Finally had a break in our severe cold winter…enough for them to complete a 3 day cleansing flight and bring in water. The last two days we have been going through each hive and adding feed…they were light.
We added a bit of sugar syrup from a homemade syrup spray bar…this works especially well in weaker colonies. Since willow bloom and dandelion bloom is still a few weeks way, we also fed them a mixture of their own honey and beebread (not recommended if your equipment has brood diseases).
Thanks Eva…there’s so many ways of completing tasks in beekeeping. This springtime method of feeding eliminates the need for frame feeders which take up room in the brood box…get waxed in…and need to be cleaned on removal.
hello there Doug, look forward to seeing how your next season progresses. Ours is just winding down- worst season in living memory here in South Australia. As you know I lost two hives when temps hit 47c here- now having spoken to more beekeepers I found out hundreds (at least) of hives died on that day right across our state. Commercial beekeepers report being down on production by at least 75% and colony losses around 50%… So suffice it to say: I am looking forward to next year and hoping it is good one…
I am curious about the first photo you posted: what’s going on there? I know you set supers on their side like that to clear them of bees (a tip I am keen to try)- but I am assuming this is something else? Why is there comb extending out of the bottom of those boxes?
Hi Semaphore…gulp…that’s quite a hit. And reminds me of some of the early pioneers in our country describing this land…when it was first settled…as “tommorrow’s country”. I was raised on a farm and with that background look upon beekeeping as the most specialized form of animal (insect) husbandry…prone to so many unpredictable forces working against survival of your operation. When all is said and done, the longterm beekeeper has to be content with intermittent positive reinforcement…and the simple pleasure of just being in the company of bees. So I hope next year for the SA beekeeper is more gratifying.
Good eye and good question.
So when our brief honeyflow is over, we reduce our colonies to a single brood chamber for wintering. Most of the honey producer colonies are 6 or 7 FD boxes high when we remove the last honey pull…so where do the bees all go?
An empty shallow super (or equivalent) is placed on the bottom board under the single brood chamber used for wintering. This serves as a “overflow parking lot” for summer’s bulk bees and when the winter stores are topped up in late fall, the bulk bees simply build just enough comb to suspend themselves on mass on the underside of the queen occupied brood chamber above. This hive configuration gives us the correct ventilation requirements…so important in this climate as excessive moisture condensation creates molding of frames and stress diseases like nosema take down the colony down rapidly. We’ve found that in most cases, two brood chambers is too much room…one brood chamber crammed with bees can deal with moisture buildup more effectively.
And at this time of year…early spring…we individually remove the hives from the beehouse, tip them on end…gently smoke them off that sacrificial bottom comb (see photo)…remove that comb…and undersuper with a brood box with ample feed ( honey/beebread) and a bit of sugar syrup. The hives are placed back in the beehouse where their increased activity collectively creates enough heat to keep the beehouse temperature at 20C…remember the countryside still is covered in snow…but brood rearing is well underway and it’s too early for natural pollen…3 weeks away…a critical time of year to be giving the bees what is required.
wow- that’s fantastic- very interesting. It looks as if all that comb is empty at this stage too, no brood in it? Perfect for removal. This year I also plan to remove all supers and push my hives down to a single brood for wintering- I wonder if your idea would work here as well. Other years when I have done that I have been worried when suddenly removing a super and dumping all the bees into the brood box- that it would be overcrowded…
Our winters are completely different of course- we rarely ever drop below zero- no frost- and daytime temperatures around 14-20 C. The bees forage right through whenever the sun is out. But having that extra space at the bottom could be good- and we also have nosema and chalkbrood sometimes in the winter months, and moisture and mold can be seen. I am also planning to make some ventilated quilt boxes this winter to help with that.
Can’t wait to see how your colonies go over the next spring season- good luck- may the flow be with you!
So what a year in northern Alberta, Canada…and by that I don’t mean it was a “wonderful” year. The rain and cooler temps you in Australia expect in winter ended up on our northern hemisphere doorstep in midsummer. The over-used word “unprecedented” comes to mind…July & August (our big honeyflow months) were rain, rain, rain followed by cool days. I’ve emptied my rain guage out twice for a total of 10 inches…and an exceptional growing year might have 5 inches of rain. We are more of an arid, windy climate being on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Now it’s fall and reports are emerging of commercial guys getting 20/30/lbs/hive…maybe 100 lbs if they were lucky…this is in an area where 200lbs is the historical average. The honey has high moisture content…and one commercial guy said he had a hive swarm rate of 15%…swarming is usually not a problem here. So mother nature has educated us again as to the new parameters of a changing climate. All of this is so ironic because by the 3rd week in June, all conditions were in place for a bumper crop…optimism at our local beekeepers field day was at an all time high.
