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Frequently Asked Questions - Beekeeping

FAQs - Beekeeping

Here are some issues you need to consider before taking up beekeeping:

Heavy Work

Honey supers (boxes) are heavy weighing up to 40kg when full although this can be reduced if three quarter size supers are used (refer Q&A on full depth vs three quarter supers below). Most of the heavy lifting occurs in the summer when the weather is hottest and you are wearing cumbersome protective clothing.

Commitment
Hives must be inspected regularly particularly over the spring and summer – often every 3-4 weeks if a varroa treatment programme is underway. Some treatments and certain colony conditions often require even more frequent visits.

Allergic reactions

All beekeepers get stung despite the protective clothing available. Most beekeepers get used to it but some localised swelling and itching is common. Some people however experience increasingly severe reactions even breathing difficulties and many beekeepers have to give up the hobby.

Eyesight

Good eyesight is needed to find queens, eggs and to identify bee diseases.

Costs

Like any hobby beekeeping can be expensive. Start-up costs for protective gear, essential equipment and two hives (hive-ware and bees) are about $1000. (It is recommended that all new beekeepers should start with two hives to enable hive repopulation should one colony die for any reason). Thereafter costs are mainly varroa treatment and annual hive registration – less than $100 per annum however most hive-ware being wooden will need replacing over time.

Legal issues

Hive site owner’s permission, apiary registration, local council permission may be required. Toxic honey testing certification may be required depending on area within NZ and timing of extraction. Food Safety regulations apply if you plan to sell or barter your honey.

Before you purchase a hive, join a beekeeping club or get practical experience with a local beekeeper. Talk to other beekeepers. The more knowledge and experience you obtain before getting bees the more likelihood they will survive over the first season or two. Neglected or mismanaged hives are a public nuisance and a source of disease for other beekeepers.

Bees should be kept where they have access to adequate supplies of pollen, nectar and water. Most places especially in a city or suburban area will meet these three requirements though the flavour of your honey and the timing of the honey flow will depend on the floral sources available.

Ideally the hive should receive maximum sun especially in the morning and shelter from the prevailing wind. Artificial shelter may be necessary to protect the hive from wind.

Bee flight-paths should face away from people. A two metre screen or fence may be necessary about a metre in front of the entrance to force bees to fly above head height as soon as they emerge from the hive.

People are often intimidated by bees in urban areas so it is a good idea to conceal hives from neighbours and public view.

Good access is essential (vehicle or wheelbarrow). A 3/4 depth super of honey can weigh 30kg so you do not want to be carrying it far. Hives on garage roofs or steep banks may look good and be out of peoples’ way but harvesting full honey boxes from such positions is difficult and often dangerous.

Bees need water – ideally a stream nearby, a stock trough or a dripping tap. Otherwise bees will be attracted to damp washing, swimming pools, birdbaths, newly washed cars etc. with resultant complaints from annoyed family and neighbours etc.

You need about one square metre of levelled ground next to your hive for you to stand and work your hive i.e. stack the hive parts as you inspect and manipulate frames etc.

We suggest a firm level base or plastic pallet preferably with a waterproof sheet material e.g. plastic flooring offcut on top of the pallet. This sheet or cover also prevents ground moisture permeating up through the bottom board, prevents grass growing through the pallet and in front blocking the hive entrance.

This generally comes down to personal preference and physical capability. Full depth boxes can weigh 40kg when full and obviously the maximum weight of a three quarter box will only be 30kg. For a hobbyist unused to lifting heavy weights, the extra ten kilograms can make a big difference!

Bees will thrive just as well in three quarter depth brood boxes as in the more traditional full depth box therefore hobbyist beekeepers should consider using hives made up of entirely three quarter boxes. They are completely interchangeable, lighter and easier to manipulate.

The disadvantages of using three quarter boxes are that more boxes are required to hold a given quantity of honey and therefore cost is slightly more.

There is a compromise particularly as brood boxes are less often lifted as are honey supers – use full depth brood boxes and three quarter honey supers. However this option means you cannot easily swap frames between brood boxes and honey supers. You can put a three quarter frame into a full depth box but the bees will waste time and energy filling the gap under the bottom bar with burr comb. And of course you physically can’t insert a full depth frame into a three quarter box unless there is a space in the box below.

Traditionally frames (mostly Hoffman style) are made from pine embedded with beeswax foundation sheets. However plastic frames are becoming more popular mainly because they are more robust and last longer than the wooden frames (they can be spun faster and without turning over twice in an extractor), the cost difference is decreasing and also bee keepers appear to have less time and inclination to assemble and wire frames and embed wax foundation.

As bees much prefer wooden frames, there is a compromise – wooden frames and plastic foundation sheets. These however require grooved bottom bars and often end bars for support.

Normally you should have ten frames in a brood box although with build-up of wax and propolis and to ease frame removal this is often reduced to nine. Frames should be spread evenly over the box. In honey supers, frames should be reduced to nine (or even eight if plastic frames are used), as extra space will encourage bees to draw these frames out beyond the shoulders of the end bars. This makes honey extraction very much easier – and usually you will get more honey from nine fat combs as opposed to ten skinny ones.

