for a hot summer.
Hives should be building up with plenty of young bees if the weather is warm. The workers should be bringing in plenty of nectar and pollen. The following are tips to prepare for a hot summer.
- Keep water close by for bees to access. The closer the water the least amount of flying the bees need to do to access it to help them control the temperature and humidity of the hive. Water is also needed for feeding the developing bees. If a trough is used then a landing platform needs to be supplied so that bees don’t drown. Water can be supplied in the hive by putting water into a clean sugar syrup feeder. Water needs to be in a shady area if the container is shallow; otherwise it gets too hot and evaporates too quickly. Provide floaties for deep containers to prevent bees from drowning.
- Provide shade in hot afternoon sun to hives if possible. A deciduous tree allows winter sun and summer shade.
- Remove old combs from the brood box (if it was not done in spring). If the old dark combs are in the centre and have brood in them, move them toward the outer side of the hive and put newer drawn comb near the centre for the queen to lay in. Check the hive a week or two later and if the brood has hatched you can remove the old combs and replace with new ones.
- The reason for removing these old frames are: Each time a cell is used for a new egg, the cell becomes smaller gradually producing smaller bees, also the crud that gets into the cell from repeated use can attract disease. So changing old frames for new ones each year keeps the hive healthy. See Mid Spring for details.
- Look at the hive entrance and check to see that the bees coming in are bringing in pollen. Different coloured pollen means there are various flowers available. Pollen comes in a variety of colours.
- Depending on the season it’s probably time to add your flow hive if you have one. This can be done from about the end of November onwards depending on the season. See Flow Hives.
Mid and Late Summer Management
Jarnuary & February - Gippsland
How can you help your bees in a hot dry summer?
- Water. Bees need water it’s critical for cooling hives.
- Shade. One of the simplest ways to alleviate heat in your hives is to provide shade.
- Air Vent.
- Remove or paint Metal Roofs
- The weather can be hot this time of the year. Be aware that water needs to be close to the hives. Bees keep their hives cool by using water. If the water container is deep, it needs floaties for the bees to land on so that they don’t drown. A large automatic water container for chickens can be used. It must be in the shade, otherwise the water will get too hot. Pebbles can go into bird baths so the bees don’t drown. A pond with shallow edges and pond plants is perfect too. They love water that has various nutrients in it.
- Most of the time, bees are able to control the temperature inside the hive themselves, but when it rises above 38 deg (especially for prolonged periods), your bees may need your help! In extreme temperatures, the wax in your hive could melt. So providing temporary shade on those days is very helpful. You can use shade cloth, a towel, even an umbrella is useful. If the hives have a metal lid, metal conducts heat and this could make all the difference in a heatwave, so shade the metal lid with a towel, or paint it white to reflect the heat. A sheet of timber will also help.
- Make sure the grass is cut low and it’s clear from flammable material around the hives.
- Have a hose handy in case of grass fires.
- Rest your lit smoker on a brick, paver or tile so that it doesn’t start a grass fire.
- Provide temporary shade in the afternoon for your hives if the temperature is above 38 deg.
- Do not inspect hives on a day of Total Fire Ban.
- Every few weeks check your honey stores and extract excess honey. Surplus capped honey can be extracted and those frames removed and stored. The stickies returned to the hive for the bees to clean them out. This only takes a day or so after that they can be removed, and put into the freezer for a couple of days before re using them. If not needed again this season, seal in a container to prevent re infestation.
- If it’s a good season, the frames that have been in the freezer for a couple of days can go back on the hive to be re filled. Don’t replace on the hive if they are old and cruddy, give them new frames and new foundation.
- If the weather is hot and dry there may not be any food for the bees. Look to see if you have plants flowering in your garden or surrounding area that will feed the bees. If there is very little flowering, you may need to feed sugar syrup if they have consumed the honey they collected in spring.
- Check the brood box about once a month for the queen’s laying pattern so that you know if the queen is healthy or not. Of course check for pests and disease at the same time. If in doubt phone your nearest club for support.
- Disinfect your hive tools with ??? and keep equipment and bee suit clean.
- Use separate tools and equipment for each apiary. (not each hive).
- Change small hive beetle traps when necessary. Some beekeepers put them in-between frames, others slide them into the entrance so that they can be retrieved without opening the hive. There are various types.
