Bon Aqua Springs
By Clarence Collison, PhD
Harvesting Honey– Care should be taken in removing the honey crop to be sure that adequate stores are left for the bees in case of a fall crop failure. It is a good rule to always leave a super full of honey with the bees at all times. Removal of fully capped supers before the honey flow has ceased, is less likely to initiate the bees robbing instinct. Intense robbing may occur if you wait to remove all of the supers after the flow is over. Also removal of the spring and summer honey crop just before the start of the fall goldenrod/aster, will allow you to keep the honeys separated by flavor. Usually summer honeys are lighter and milder in flavor compared to the darker, richer flavored fall honeys. Fall honeys often crystallize very rapidly, which could create several problems at extraction time, if you wait to remove the entire crop at once. The fall honey crop should not be removed until after a killing frost. Frames should be at least ¾ capped before they are removed. However, try and keep the number of partially capped frames to a minimum, otherwise you will have problems with high moisture honey. Even though the honey is capped or sealed, it still can absorb moisture if stored under damp conditions.
Several different techniques can be used to remove the supers from the colonies depending on the size of your operation. Do not try to smoke the bees out of a super as this may affect the flavor of the honey. When a beekeeper has only a few combs or supers of honey to remove, shaking and brushing the bees from the combs may be the most practical method. To do this, open the lid and smoke the bees as usual. Remove one frame at a time and give it several quick jars between the fingers and base of the thumb to remove most of the bees. The remaining bees should be brushed off the comb with a brush or clump of grass and placed in covered supers.
Using bee escapes requires two trips to the apiary, one to put on the escapes and the other to remove the honey. The escapes are usually left on the colonies for two or three days to give the bees enough time to vacate the supers. To work effectively, cool night temperatures are necessary to draw the bees down. If the supers are not bee tight, the honey above the escape boards will be robbed out by other colonies. If the humidity is high when the escapes are on the colonies, there is a possibility of honey picking up some moisture. When a small amount of brood is present in the supers, many bees remain on the brood and must be shaken or brushed off.
Bee escapes work very well if used in combination with queen excluders. The excluder prevents the queen from laying in the honey supers and when it is time to remove the honey, the bee escape is substituted for the excluder. The easiest time to remove supers of honey which have been cleared of bees with a bee escape is in the early morning before the bees are flying.
There are several chemical repellents that can be used for removing honey (Honey Robber®, Fischer’s Bee Quick®, Honey-B-Gone, BeeDun). Sprinkle a few drops of the chemical on a fume board, which is made by stretching a heavy piece of cloth over a frame, the size of the hive body outer dimensions. The top is covered with a piece of sheet metal to reinforce it and often painted black to better absorb the heat from the sun. The fume board is placed over the full supers and the fumes drive the bees downward. A few puffs of smoke, before placing the fume board on will start the bees downward so they are less inclined of becoming confused. The board should remain on the super only long enough to get the bees out, usually two to three minutes. Benzaldehyde ( oil of almond) based products work best at temperatures of 65 to 80º F and is especially efficient on cool, cloudy days. Products containing butyric anhydride works better from 75 to 88º F.
Supers can be removed in less time and more economically using a high volume, low pressure air supply. There are several commercial units available. Advantages of bee blowers include: 1) combs do not have to be removed from the supers and 2) they will completely remove bees from supers on cold, cloudy days when chemical repellents are not effective. The one real disadvantage is cost of the unit.
Packing Honey– Honey is packed and sold in several different forms: liquid extracted honey, section comb honey, cut-comb honey, chunk honey and finely crystallized or creamed honey. Both chunk honey and finely crystallized honey require special handling procedures by the beekeeper in order to produce them.
