As we head into early spring we need to start preparing for the massive explosion in numbers of bees. It's one of the most important bee management activities of the year for a successful bee business.
Naturally, bees will start to increase their numbers as the nectar food sources increase. But as a beekeeper, you will want the hives to be at a maximum strength as the nectar - or honey flow - hits. The more bees you have at honey flow, the more honey the bees will make, and the idea is always to get the maximum honey harvest from a colony. So the trick is to manage the colonies so they can build up high numbers of foragers before the honey flow starts.
It takes 3 weeks for an egg to emerge as an adult worker bee. Then 3 more weeks for it to become a forager. That's 6 weeks: egg to forager. And in Auckland our honey flow starts in November. So we want to encourage the bees to start making babies in about mid-August on.
And how? By feeding the bees. I mentioned in the last post Gorse Pollen for Bees that the bees need pollen, and one source is gorse. But they also need nectar, or a substitute. So we feed our bees with sugar syrup. We need to start about 4 weeks before the honey flow starts to ensure enough foragers are ready.
The spring sugar syrup is a 1:1 ratio sugar to water, to encourage the bees to build up brood numbers and go foraging. In autumn when we feed also, we use 2:1 sugar to water, for different reasons.
We use frame feeders. You can see in the picture it looks like the syrup is just being poured straight into the hive but its going into the feeder box beside the brood frames. It has an insert to stop the bees drowning and allows them to climb back out, which feels like a feature! There are lots of other styles of feeders too.
The main rule with feeding is don't put any feeders outside the hive. This will encourage robbing, and is not hygienic and may lead to the spread of disease.
The other trick with maximum honey production is beehive size. 2 small hives will make less honey per bee than one big hive. Which makes sense if you think about it - fewer bees on the house keeping, and more out foraging.
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And…NEWS FLASH!…We are now selling honey! This is our first season with honey in jars and we are very excited. If you would like to check it out, here it is artisanhoneys.com. NZ buyers only, at this stage, but when I figure out the regulations for export, watch this space!