- The reason for storing some capped frames of honey in the freezer or cool room is that just in case of a summer dearth you have some spare capped honey frames to feed your bees with. It is also useful to have some in the freezer should the following winter be long and cold.
- Under super. If you have excess honey and no time to extract, and the bees need more room, you can under super. An empty box of clean frames and foundation can be put under the box of honey. This saves the bees from climbing right up through the hive to deposit their nectar.
- Extracting Equipment can be hired if you don’t have it. If you only have a hive or two, then Flow Hives save you borrowing extracting equipment. Flow Hives are quite expensive, but if you intend to have more than two hives, your own extracting equipment would be better. Check out what works for you.
- Be careful hiring or borrowing equipment as you don’t want disease transferred to your hives from other people’s hives through the extractor.
- If it’s your first time extracting honey, try and watch another beekeeper or go to a field day and watch it. This helps you know what to do. There are also videos on YouTube. See Extracting Honey in General Beekeeping.
- If bees beard up the front of the hive on a hot day, they are cooling themselves down, and probably fanning cooler air into the hive. They are also not crowding the younger bees in the hive. Bearding is often a totally healthy sign of a colony working at its peak. It can be a sign of a strong colony with a large population. As long as you know they have plenty of room for expansion in the hive, all is well. If you are unsure, then you will need to check on the next suitable day.
- We have a list of mentors, these beekeepers can answer your questions and guide you in the process. Phone the club and see if there are any in your area of Gippsland. If there is a beekeeper in your area you may be able to go to their place and watch them.
March, April & May - Gippsland
- Check hives for pests and diseases
- Check your queen is laying well
- Check stores in the hive
- Supplementary Feeding may be required
- Pack Down hives for winter
- Replace Small Hive Beetle traps if necessary
Extracting excess honey can take place until the end of March or April and some seasons early May. This depends totally on the season, but whenever you decide that this is your last extraction for the season, make sure you leave 8 full frames of sealed/capped honey to last through from April through to October the long Gippsland winter. The brood box (should have brood, honey and pollen) plus a super full of capped honey. So bear this in mind when you carry out your final extraction. Even put a couple of frames of capped honey in the freezer in case you need it in early spring.
Unsealed/uncapped honey frames go in the centre of the top box with frames of sealed/capped honey on the outside. This gives the bees a chance to cap this honey off.
Check hives end of March and if there is not enough honey at this stage to see the bees through winter, you still have time to feed them. Do this early autumn to give the bees time to reduce the moisture content, ripen and cap. It needs to be capped before the weather turns cold. If you leave this too late, the bees won’t have time to do this before the weather gets cold.
Feeding bees this time of the year requires 2 kg white granulated sugar to 1 ltr water, or 2 parts sugar to one part water. A thick mixture as this will encourage the bees to store it.
- Heat the water to hot
- Turn heat to very low
- Gradually add the white granulated sugar stirring constantly.
- Stir until completely dissolved and looks clear, allow cooling.
- Feed warm sugar syrup to the bees.
There are a number of different types of feeders that can be used:
Feeders: 3 litre feeders that sit on the top box just under the lid, drown proof and they don’t disturb or chill the bees when feeding. Just lift the lid off the hive, place the feeder on top of the box add the warm sugar syrup and replace the lid. The feeder can be left on to refill when needed.
Freezer bags containing sugar syrup can be placed under the lid with small holes pieced in the top of the bag to allow bees to suck out the syrup. Don’t allow it to drip into the hive. There are also frame feeders and entrance feeders. Entrance feeders tend to crystallize quickly once the weather turns cooler and the bees can’t get it.
Re Queening: Check the viability of your queen now, a good laying queen will survive winter. What is her laying pattern? When looking at the brood in the bottom brood box is the brood a sheet of velvety light brown brood, or is it scattered with many empty cells? If it’s scattered the queen may be getting old and may not last through the winter. This may cause your hive to die out over winter. If this is the case, buy a new queen from a queen breeder and re queen your hive now so that the hive is well established for winter.
Order your mated queens in late February to arrive about early March/April for autumn re queening or late October for spring re queening.
Supplementary Feeding of Bees in Autumn by Ron Branch
Supplementary feeding in the autumn is to try and induce the queen to continue laying before the onset of colder weather and to provide some extra stores in the hive.