The crystallization or granulation of honey is related to honey composition and storage conditions. Some honeys never crystallize while others do so within a few days of extraction, or even in the comb. When honey is allowed to granulate naturally, the sugar crystals are not very palatable as they are coarse and gritty in texture, thus reducing the commercial value of the product. However, by speeding up the granulation process in addition to seeding the liquid honey with finely crystallized honey, creamed honey can be produced having small crystals of uniform size. If done under proper conditions, the creamed honey spreads like butter at room temperature and has a smooth texture.
Since the granulation of honey always increases the possibility of fermentation, it is necessary to heat the honey to 145º F to kill the yeasts that are responsible for fermentation. The totally liquefied honey should then be strained through 2 to 3 thicknesses of nylon to remove all wax particles and other bits of debris upon which crystals could form. The honey should be rapidly cooled to about 80º F, then seeded with about 10% finely crystallized honey. This is known as seed because these fine crystals will cause other crystals to develop. The seed should be warmed slightly and lumps broken without incorporating air. Forcing the seed through a screen or using a hand-operated food and meat grinder will produce the necessary soft creamy mass. Stir the seed carefully into the honey which has been heated, strained, and cooled, so that the lumps of seed are all broken without incorporating air bubbles. Place the containers in a temperature between 54º and 60º F (57º F is ideal) and the honey will be smoothly crystallized within one week or so. If the creamed honey is too hard for table use, it should be placed at room temperature until it becomes softer. This technique will allow you to prepare small quantities of creamed honey for competition and local sale.
Chunk honey is normally produced in shallow frame supers with thin surplus foundation in the frames. The foundation is held at the top of the frames with a wooden wedge or melted beeswax. The comb is cut from the frame into enough chunks to fill a jar. Place the chunks on a screen and let them drain in a warm room for several hours before you place them in the jar. Empty spaces in the jar around the comb are filled with liquid honey which has been heated to 140º F and allowed to cool before it is poured over the comb. Heating the liquid honey delays crystallization for several weeks. Types of honey which crystallize quickly are not well suited for chunk honey production.
By Clarence Collison, PhD
Nectar, the sweet aqueous solution secreted by floral nectaries has the primary function of attracting and rewarding potential pollinators. While the mechanism of nectar secretion is not fully understood, it is well known that secretion is dependent upon the metabolic activity of the nectar tissue and several possible metabolic pathways have been described. Recent research has indicated that sugars are secreted exocytotically by means of vesicles that are derived from the endoplasmic reticulum of the secretory cells. Thus, nectar is secreted from the cells into the intercellular spaces from which it diffuses through the epidermis or stomata (pores) of the nectary.
The amount of nectar or sugar content that is secreted is dependent upon the plant itself and the environment. With some plant species, there is a relationship between the size of the nectary and quantity of nectar secreted. Other plant factors that may affect nectar quantity and quality include the: 1) sex of the flower; 2) position of the flower on the plant; 3) age of the flower; and 4) variety. Nectar secretion often ceases after pollination. When pollination fails to occur, then the length of the secretory period is usually extended. With many species, uncollected nectar may be reabsorbed by the nectary tissue.
The concentration of the nectar as it is secreted by the nectary is highly dependent on the anatomy of the vascular system supplying the nectary and on the sugar concentration in the phloem (food-conducting vessels) and/or xylem (water-conducting vessels) of the nectary vascular supply. Highly concentrated nectar which is characteristic of several plant species, essentially originates from phloem tissue whereas plants that produce high volumes of dilute nectar have limited phloem tissue and abundant xylem. The quality of the nectar secreted is essentially a function of the carbohydrate (sugar) supply to the nectary and indirectly related to photosynthesis (process by which green plants produce their own food). Most of the sugar of nectar probably comes from leaves fairly close to the flower. In herbaceous plants, the nectar sugar is likely to be of recent origin, whereas in trees and shrubs, it may also be derived from stored carbohydrates. It is highly probable that any factor which alters the rate of buildup or breakdown of the carbohydrate supply will influence nectar secretion. Sufficient sunlight is of primary importance in supporting a high level of photosynthesis.
