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Spring Cleaning In The Apiary


Article by: Peter Clark
Published by: The Gauteng Smallholder Magazine

The shortest day is long behind us and with the days are lengthening through July and into August the bees, sensitive to this change, in increasing numbers start out from their hives a little earlier in the mornings and end for the day a little later each afternoon.

For the bees need pollen to start brood rearing and Mother Nature provides the first new season’s pollen yielding plants, the Acacia Baileyianas, the Rhus Lancias, the poppies in the flower beds, and many more.

In the brood chambers, bees are moving honey from the brood chamber up into the super chamber to make space for expanding the brood rearing to meet the oncoming spring honey and pollen flow.

For the beekeeper, too, it’s a time of housework on his hives to set the bees on their way for the new season’s anticipated two honey crops, the first in November and the second in March next year.

A beekeeper with apiaries away from home will be busy with his record books, visiting hives on farms last visited in April.

With a good cosmos season, this year and he can hope to have achieved an average of 14kg of honey per hive. By contrast, last year’s blue gum flow was poor, averaging only seven kilograms per hive, due to the mild winter and the irregular flowering of the gums.

For 15 hives in the apiary, the beekeeper will load his vehicle with 30 replacement frames of full sheets of foundation wax, two for each hive, in three renovated brood chambers, complete with floors and lids, as well as all the paraphernalia of beekeeping such as a smoker, smoker fuel, hive tool, bee brush, a lightweight fold-up work table and, of course, full bee suits for himself and his assistants.

The reason for spring cleaning is to provide space for the new developing brood at the outset of the new season.

At the start of winter around the end of April, as the temperatures fall below 14oC, the bees slow down brood rearing and as the empty cells in the brood chamber are not reused, the bees pack honey in these cells. This brood area becomes smaller and smaller and the honey is packed down to create insulation for the minor brood development during the winter months. Honey was also removed from the super and drawn down into the brood chamber. Therefore it is imperative to leave sufficient honey for the swarm over the winter.

With the rapid advancement of the spring, this honey is a problem for the new season’s brood rearing and because the bees are confined in a brood box and not able to keep pace with the advancing season, there is no space for the expansion of the brood. This is the first condition that sets up a swarming impulse and the bees split and half the swarm hives off.

Previously, had this swarm moved into a natural open space such as a hollow tree, or inside a roof, a pool pump cover, electrical meter box or empty 210-liter drum there would be ample space to expand their new brood-rearing area next to the previous season’s area as they always do in natural conditions.

But now the beekeeper needs to clean out the brood chambers. He sorts through the frames and removes the two worst ones. He then moves the remaining frames to the outer areas of the brood chamber but retains the small brood area intact in the center of the brood chamber. He then places two frames of full sheet foundation, one on each side of the brood area but not to divide the brood nest.

The grading of the worst frames is as follows, in the order of worst frames first:

  • Drone brood combs where drone brood cells occupy more than 20% of the frame,
  • Old black combs where worker cells are getting smaller, due to their continual use during the previous seasons.
  • Badly or partly cross-built combs and poorly developed combs.
  • Honey frames where one would consider too much honey for the bees to move to create more laying space for the developing queen.
  • The term “Spring management” is also used where brood-rearing space is to be provided during the summer months.

This applies particularly to beekeepers who move their hives to provide pollination services to farmers such as, for example, bees that have been in among gumtrees from August to January and are then to be moved to sunflower from January to April, or to the saligna in the Lowveld from January to May.

Unless space is created in the brood-rearing area, they will swarm off. To avoid this swarming, “spring cleaning” has to be employed and usually on these occasions one would need to remove two or three capped brood frames of solid honey out of the brood nest and replace with full sheets of foundation, within the brood nest area by placing these frames of foundation between brood developing frames.

One can, however, also provide this extra space by adding an extra super immediately above the brood chamber, or below the queen excluder if one had fitted a queen excluder, especially during hot summer sunny days, to relieve the heat generated in the hive.

The hive will now have two supers. This maneuver creates a large area in the brood nest for the rearing of many more workers and more worker bees mean better performance and more honey.

Article by veteran beekeeper, Peter Clark.

Smallholders who are interested in keeping bees have access to assistance, advice and support from one of three beekeepers associations in the province. All three associations welcome new beekeepers to their regular meetings and have active Facebook pages.

The Northern Beekeepers Association (known as “Northerns”) meets as a rule around Pretoria and caters for beekeepers around Pretoria. For details call Riekie on 082 972-1889

The Southern Beekeepers Association (“Southerns”) Covers beekeepers in the Johannesburg, West Rand and southern Gauteng. For details email Lanz on afromedia@gmail.com

The Eastern Highveld Beekeepers Association (“Easterns”) caters to beekeepers on the East Rand, as well as members in Mpumalanga. Call Mike on 083 430-8707Call Peter C lark on 011 362-0000 for details

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