Therefore having younger bees in the hive is the biggest help in preventing Nosema problems in the spring. A lot of autumn crops are heavy yielders of nectar but poor in the quantity of pollen. Theoretically by providing pollen or pollen substitute this should help alleviate this imbalance.
Place hives in early autumn where the bees should collect an abundance of high protein pollen. Depending on the amount being collected the hives may need a substitute, especially if kept in your backyard with little chance of foraging on pollen producing plants.
At this time of the season if sugar syrup is required use a thick mix (a ratio of around two parts sugar to one part water). Top feeders hold around 3 litres of syrup and is easy to fill.
Leave the feeders empty for a week or so before refilling. The degree of activity in the hive causes the queen to continue laying resulting in younger bees that last in a better condition approaching spring.
Discontinue any feeding by late autumn end of April to mid May and don't disturb the hives during winter except to lift the back of the hive to determine the weight. Maybe give a light hive a frame of stored honey.
Late Autumn – April or May Depending on the season - Pack down hives ready for winter.
Hive Pack down manages bees so that they survive better going into winter, during winter and being alive and healthy in spring. Bees can be fed thick sugar syrup until the end of April if there is not enough honey in the hives to last the bees through winter.
- On a fine warm day, check your brood box and see if the queen is still laying (very small amount of brood this time of the year) and that it looks healthy. There should be pollen but mostly capped honey with a little brood.
- If you took sealed surplus honey off earlier in the season, this can be fed back to the bees if there is a dearth in late summer to mid-autumn. Or you can feed through until end of April with thick warm sugar syrup. 2 Parts white granulated sugar to 1 part water.
- Remove excess supers from the hive in late autumn, unoccupied combs become mouldy and soiled with faeces. This can aggravate the incidence of dysentery and Nosema disease and wax moth attack. It also allows hive beetle to live uncontrolled. Supers and frames that are removed need to be treated to prevent them from being destroyed by wax moth while in storage. Put them in the freezer for a couple of days to kill wax moth and small hive beetle.
- Too many supers to look after stops bees from keeping it cosy and warm, instead the hive is big and draughty. So remove supers down to two boxes. The brood box and the honey super.
- Make sure hives are in a sunny, sheltered position. The sun will help keep them warm. A fence or hay bales can help prevent cold winds.
- Consolidating the hive helps the colony to control its temperature.
- Remove the Queen Excluder: In Victoria where 8 frame hives are generally used, ‘packing down’ to a single box does not hold enough stores for bees wintering in the cooler areas such as Gippsland. So pack down to 2 boxes and remove the Queen Excluder. This allows the queen to stay warm within the cluster as it moves up to the 2nd box for the food supply.
- Put the uncapped honey in the centre of the top box with the capped honey on the outside nearer the walls.
- Add a hive mat under the lid (a piece of vinyl or similar, cut to fit on the top frames leaving a gap around the edge for bees to come up under the lid. They may need to come up and feed from a bag of sugar syrup that’s under the lid, but on top of the hive mat. The hive mat prevents condensation dripping onto the bees and chilling them, instead the mat sheds the drips of condensation down the inside walls of the hive, keeping the cluster of bees dry and warm.
- Some beekeepers add a second hive mat between the two boxes ensuring there is enough gap for the bees to migrate up and down between the two boxes.
- Ensure that all hives are tilted slightly forward to provide drainage of the moisture or condensation from within the hive.
- Reduce Hive Entrance as the weather cools to about three fingers width so that the smaller number of guard bees in winter can protect the entrance from pests.
- Insert a new beetle trap through the entrance when closing down to last the winter. Or replace in frame beetle traps for the winter.
- Wax Moth and Hive Beetle Prevention: All frames and boxes removed from the hive need to go into the freezer for a couple of days. This kills wax moth, wax moth larvae, small hive beetles and small hive beetle larvae. Let them dry, and then store them in sealed plastic containers (with an old towel on top to absorb any moisture) or plastic garbage bags to prevent re infestation. Wax moths don’t like the light either, so a light can be used at the bottom of a stack of boxes and frames to help prevent re-infestation. Better still, if you have a cool room store them safely in there.
- Don’t disturb your bees: Once you have packed your hives down for winter and followed procedures above and they have honey to last through, don’t disturb them until Aug-Sept. Looking in the hive during the winter can chill the bees and this in turn can cause Nosema. If you have packed them down with plenty of honey they are much better left undisturbed until a warm spring day.