Flowering is one of the later events in the life history of an annual plant and any factor to which the plant has been exposed prior to this time will, to some degree, influence flowering and nectar production. In general, conditions which impose no appreciable limitations on growth and which promote a reasonable balance between vegetative and reproductive development seem to support good nectar production.
Through the growing season, water is an important factor in the regulation of plant growth. Either a shortage or an overabundance of water may stunt plant growth and lead to poor nectar yields. During the secretory period, a lack of water may reduce the amount of sugar synthesized.
External factors influencing secretion are those of weather and soil. Weather is a complex of interrelated factors that are often difficult to separate into individual components. Temperature has received more attention than other factors and there is a difference of opinion regarding its importance. Records of daytime temperatures may reflect conditions of sunlight which in themselves cause wide variation in the nectar flow. Temperature affects many plant processes which are proceeding at the same time. A certain threshold temperature is necessary if secretion is to occur. Within normal limits, temperature variation probably has little influence on the amount of sugar which the plant synthesizes, but it has a very marked effect on the rate in which the sugar is consumed in growth, respiration, and other processes. Flower development is accelerated at high temperatures and the duration of secretory activity is probably shortened. Excessively high temperatures in combination with meager rainfall can lower nectar production by causing a moisture stress in the plant.
Atmospheric humidity does not affect nectar secretion directly, but has a pronounced inverse effect on nectar sugar concentration. As nectar is secreted, it undergoes a regulation of concentration until its vapor pressure comes to equilibrium with that of the atmosphere. Unless the humidity of the atmosphere is very high, the change will be a loss of water molecules to the air and an increase in nectar sugar concentration. Rates of increase in nectar sugar concentration can be extremely rapid in flowers in which the nectar is exposed. Evaporation is hastened by high temperature and rapid air movement across the nectaries.
While you are removing your honey crop and doing your routine summer management procedures, extreme care must be exercised to avoid setting up the robbing instinct. Exposed honey sources stimulate scout bees in the same way as rich nectar sources, especially during a nectar dearth. Colonies have little respect for each other when it comes to the possession of honey. Robbers are quickly recruited and suddenly the whole apiary is thrown into an uproar. Nuclei, weak, and queenless colonies may be quickly destroyed and robbed of all their honey stores. In addition, the strong colonies may lose many workers as they are robbing or in fighting robbers to protect their own stores. When the honey supply is exhausted, their frenzy reaches its height, but it may be sometime before the colony returns to normal routine activities. Robbing is a bad habit that is difficult to break. Robbers are easily recognized as they eventually become smooth, shiny and almost black.
The best treatment against robbing throughout the apiary is prevention. Robbing is seldom a menace to the careful beekeeper. When robbing is noticed in the apiary, the entrances of all hives should be reduced according to the strength of the colony. All cracks or openings in the equipment through which robbers might gain entrance should be closed.
In addition to reducing the entrance, it sometimes helps the colony if a board is laid across from one side of the bottom board to the other. This forms a tunnel through which the robber must pass and in which the hive bees congregate and defend themselves. Also, a large bunch of weeds or grass thrown in front of the entrance will hinder the robbers. If it becomes essential to manipulate colonies when robbing is dangerous, proceed with caution, open the hives carefully, work quickly, and never leave combs of honey exposed. All combs taken from the hive should be placed in a empty hive body and protected with a bottom and a cover. Spare covers work nicely. Working the bees toward evening will also reduce problems with robbing. If colonies must be fed, the feed may be given when the weather is inclement, in late evening or early morning, and should always be placed inside the hive. It is strongly recommended that fully capped supers be removed before the honey flow has ceased, otherwise, intense robbing may occur.
Caron, D.M. 1999. Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping. Wicwas Press, Cheshire, CT., 355 pp.
Gary, N.E. 1993. Activities and behavior of honey bees. In: The Hive And The Honey Bee, J.M. Graham (ed.), Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, IL, pp. 269-372.
