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Brains Trust

RESPONSIBLE BEEKEEPING

How do I know how much honey to take at the end of summer to ensure the bees have enough honey to last them through winter?

It’s really important that we leave enough honey for the colony to survive on during the months of winter. Bees collect nectar all spring and summer to store and make honey. The honey they make and store is eaten and keeps the colony fed when there is nothing left to forage. When they eat the honey, they transform the carbohydrates into energy by vibrating their wing muscles to produce heat and maintain a constant temperature inside the hive and around the winter cluster.

The honeycomb also provides an important insulation barrier against the cold. The amount of honey you should leave depends on the size of the colony you have at the end of the season. In a standard-size langstroth hive where you have one full box of brood and bees, you should also leave one full box of honey, or about eight frames. In a full Kenyan top-bar hive, leave eight bars of honey. In a three-quarter-size hive, leave six, and in a half-size Kenyan hive, four bars. Check your bees’ stores in the last two weeks of winter to see if they’ve got enough to get them through until spring when the blossoms start to open.

Is it bad to feed bees sugar over winter?

Sugar should only ever be used as an emergency food source for bees. Bees eat nectar and honey, that’s what they do. There are enzymes and plant medicines in the stored honey that aren’t available in sugar syrup and too much sugar will damages the bee’s gut bacteria – especially over long periods. Always put a bucket of honey aside to feed back to your bees if you need to. The best rule of thumb is to leave enough honey in your hives for the bees to survive on over winter.

How do I stop my top-bar and warre hives from cross combing?

Cross combing in non-framed and foundationless hives can be very frustrating. These days, most warre hives come with three-sided frames so large wax foundation starter strips can be used to get the bees building straight comb in the frames of the hive. With Kenyan hives, vigilance is important. Three days after introducing a swarm to the hive, check that the bees are building along the centre of the top bars. If they are building comb offcentre or diagonally across the top bars, remove the small combs and reposition them in the centre by pressing and moulding them in place.

Once the bees have built a number of straight and centred combs, only add empty top bars in between two full drawn-out straight combs. That way the bees have a guide to follow on either side. This technique is called checkerboarding and there’s a video on my YouTube channel explaining the technique. You could also use wax foundation starter strips on your top bars to start with.

Do European honey bees post any danger to our native flora and fauna?

European honey bees were introduced into Australia 200 years ago to pollinate introduced fruit and vegetable plants that our native bees and pollinators can’t. However swarming bees do take up residence in tree hollows and animal boxes that could be homes for our native birds, possums, sugar gliders, etc. So it’s important we look after them really well to discourage them from swarming. You could place swarm traps/bait hives up around your home or in the forest close by, so that if bees do swarm, they can be transferred into a hive and managed at home.

Regarding food resource pressure, European honey bees will collect food that other pollinators – native and introduced – will also forage for. They don’t fight other pollinators, but they will put pressure on food stocks during droughts and winters. If we want to keep eating the fruits and vegies we love so much then we need European honey bees. A good solution to help feed our local pollinators is to plant more flowering species that our native pollinators prefer. And, as beekeepers, it’s important we offer a free service to get out there and catch swarms when required.

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