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April Bee Notes form the Abbey Bee Keeper

This year I opened my hives at least two months earlier than last year. The fine, warm weather made this possible. But I was also impatient to see what was going on in the different colonies!

Five of the eight have brood but three don’t and I suspect these have no queen. All the others have brood on two or three frames.

In two of the queenless colonies I noticed pollen being brought in which makes me think that there may be a queen present. She may have just got off to a slow start this year!

This early March inspection allowed me to rearrange frames. Many of the brood frames were so full of ivy honey that the queen was running out of space to lay her eggs in.

It will be interesting to see if these early inspections (I have now done two) make any material difference to the development of the colonies. I know it will also be difficult to determine precisely which factors actually help or hinder development.

I am assembling frames and will soon put in the wax. I am excited to see how the polystyrene Langstroth hives do – deciding to keep them has meant I have now got three types of hive which is against all the expert advice! But then I enjoy experimenting! It is clear to me that the polystyrene hives are way ahead of the wooden ones. I am told that there is a bigger problem with disease in these hives.

DEAD COLONIES

Any hive where the bees have died should be treated carefully. The

inside of the hive and the top and bottom bars of the frames should be scraped clean of brace comb and any inferior combs cut out of their frames and stored in a sealed container, to avoid the attention of wax moths, until they can be rendered into blocks of wax.  I dispose of my inferior brood combs by burning. Thus getting rid of disease spores.  Very little wax is obtained from old brood combs in any case.

A stack of hive parts together with serviceable combs, should be made in the open air and fumigated using absorbent pads, placed between each box and soaked with 80% glacial acetic acid. The stack should be closed off and left for a week, then dismantled and the boxes aired in a bee-proof shed and left until required later in the season.

Fumigation should be carried out using goggles, face-mask and rubber gloves because acetic acid is corrosive to flesh, metalwork and concrete. If the brood chamber is some years old it will probably have tinplate frame runners. These can be smeared with Vaseline to reduce the effects of corrosion.

SPLITTING COLONIES

If some of the colonies are building up too quickly or if you wish to increase your number of stocks or reduce the incidence of swarming you may want to split a strong colony.

Normally you would do this in early May but in any case you have to wait until the evening temperature is warm enough so that the transferred brood will not become chilled. It can be a gamble with the weather! A well- populated hive can keep their brood warm on a cold night, but not a small split. And you need drones on the wing.

There are many variations in making splits.

A split means taking several frames of brood, bees and food sources taken from a strong hive, and placing them in an empty hive.

You can think of it as a controlled swarm, although a natural swarm has no brood or comb. When making a split, we add brood, nectar and pollen. 

WHAT TO DO

From the hive to be split take out  4 or 5 frames of brood in various stages of development, together with the bees on those frames, and place them in an empty box. Add a frame or two of nectar and pollen from the strong hive. And, I feed my new split 1:1 syrup.
If you know that your transferred brood has eggs that are less than three days old, you do not have to add a queen as the split hive will raise their own from the fertilized eggs in the brood.

CHALLENGES IN MAKING SPLITS

With lots of hives in small areas, stronger hives have a tendency to rob small splits of their honey. If it is a problem simply move the split at least 2 miles away, keeping it there until it can become large enough to defend itself. Then you can bring it back and place it where you want.

Also, sometimes I fail to provide enough bees, especially nurse bees, to care for the amount of brood I have transferred into the new split. Therefore, it is helpful to shake frames of young bees into your split hive.

Another challenge may be that one of the hives may not raise their own queen. In this case, it is important to check within a few days to see if a queen cell is being formed. If not, you need to order a queen.
STINGLESS BEES

There is a stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) in Australia which is generating a lot of interest.

Peter Clarke of the Ku-ring-gai Community Volunteer Program, when he heard about this bee decided to set up his own hive of stingless bees.

Since then, Mr Clarke has headed a program within the council to provide local households with a hive each.

It is hardly surprising that people are interested in them; besides having no sting they are hard working, thrifty and well organised. They tick a lot of boxes!

The council has been overwhelmed with the programs response, with 250 hives in new homes already with a waiting list of about 150 people as well,” Mr Clarke said.

Good luck to them. I wonder when and if we will ever get to use these stingless bees!

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