Lindauer, M. 1955. The water economy and temperature regulation of the honeybee colony. Bee Wld. 36: 62-72, 81-92.
By Clarence Collison
Water is an important resource for the honey bee colony and a vital component in the honey bee diet. Water is involved in carrying dissolved food materials to all parts of the body, assisting in the removal of waste products and involved in digesting and metabolizing food. It is used to liquefy crystallized honey and is required by nurse bees whenever it becomes necessary to thin honey in the processing of larval food. When fresh nectar is available this need is diminished. Caged workers or queens readily take water when it is offered to them and live longer than bees that lack water.
Water is also used for cooling and humidifying the interior hive environment. In hot, dry weather water is deposited on the tops of combs in small cell-like enclosures generally made of old wax and propolis. It is also deposited in indentations in the cappings of brood so that the comb looks as if it had been sprinkled with water. Lindauer (1955) observed that tiny droplets of water are also placed inside the cells, especially those containing eggs and larvae, where it prevents drying of the larvae. Bees actively ventilate the hive interior by fanning and evaporating the water droplets by manipulation of the water upon the tongues of house bees.
Water foragers are experienced foragers and tend to collect water from the nearest available supply. Water-gathering round-trips usually take less than five minutes. A bee commonly spends a minute or more in taking up a load of water. When a water carrier brings her load of water into the hive and climbs on the comb, she begins vigorous dancing. Usually four or five bees follow each dancer, and at more or less frequent intervals the dancer pauses long enough to transfer a sip of water to one of the nearby workers. At times a water carrier dances for a full minute before transferring her load. Sometimes a water carrier enters, “performs” a brief dance, and then proceeds rapidly to dispose of her load. Sometimes she gives a small amount to each of a half-dozen bees in quick succession before resuming her dance, and then, after dancing awhile, transfers the balance of her load to one or two bees. It is not unusual to see two or three bees being supplied all at one time by a single water carrier. In some instances, the entire load is disposed of to two or three individuals, while a single load may be distributed among as many as 18 workers. The water is stored in honey stomachs of hive bees and sometimes in cells in burr comb.
Having unloaded, she begins preparation for her next field trip by securing a small amount of food from one or more of the house bees or she goes to a cell and takes honey. Then she almost invariably gives her tongue a swipe between her front feet, rubs her eyes, often cleans her antennae, and then leaves quickly. Water foragers continue to collect water as long as hive bees relieve them of the water in their honey stomachs. They often make more trips per day compared to nectar or pollen foragers. These “water specialists” my fly 50 to 100 trips per day.
Water foragers tend to collect water from the nearest available supply, especially if the supply is continuous. If a water supply is not available within a quarter mile of the hives, provide a tank or pan of water with a floating board or crushed rock for the bees to land on. When nectar and water are not available, bees cause problems by visiting sources of water such as water faucets, children’s wading pools, and bird baths. Once they become accustomed to a watering place, they will continue to use it all during the foraging season. Water must always be available close to the hives, starting the day a colony is established or moved. The activity of the bees at the watering place can give you a clue about the nectar flow. When the flow begins, the bees use dilute nectar in place of water, and very few bees continue to visit the regular source of water. Extremely hot weather, however, may bring them back for water to cool the hive.
There is no doubt that water is very important to the survival of a colony. In hot areas where water supplies are sparse, the consequences can be very serious unless water is supplied to the hives. Since bees do not normally store water in the hive, except in the honey sacs of reservoir bees, bees confined for any length of time must be provided with water.
Young vigorous queens are essential to successful beekeeping. Good colony management requires the routine replacement of failing, superseded or lost queens. Poor queens never improve. Many beekeepers introduce new young queens into their over-wintered colonies in the spring of the year to insure good egg-laying and population buildup for adequate numbers of foragers, when the major floral sources are in bloom. While it is easier to requeen in the spring because the colonies are smaller and the old queen easier to find, there are also several advantages to doing it in the fall.