Main reasons for hives failing in winter are
- Failing Queens
- Too many frames for bees to look after
- Starvation - Starvation and Starvation!
- Your bees should be packed down for winter by now.
- Reduce the entrance. It stops a cold draft and it requires fewer bees to guard the entrance. It also prevents insects etc from invading your hive. Entrances made smaller say about three fingers wide, or the width of a beetle trap. A full depth Brood box and one honey box (either full depth, WSP or an Ideal) on top full of capped honey.
- The Hive mat should be in place on top of the frames in the top box to prevent condensation dripping onto your bees and making them cold over winter. The condensation will instead drip down the inside walls of the hive keeping the bees warm and dry. A hive mat is an old piece of vinyl that you can get from a floor covering shop. A left over piece, or a sample they don’t use any more. It’s cut to cover the frames with a margin around the edge allowing the bees to get up past it. The slightly furry underneath of the vinyl can catch hive beetles. Core flute from a Real Estate sign can also be used.
- Some beekeepers have a feeder on the top box under the lid ready to feed hives in early spring without disturbing or chilling the bees. The feeder can act as a moisture trap and may begin to catch condensation over winter. Prior to using the feeder it is wise to quickly check and empty any moisture out of the feeder. Packing down your hive had full instructions in the autumn tasks.
- Queen Excluder: This would have been removed in autumn so that the queen can be kept warm in the centre of the cluster. If you leave the excluder on she is separated from the main cluster and may become chilled. Also a metal excluder can act as a heat sink drawing warmth away from the clustering colony.
- The cluster will be reluctant to leave the queen to move up in the hive to keep warm and get to their stores. So it is very important to remove the queen excluder when packing down in autumn.
- Bees cluster together when cold and shake by moving their wing muscles to keep warm. This uses energy which means they eat their stores more quickly. They prefer to move up in the hive in winter as warm air rises. Having two boxes with no queen excluder allows the cluster to move up into the honey box to not only keep warm but also be close to their food source.
- The outside layers of the cluster is the densest, however the bees in the core are able to move around and carry out their normal chores of brood rearing and caring for the queen.
- Brood: If there is a small amount of brood in the hive the workers will cluster around the queen and the brood, regulating the temperature to around 33 deg. If there is no brood, they will keep the cluster around 29 deg, which conserves energy and food.
- Regulating the temperature in the cluster is done by the cluster expanding allowing more air to circulate or contracting not allowing much air flow. The outside bees get cold and gradually move into the centre of the cluster and the warm bees rotate to the outside of the cluster. This is a continual process.
- Ensure Hives are tilted slightly forward to allow condensation to run out of the hive. Puddles can’t form at the back of the hive and Beetle traps can’t get wet.
- Beetle traps. These would have been changed over in autumn. Beetles are not such a problem during winter.
- Winter sun. Your bees need the winter sun, it goes a long way to keeping them warm. They also need shelter from the wind. Erect some kind of wind protection such as straw bales.
- Protect hives from cold winds. As mentioned cold winds affect hives the most. If hives are in a windy area, erect some wind breaks for winter. Bees don’t like defecating inside the hive, so if there is protection from the wind this allows the bees to take a quick cleansing flight.
- Cleansing flights: The bees will take advantage of a fine day to take a defecation or cleansing flight. They will fly out of the hive, circle around and fly back into the hive before they chill. This keeps the hive clean. Having those fine days in winter allows for those cleansing flights and also helps prevent dysentery.
- A wind break and the sun will help keep the bees warm so they will eat less stores.
- Feeding: Should have been completed at the end of autumn, April or May. It’s too cold now for bees to cure and cap the sugar syrup in the winter. If you have a top feeder that fits in under the lid that is already on the hive, it can be left on as insulation, and it’s there in early spring if you need to feed.