You should move hives only when the bees are not flying – either at night or in cold or wet weather. Dusk is recommended (provided the bees have stopped flying) as you can still see what you are doing.

It is possible to shift bees in the morning provided the hive entrance has been blocked or screened the previous evening.

Block the entrance with a piece of wire or plastic mesh big enough to be able to be well pushed in (a piece of crumpled newspaper or rag will do).

Strap the hive together tightly with a ratchet tie-down or cargo strap.

If transporting on a trailer or truck or ute tray, tie the hive down to the vehicle to prevent any movement.

Take a full bee-suit with you in case of accidents in transit.

You should transport the hive with the entrance at the front or rear to stop the frames swinging in transit and crushing bees.

At the new apiary site, set the hive out in its permanent position and remove the hive entrance screen or blockage – ensuring the entrance is reduced to about 75-100mm in width to enable the colony to better defend itself against robbing or wasps.

Feed sugar syrup in the evening and take care not to spill any syrup about the hive. Use 2:1 ratio (two parts by weight of sugar to one part water) using white sugar as brown or raw sugar can contain impurities and cause dysentery in bees. Mix the sugar with warm or hot (not boiling) water to dissolve it more easily.

Continue feeding the syrup at weekly intervals if the weather is cool or wet. Feed until all frames in the first super are drawn out. When the bees are well established and there is a continual nectar flow, the feeder may be replaced with a frame or two of drawn comb or comb foundation.

As the bees draw out the frames, move the pollen frame out and insert a foundation frame.

Once the bees occupy all the frames, a second brood box of comb should be added. Lift one of the centre frames up into the second box to induce the bees to move up.

Top Bar Hives – Inspect every five days and continually feed. Make a long L shaped tool (like a hack saw blade with a bent end) to cut any comb joined to the side walls and bottom of the hive. This will make lifting comb for inspection much easier.

All hives MUST be registered with AsureQuality once positioned on their permanent site. Apiary Registration is available here. AsureQuality will add your map or grid reference in need provided your property details and hive location are specific and sufficiently detailed.

Registration is free but an annual apiary site charge is levied to cover Management Agency which administers biosecurity inspections and issues.

Registration numbers need to be clearly displayed on at least one box of each hive or on a sign in each apiary.

Regular requeening is essential for productive and enjoyable beekeeping.

Queens can live for 4-5 years but egg production decreases after 2nd year.

Requeening Advantages

– Less swarming – swarming more likely as queen ages.

– More honey gathering – younger bees – more prolific egg laying – more brood – more bees in the honey flow.

– Simpler hive management – similar hive manipulations at same visit reduces apiary time.

– Keeping the desired strain of bees – regular requeening reduces swarming and supercedure tendency therefore desired qualities retained and not lost if swarming occurs.

When to Requeen

Advantages of Spring requeening:   

– Produces young queens for the honey flow

– Taking nucs off for requeening can be part of swarm prevention

– Hives are smaller and easier to manipulate.

Advantages of Autumn requeening:

– Hives are stronger

– Better weather for mating (more drones around)

– Failing colonies are easily identified and can be split into nucs for replacement

– Bought queens are more readily available.

Buying caged queens

– Usually delivered by courier in plastic mailing cages with about half a dozen attendant worker bees

– Can be kept for 7-10 days inside the house

– Dangers – overheating, drying out and flyspray!

– Warm area but NOT near a heater, in direct sunlight or in the hot water cupboard.

– Drop of water on the cage twice daily.

Introducing Caged Queens

Principle Rule – Never kill the old queen until you have something better to replace her with

– Prepare 4 frame nuc (queenless for < 24 hours) – 2 frames of capped brood , 1 frame of stores & 1 empty frame plus nurse bees shaken off about two frames

– Remove tab over exit hole at candy end of cage

– Place cage horizontally in middle of nuc box but just below top bars squeezed between 2 brood frames so bees can groom her & absorb her pheromones through the cage mesh

– Exit hole in the candy end should be slightly uphill so any dead attendant bees will not block it.

– After 3 days (optional) check that queen has been released but do not interfere with brood for another 10-14 days otherwise queen could be rejected by the colony.

– After 10 -14 days check for presence of eggs, remove cage and push frames together – leave for another 1 - 2 weeks.

– Wait for about 3 weeks and until new queen has sealed brood before uniting with and requeening the parent hive using the newspaper method (after killing the old queen).

Introducing the caged queen directly into the main hive is less likely to be successful – field bees are less accepting of a new queen and if the queen is not accepted you have no back-up – you have already killed the old queen.

Some beekeepers make up nucs or splits without introducing a ripe queen cell or mated queen. The nuc is left to raise its own queen under an emergency impulse however bees are not good at selecting the best age of larvae and failures often result.

A third method is to lightly spray several of the brood combs with air freshener before introducing the queen cage. This confuses the bees sufficient to allow the queen to join the colony without being killed.