Several techniques commonly are used for introducing a new queen into a colony. Unfortunately, there is not one sure way of doing it. The first step in requeening is to find the old queen and kill her. Also check for queen cells and remove them before attempting to introduce the new queen.
Requeening is most successful during a light nectar flow. Bees will more readily accept a new queen in a honey flow because the old worker bees are occupied with other duties. Young worker bees usually do not pose a threat. In the absence of a nectar flow, the colony should be fed. Once a queen arrives, it is important to introduce her as soon as possible using a safe introduction method.
A standard method of introducing a new queen into a dequeened colony is to insert a mailing cage with the new queen between the top bars of two frames and let the bees release the queen from the cage. For the best results, remove attendant bees from the queen cage before introduction. Just before placing the new cage in the hive, take a sharp object such as a small nail and poke a tiny hole through the candy plug that will be present at one end of the mailing cage. Be careful not to injure the queen. Position the queen cage between two frames containing young brood so that the screened side is available to the worker bees and not flush against the comb. If the screened side faces downward (horizontal position), more bees will have contact with the screen and more ready access to the queen and her chemicals, which increases the chances of her acceptance. If the cage is placed in a vertical position, the candy end should be up. Do not disturb the hive for at least a week after introducing the cage. If the queen has not been released when you return to the hive, you may set her free with little danger.
Finding a queen within a colony at the time of requeening is often a very difficult task for many beekeepers. Initially, disturb the colony as little as possible and use a minimal amount of smoke as you open up the hive. Too much smoke may cause the queen to move to the inner walls or down on the bottom board. Do not let excessive smoke drift from your smoker across the frames while you are looking for the queen. Drifting smoke induces the bees to start running.
A queen is much easier to locate if one knows the basic procedures to follow while searching for her. Look for combs with eggs and examine them carefully. Queens are seldom found on the outer-most frames next to the hive wall. If you fail to find her on the brood combs, check the bottom board and sides of the hive body. Queens have the tendency to keep moving down to a lower hive body away from light, disturbance, and smoke. Spring is the ideal time to find queens, as the colony is small at this time of year. The queen is usually found in the upper hive body.
When you are ready to open a colony, place an extra bottom board on the ground to the rear of the hive but on the same side where you are standing while opening the hive. Place the upper brood chamber on the extra bottom board. This will prevent the queen from moving from the top to the bottom brood chamber while you are examining the combs. You will work the colony in a knelling position. Examine the top brood chamber first.
As you begin, gently pry and lift out the frame next to the outer wall of the hive body, at the same time scanning the exposed side from left to right and right to left. Hold the frame out at about three-quarters arm length and at a slight 45º angle for the best viewing. Reverse the frame by twisting it between the forefingers and thumbs to expose the opposite side. The frame will be inverted while viewing this side. If the queen is not present, lean the frame beside the hive body, preferably in the shade. Remove the next frames in the same manner, using a minimum amount of smoke. After the first frame is removed, there will be more space to remove each additional frame and return it.
As you lift each frame to view, look down at the exposed side of the next frame to be removed. You will sometimes spot the queen on this frame because her abdomen extends out over the normal height of the worker bees on the comb. Proceed through all the frames in the upper hive body looking for the queen. If you cannot find her, push all frames back to the original position, leaving the first frame out and proceed to look again. Although at times a failing queen may be present with no eggs showing, as you search for the queen make sure you see eggs in cells to be certain the colony is queenright.
When lifting individual frames to view, one gets accustomed to the normal weight of each. Frames containing all honey are heaviest. Next are those containing honey and sealed brood. Those with empty cells and unsealed brood are the lightest. When lifting the lighter frames, scan with particular care as this is an excellent area in which to find the queen. When looking for queens you must concentrate, do not let your mind wander. If the queen is not found the second time through, repeat the process and look for her in the lower hive body. If you are unable to find her in either hive body, replace all frames to the original position.