- One box of bees: There is unlikely to be enough stores to get the bees through winter with only one brood box in Gippsland. If you only had one box of bees, these should have been joined to another weak hive in autumn making one strong hive. You don’t have the option to join it to another hive in the winter, but if it survives through to spring then it can be joined to another weak hive making one strong hive in spring. Check the entrance to see if there is any activity at all. You may have to feed them through winter with thick syrup. Feed 1 litre of warm, thick syrup at a time so that it doesn’t go rancid and let a little trickle down onto the frames from a top feeder that sits under the lid, or use freezer bags. The bees will follow the trail to the feeder and that helps them find it. Check in 2 days if the weather permits, and if they have taken the syrup, give another litre. They need to be fed on fresh syrup. When they stop feeding on the syrup, stop feeding the bees. The beekeeper can check very quickly on a warm day in spring of 17 or 18 deg to see how they are going. Ask an experienced beekeeper to give you advice on this.
- The Queen: Hopefully you checked the viability of the queen in early autumn, and if her brood pattern was good and she is a young queen then she should be fine to get through the winter. If she is an old queen then she may not last through the winter possibly rendering your hive queenless. If this happens, you probably won’t know until your early spring check. As soon as possible on a warm day, join the hive with a hive that has a queen. It would be wise to seek assistance prior to this course of action.
- A queenless hive: If the queen has died leaving your hive queenless, the hive will try to breed a new queen. If there was any young brood they will immediately feed them with some Royal Jelly to breed a new emergency queen (not high quality). But at this time of the year when she takes her maiden flight there may be no drones or very few drones to mate with so she will be infertile. If there was no young brood the hive will probably die out. The best thing to do in this case is to unite any bees that are left with a healthy colony that has a good queen. The method to unite a hive is explained on this website or talk to an experienced beekeeper.
- A drone layer may adopt being a queen if the hive has become queenless. A drone layer is a female worker bee that can only lay drones as she has never been mated. Those drones will be laid in Worker size cells so they will be stunted. This accelerates the decline of the hive.
- Hefting or lifting the back of your hive: Lift the back of your hive to get a feel of its weight; this gives you an idea of the honey stores in the hive. Try and remember what the weight feels like. Do this monthly through the winter months, if it starts feeling light and empty you may need to feed.
- Leave your hive closed: If you lift the lid to see how your bees are going through winter it just allows a cold draft to chill the hive and stress the bees. All the work the bees have done to keep it warm will be a waste of their energy. So leave your hive closed. To gauge the store level of your hive, lift the back and feel the weight.
- Winter pollen and nectar: Depending on the plants in your garden or area, your bees may be able to collect a little winter pollen and nectar on a fine day, which will help with their stores.
- Sugar Syrup: Is only used in an emergency. It keeps the bees alive if they are starving but it has very little nutritional value, so always leave plenty of honey for the bees to keep them healthy to rear the next generation.
- Do your own research: On those dark nights with nothing on the Telly, take the opportunity to educate yourself by borrowing books on Beekeeping from your club. Or of course go online and read up and watch You Tube videos to learn more about beekeeping. Make sure it is from a reliable source. See Links on this website.
- Early spring: If there is honey in the hive for early spring, it gives the bees a really good start to build up young bees for a healthy strong hive.
Ways to store boxes and frames over winter By Ron Branch
So you have packed down your hives for winter and are left with a lot of boxes and frames that need storing. To kill wax moth and small hive beetle larvae, boxes and frames need to be frozen for 2 nights. Methods 1 is for hobby beekeepers; Method 2 is for part time and commercial beekeepers.
Method 1 : Hobby Beekeeper
- Freeze each box with frames for 2 nights.
- Remove boxes and frames from freezer and let dry out for a day or so depending on the weather.
- These boxes and frames must be dried out away from the possibility of becoming re infected.
- Place dry, clean boxes with frames inside clear plastic boxes or garbage bags and seal with duct tape.
- Or store in plastic boxes. They come in a size that contains a box with 8 frames.
- If storing in plastic containers place a clean towel on top to absorb any moisture and prevent frames from becoming mouldy. Seal the lid with tape.
- Store on top of each other over winter.
Method 2: Part time and Commercial Beekeepers
- Freezing still has to take place for 2 nights, as a cool room does not kill wax moth or small hive beetle larvae.
- However you can then stack them in a cool room without putting them into garbage bags or storage boxes.
- By being in a cool room you are also protecting them from reinfestation as well as rats and mice.
- If you don’t have a cool room, you may know of an orchardist that has spare room in their cool room.
- If you are paying the orchardist for the space you would need to ask them to leave the cool room switched on during winter. Otherwise, they may turn it off over winter.