Hi Doug , Maybe we should insist all politicians to become beekeepers to see first hand the “new parameters of climate change”. Wish you well for next season. Here in South Australia the winter was mild, with early spring build up of bees but forecast is hotter and drier than average.
In my sub-tropical coastal climate in Queensland the season is a wet summer and a dry winter - normally, but this past 12 months have set it all on its ear. Record heatwaves in temperature and duration last summer with maybe 10% of the average rain meant a hard time for the bees finding flower that had nectar. Now I’m into spring after the warmest winter on record and my last rain back in March it would be very foolish to deny that the climate at least over the past year isn’t setting new parameters that we should at least think of how we can better manage our hives.
In other words, expect more of the same for you and me …so I’m continually thinking of ways to adapt my bee operation.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
My daughter’s (the boss) honey business has competitors in the local health food stores…but she was telling me the other day that she’s heard reports of their (her competitors) honey fermenting…not surprising considering the weather we’ve had…this is a serious problem. But to address this isssue of high moisture content in our honey, we’ve experimented with installing a de-humidifier in the beehouse a couple of days before honey removal. Now it’s easy to get our honey under 17% moisture content…and high moisture content is of no concern. And you should see how the bees react to the de-humidifier…they love it…as if to say “thank you” for making our job easier.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, our commercial operation didn’t even own a refractometer…our honey was always dry…even when capped only 20%…how things have changed!
A local commercial beekeeper that’s a great guy and an excellent beekeeper told me recently that he had to supplementary feed his starving beehives this spring (it was cool and dragged on) to the tune of 40 tons of sugar. And this fall he had to do the same (X2) to prepare for winter…so his input costs start to skyrocket. Meanwhile our insulated beehouses shield the colonies from those cool nights (nights have always been cool here) and the following patterns of cool, damp days (which is new). Very little spring or fall feeding is done…I call those beehouses “Tiny Print Beehouses” because of the lower input costs…no BTUs disappearing into the night sky.
These “adaptations” that I refer to often are not discovered by design…more by accident.
Beekeepers… as a group…have to be close to nature and it’s cause and effects otherwise husbandry goes out the window. And in my country, I’m somewhat skeptical that politicians…and many scientists…would have the awareness to guide me in adapting to climate change.
My last 12 months has been harsh and causing a lot of thinking about best managing my hives. It seems at least the climate change scientist that deny it is now happening have at least gone quiet even if they still refuse to accept it is happening now.
As for the politicians they unfortunately have vested interests and little practical experience or knowledge but continue to say whatever they are told is the party line by the political machine. Politicians are great talkers but fail to listen to their employers, the voters.
thanks for the update Doug, sorry to hear about your poor season.
thanks to climate change last season was the worst in living memory here in South Australia. Dry winters means no nectar in the flowers. Summer heatwaves put massive stress on the bees.
I am thinking about your beehouse- I have hives int he adelaide hills- I am thinking to see if I can build a kind of bee-house up there. Even though our conditions must be very different than yours- I feel the idea would have big benefits here too. In summer it could keep the hives cooler- and in winter stop heat loss. The design would be different than yours, a passive solar design- I would make it with a large window that allows winter sun to enter and heat a concrete floor or similar heat sink- - where the window is angled such that the high summer sun doesn’t go in. I reckon the bees will love it and it may offer some future proofing against what is coming.
We were pleasantly surprised by what we ran into when we were pulling the last honey, reducing the colonies to their winter quarters, and getting on the varroa mite controls. My back is still recovering and I thank my lucky stars that I run hives in insulated buildings…it really paid off.
So am I assuming that you would install the window to add heat during winter?
If that is the case, don’t underestimate the heat that a hive can generate…the photo below shows warm moist air the bees create under our conditions (extended period of -20C to -40C) condensing and freezing when it hits outside conditions. The key is to match the number of hives in the bldg to the square footage of the room they are in. In our case, 22 hives in an 8’ X 12’ room…so around 5 sq. ft/hive as a starting point. Adjustable fresh inlet air and exhaust air openings are required…and you just have to play with that over a few seasons to arrive at which settings make the bees comfortable. The key is to keep them as dormant as possible (+5C with the use of a vent fan)…and like all bee wintering structures around me, total darkness.
I know that your conditions are so different than mine…and it will be interesting to see if there would be any cross-over benefits. And this wintering beehouse is on the electrical grid…which may or may not work for your location in the Adelaide Hills.
Sorry about that…hopefully that is better Dawn. So when you play that video and it’s over, do you see a random set of optional videos you can continue to watch or is my video the only one you can play?