If you are unable to locate the queen, put a queen excluder between the brood chambers and close the hive. Return four days later and examine the colony again. The queen will be in the brood chamber that has combs containing eggs. She should be easier to find in a single hive body.
Clarence Collison- Emeritus Professor
By Clarence Collison, PhD
The presence of laying workers in a colony usually means the colony has been queenless for approximately two weeks. However, laying workers also may be found in normal “queenright” colonies during the swarming season and when the colony is headed by a poor queen. When a colony becomes hopelessly queenless, the ovaries of several workers develop and workers begin to lay unfertilized eggs. Development of workers’ ovaries is believed to be inhibited by the presence of brood, the queen and her pheromones. Colonies with laying workers are recognized easily: only drones are reared in worker-sized cells; there may be anywhere from 5 to 15 eggs per cell; and the eggs of a laying worker are slightly smaller than those of the queen. In addition, laying workers scatter their eggs more randomly over the brood combs, and the eggs are usually on the sides of the cell instead of at the base, where they are placed by a queen. Some of these eggs do not hatch, and many of the drone larvae that do hatch do not survive to maturity in the smaller cells. Drones that do mature are normally undersized. The activities of a laying worker are similar to those of normal workers. They consume pollen and honey as well as forage in the field.
Workers do not mate and, therefore, only have individual reproductive success through the production of viable male off-spring. Laying worker colonies usually decline rapidly in worker population and brood-rearing activities after egg laying and drone production begin, but may produce more than 6000 viable drones before their demise (Page and Metcalf 1984). Most of these males come from eggs that are laid within a few days of the onset of worker oviposition (Page and Erickson 1988).
Page, R.E. and E.E. Erickson 1988. Reproduction by worker honey bees (Apis mellifera). Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 23: 117-126.
Page, R.E. and R.A. Metcalf 1984. A population investment sex ratio for the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). Amer. Nat. 124: 680-702.
By Clarence Collison, PhD
With the swarming season getting underway, it is important for beekeepers to initiate basic swarm management procedures in their operation. The control of swarming is essential to successful beekeeping. Colonies that swarm rarely recover in time to produce a honey crop. Routine management in the spring usually reduces the incidence of swarming. March and April are considered to be swarm prevention months. Ample room in a colony for brood rearing and the ripening and storage of nectar is essential.
In the spring, the queen is normally locked in the uppermost hive body, which limits the size of the brood area. Reversing hive bodies is a valuable aid in preventing swarming. Moving the brood nest from the top of the hive to the bottom allows for brood-nest expansion and reduces congestion in the brood area, which is the primary cause of swarming. Equalizing the strength of your colonies also serves as a form of swarm prevention and makes management easier during the rest of the year.
Strengthen weak colonies by: changing their positions with strong colonies in the same bee yard; adding sealed brood from strong colonies; uniting two weak colonies; or combining a queenless colony with a queenright colony. When exchanging bees and brood between colonies, be sure the frames do not contain the queen and that the colonies are disease-free. When adding adult bees to an existing colony, separate them with a sheet of newspaper to permit mingling of colony odors and to keep fighting to a minimum. Such precautions are not necessary for frames of brood. Little is gained by adding unsealed brood to a weak colony, since the colony probably does not have enough nurse bees to care for the extra brood.
Colonies with queens more than a year old are more likely to swarm than those with young queens. Older queens produce less queen substance (pheromone) or enter a cycle with periods of lowered secretion which contributes to swarming. Therefore, requeening on a regular schedule (minimum of every two years) is an important part of swarm management.