- As you cannot check your hives over winter, there are some instances where pests or disease can take over a weak hive during winter. If too many boxes with empty frames were left on over winter the bees will not be able to look after them all, and small hive beetle or wax moth could start taking over. Get advice on disease if you are uncertain and look up Pests and Diseases on this site so that you know what to do in spring when the weather warms up. Experienced beekeepers can advise you.
- If packing down to two boxes in autumn wasn’t done, then it’s too late to do it now, and you will need to wait until a suitable day in early spring to see how your bees are going.
Maintenance – Bob Stevenson
- Sort out boxes that only need painting and those that also need repair.
- Sort out unstable or broken old black frames and/or foundation and burn them.
- Do the repairs first and use Aquadhere Waterproof yellow glue to repair joints. Look critically at frames and hive hardware and don’t waste time and effort on repairing parts that are beyond repair, or are very difficult to repair.
- Now is the time to mend and repair good solid boxes and frames.
- Use an angle grinder with a rotary wire brush or an electric sander to remove the loose flakes of paint, or to take it back to the raw timber if you want.
- Pressure cleaning of boxes is also a quick way of cleaning up boxes. If it blows a hole in the box you know the box wasn’t any good and needs discarding.
- Only paint the outside of the boxes, and choose white or pastel colours. Bees are better able to control temperature during warmer periods.
- Paint boxes when the temperature is above 10-12 deg. Depending on the paint you use.
- Bees don’t like the smell of paint, but by the spring the smell would have worn off. Water based acrylic paints are now quite good and the fresh paint smell dissipates quite quickly. Gloss is more durable than satin or flat.
- In warm weather change the bottom box over with a good box, so that the bottom box can be cleaned up and painted.
- Cleaning plastic frames with plastic foundation: Use a paint scraper to scrape off old comb, then use the pressure cleaner to bring it back to the plastic foundation. Allow to dry completely then prime with a wax coating by rubbing a wax block over the foundation. Some beekeepers use melted wax to prime plastic foundation. When ordering new ones, ask for ready primed plastic foundation.
- Plastic Hives: Need very little maintenance, generally just a wipe down.
- Now your maintenance is complete, you will know what new frames and boxes you need for the coming season.
- All new timber bottom boards, lids and boxes need to be wax dipped before painting. This extends their life greatly and is well worth the effort.
- Keeping Notes: If you haven’t been keeping notes on Hive Management, organise a template so that you can start that in Spring. You will be amazed how much easier it is with notes to go on.
Late Winter Management
August & early spring September - Gippsland
Article by Ron Branch
If your hives were not in the greatest condition going in to winter, maybe due to a poor season, or not leaving enough honey, they may not survive. Late winter to early spring is the danger period for starvation.
Choose the warmest day possible using the weather forecast. If you have lifted the back of your hive and it feels light you will need to feed with sugar syrup. Look at the entrance to see if there is any bee activity. If there are a few bees, watch them and see if they are taking in pollen.
Feeders: Use under the lid feeders or inside the hive feeders, as they stay warm inside the hive. Feeders
on the outside mean that the syrup gets cold and solidifies and the bees can’t use them. The feeders under the lid mean you don’t have to open the hive which chills the bees. Just pull the lid back about 5cm or a couple of inches and pour in the syrup. Feeding 2 litres at a time.
After 2 days see if there is activity at the entrance, are bees starting to collect pollen? Check to see if the syrup has gone, have more syrup ready so if it has gone you can top it up without re opening the hive. Add another 2 litres.
Be careful! Don’t add too much syrup at this stage as it may excite the hive and the queen may start laying prematurely. If the brood starts to hatch out too early and its cold weather there won’t be the pollen to feed them, and the brood will die.
Leave for around 10 days and choose the next warm day always checking the entrance to see if pollen is going in and also check syrup. Lift the back of the hive to feel its weight. If still light then feed another 2 litres. At this time of the year it’s warming up and they can bring their own nectar and pollen in.
Phone one of our mentors for help with this. Feeding this time of the year is a delicate balance and an experienced beekeeper is happy to chat with you. The spring recipe is the same as the autumn recipe. 1 ½ Kgs white granulated sugar to 1 Litre hot water. Stir over low heat until clear. Cool down to luke warm to feed to the bees. Nectar coming in this time of the year is thin and the bees will add it to the syrup which should be