April | Beehive Management

This month in the Hive

Wintering of Hives (continued from last month)

ChillyAs we move into late April, milder maximum daytime temperatures, colder nights and chilly early mornings are indicative that autumn has truly arrived and winter is not far off.  As a responsible beekeeper you should have already considered the critical factors outlined in last months’  “This Month in the Hive”, namely:

i) Choice of locality / site.

ii) Appropriate stores of honey / pollen.

iii) Adjustment of available space inside the hive

to ensure the hives are prepared for a successful wintering and emerge strongly in spring time.

Additional Considerations for Winter Preparations

i) Increasing shade/diminishing sunlight

ii) Short term pain/long term gain

iii) AFB testing

i) Increasing shade/diminishing sunlight

As the sun moves lower on the northern horizon, we face less hours of sunshine, lower temperatures and increasing shade time. All of this adds up to reduced opportunity for the bees to be able to exit the hive and work effectively and maintain hive hygiene.

Consequently you need to ensure through regular observation (every couple of weeks) that the location you have chosen to winter your hives in continues to maximize the available sunshine, and minimizes the detrimental factors of wind and shade. All of these will subtly change as autumn, then winter progress.

ii) Short term pain/long term gain

Casual observation of a hive, which shows plenty of bees flying to / from the hive now, may lead one to the conclusion that they are working a good nectar flow and therefore you could remove several frames of capped honey in the “expectation” that the bees will replace this in next to no time.

The reality probably is:  – A proportion of the bees will be bringing in water, not nectar!

– Any nectar flow at this point in the year is likely to be very short lived!

Avoid a key mistake made by many inexperienced beekeepers. Be prepared to err on the side of caution and leave the hive with more, rather than less, full frames of honey. A little short term pain, in you forgoing several frames of honey in order to ensure a successful wintering, will result in a much stronger hive emerging for a new season in spring.

Where possible, don’t leave empty or part-filled combs on the hives. Any unsealed honey in these can absorb moisture and may ferment. Unoccupied combs can become mouldy.

If you have several hives, and one (or more) of appears to have inadequate supplies of capped honey for winter, combs of honey may be taken from hives with excess quantities and given to hives that are short on supplies. However, ….. it is vital to make sure that both the donor hive and the hive to receive the combs are free of disease. Swapping combs between hives is a very likely way of transferring disease!

iii) AFB testing

A vigilant beekeeper would be observing their hives constantly for signs of disease and/or pests. At least three specific inspections for signs of American Foul Brood (AFB) should be carried out during every season. Once at the start of spring, once during the summer and once just prior to the “winter shut down”.

Early detection and a good understanding of disease management will help lessen the effect and further spread of any disease. Be aware that a brood disease such as AFB can occur in even in the one comb. But this is the time to detect and eradicate AFB, especially if you move combs and other components from hive to hive.

If there is an autumn infection of AFB, the disease may not have much effect until large-scale brood rearing commences in the following spring as the number of AFB infected larvae greatly increases in the hive.

Because AFB is difficult to detect in the early stages, take time to thoroughly inspect brood throughout the year, but particularly when hives are prepared in autumn for winter pack-down (and spring).

It is standard procedure is to take excess supers of combs off hives during preparation for winter. An infected super stored during winter will spread infection in the apiary if it is placed on another hive in the spring. Hobby beekeepers can take steps to return supers to the same original hive by numbering both the hive and the super.

Reference:  “Australian Beekeeping Guide”, R Goodman 2015

Further information:

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