In addition to raising one or more queens, colony preparations for swarming include placing the queen on a diet, rearing more drones, and reducing foraging activity by the field force. The presence of queen cells in the brood area is the first indication the colony is preparing to swarm or supersede its queen. Swarm cells commonly are found on or near the bottom bars of the combs in the upper brood chamber(s). Whereas, supersedure queen cells generally are found on the face of the comb. To check quickly for queen cells, tip back the top brood chamber(s) and look up between the frames; destroy all swarm cells. Unfortunately, cutting out queen cells seldom prevents swarming, it only delays it since the bees usually construct more queen cells in a few days. Once the bees succeed in capping a queen cell, they are committed to swarming.
Once a colony is committed to swarming (queen cells are present), then drastic action is required to control swarming. One of the best ways to treat a colony with queen cells is to make a division or split the colony within the same hive by using a double screen. Place the old queen with three to five frames of unsealed brood in the bottom chamber. Add an extra hive body with empty combs and honey. Place the double screen on top of the second hive body with the entrance facing to the rear of the hive. Above it put the second brood chamber containing five or six frames of brood, mostly sealed, and two combs of pollen and honey on each side. Shake additional bees from the lower hive body into the upper portion, since the field bees will return to the lower brood chamber.
Bees in the lower hive body destroy any queen cells, while the bees above the double screen raise a new queen. Colonies treated in this manner rarely swarm. After the swarming season, reunite the two units by removing the double screen. This is an excellent way to requeen the parent colony. The top hive body with the new queen may be moved to make a new colony or strengthen a weak hive.
The use of a double screen is also an excellent way to split colonies before development of the swarming impulse. When this technique is used to make divisions early in the spring, introduce a new queen or ripe queen cell to the upper portion.
If you unfortunately have lost some colonies over the winter, it is important that you handle the dead colonies and equipment appropriately. The equipment from colonies lost during the winter should be removed from the apiary, or at least sealed up as soon as possible to prevent robbing. Remove clusters of dead bees before they mold or decompose within the combs. Removing every dead bee from the cells is not necessary; after they dry up, you can shake them out or leave them for the bees to remove later in the spring. Any honey that remains will likely absorb moisture and ferment. Try to determine why the colonies failed to survive (e.g., disease, mites, too small a population, starvation). If you are certain that the honey is from a disease-free colony, use this honey on colonies needing winter feed or as feed for newly installed packages or nucs. Colonies that have died from American foulbrood should be destroyed.
By Clarence Collison, PhD
The essence of spring management is the development of strong productive colonies. Efficient management requires the proper timing of colony development so that maximum populations will coincide with the available nectar flows or pollination needs. Since brood rearing is the basis of colony development, management practices must be aimed toward fully utilizing the reproductive capacity of the colony. In order to have colonies at full strength during a major honey flow, the queen should reach maximum daily-egg laying rate at least six weeks prior to the primary honey flow. The most populous colonies produce not only the most honey per colony but also the most honey per bee.
In addition to colony strength and proper timing, other key components to productive colony management include: 1) a good apiary location with abundant floral sources; 2) young productive queens from good genetic stock; and 3) proper hive manipulations. In order to make timely management decisions, it is necessary to understand the basic biology of the honey bee colony and learn to recognize several subtle cues that will indicate current colony conditions. Failure to observe these signals or interpret them correctly, often results in making the wrong decision.
Colony development is tied directly to the quality of the queen, size of the worker population and is influenced indirectly by local weather conditions and food sources. Colonies headed by a high quality queen build up faster in the spring and maintain a larger field force throughout the foraging season. An understanding of the fundamental relationships between colony populations and egg-laying, brood-rearing, and production, as well as the time factor in population growth, is necessary to obtain maximum honey crops.1
Colony populations are balanced by the colony’s capacity for brood rearing, the time required to develop brood, and the length of life of adult bees. Good queens seldom lay more than 1,600 eggs per day. Twenty-one days are required for the brood to complete development. Adult bees live from 4 to 6 weeks during the active foraging season, and their longevity is influenced greatly by the intensity of brood rearing. Bees in small colonies that rear proportionately a large amount of brood have shorter lives than bees in more populous colonies.1 The amount of brood reared is influenced by the queen’s egg laying capacity, the colony’s population, the supply of both pollen and honey, and the available comb space and its position. There is a basic relationship between the amount of brood and the adult population that determine the rate of colony growth. The ratio between sealed brood and colony populations decreases 10 to 14 percent for each increase of 10,000 bees, whereas, the average daily rate of egg laying by the queen increases with a rise in population up to 40,000 bees (Figure 1.). A large colony produces more brood than a small colony yet has a higher proportion of its bees available for gathering nectar and pollen. The production per unit number of bees in the colony is considerably greater in stronger colonies than in smaller colonies, since proportionately fewer bees are engaged in brood rearing.
During a 2 week’s honey flow, a full strength colony with 60,000 bees will normally produce 50 percent more honey than four small colonies each with 15,000 bees (a combined total of 60,000 bees).1 Therefore, your basic management plan should be to have peak colony populations coincide with the major nectar flows of your area.
- Farrar, C.L. Productive management of honey bee colonies. Am. Bee J. 108 (3): 95-97.
February 1, 2017 – By Clarence Collison, PhD
The active beekeeping season will be getting underway soon. Early pollen and nectar sources serve as a strong stimulus for brood production and spring buildup. Colonies need to be carefully monitored during this spring buildup period. As a result of the brood rearing stimulus, the size of the brood area may increase faster than food stores are replenished. Colonies often run a tight line between available food and starvation at this time of year. When cold weather inhibits flight activity, strong colonies with large brood areas will deplete food stores rapidly. It is important to have food above and to the sides of the brood cluster at all times. Anytime that a colony has less than 15- 20 pounds of food (3 full depth frames, 5 medium depth frames, 6 shallow depth frames of honey), it should be fed.
Sugar syrup is the most common feed for bees when the weather permits easy movement of the cluster, occasional flights or when the outside temperature is above 40º F. Sugar syrup, 2 parts sugar to 1 part water by volume, will be the best source of food at this time. Make this syrup by dissolving either cane or beet sugar (sucrose) in water. Do not use brown sugar, molasses, and other similar materials containing sugar as feed. To make sure all the sugar dissolves, you may have to heat the water. Be careful not to burn the sugar, carmelization can be harmful to bees. Such a mixture will not freeze at temperatures as low as -10º F.
You can use several methods and types of feeders to feed sugar syrup to your colonies. Under almost all conditions, feeding should be done inside the hive. A pail or jar on the frame top bars works well. This is the warmest part of the hive, and it is the place where the bees are clustered and raising brood. Make sure the holes in the feeder are not too large; you are interested only in keeping the bees alive, not in their storing large quantities of sugar syrup. Usually six to twelve holes made with a tip of a 4d nail in the lid of the feeder are sufficient. To test each feeder before placing it on the hive, invert the full feeder over the top bars. A small amount of syrup will run out until a vacuum forms in the container. Do not use the feeder if the syrup leaks out after the vacuum has had time to form. Protect the feeder with an empty super and replace the cover. A division board feeder which replaces a frame in the brood nest also works well. There are also various types of hive top feeders that are effective in dispensing large quantities of syrup. Sugar syrup in the early spring not only saves the bees from starvation, it also acts as a stimulant to encourage brood rearing. Each gallon of syrup fed increases reserves by about 7 pounds. Combs of honey may also be used as feed, if you are positive that they are free of disease. However, sugar syrup fed slowly seems to stimulate brood rearing more than frames of honey.
Pollen must also be present to raise brood and for newly emerged adult bees. Nurse bees require large amounts of pollen to produce royal jelly. Check to see that sufficient supplies are stored in the brood area. The early pollen flows should take care of any deficiencies found at this time. Supplies can be extended with pollen substitutes that are available from your bee supply dealers.
Clarence Collison, Emeritus Professor