Written by Mitch Campbell
It’s all go! Spring is a busy time for beekeepers around NZ, the busiest time of all.
As things start warming up beehives begin to increase their population and biomass – longer daylight hours stimulate the Queen bee (she deserves a capital letter) to frantically lay eggs; one egg per comb cell. Once the eggs hatch into tiny larvae, nurse bees feed the babes a nutritious brew of ‘bee milk’ which includes royal jelly, pollen, honey and water. Around 6 days after hatching, once the larvae are fat and bonny, nurse bees cap the cell with wax, allowing the larvae to pupate; a mindful moment of metamorphosis. Twelve days later a beautiful young bee emerges from the cell and begins her working life.
With all this new life being created it is crucial for 3beekeepers to check all our hives every 10 days to perform the necessary actions to keep hives healthy, happy and productive. These ‘Spring rounds’ begin in August/September depending on when the season begins to warm. 3Beekeepers are flat-out feeding sugar and pollen to weak hives, splitting over-crowded hives to prevent swarming, creating nucleus hives by re-homing excess bees from large hives and adding a new queen or queen cell, treating hives to prevent varroa mite infection and placing new queens in weak or queenless hives. Phew! All this to get 3bee hives in tip-top condition in preparation for the coming honey flow; when bees forage nectar from spring and summer flowering native plants to convert to 3Bee honey perfection.
Every season is different and so far, the 2019/20 season has not been without its challenges. Since early September Antarctic Stratospheric Warming (check out this link for more knowledge: https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/115841066/extremely-rare-stratospheric-warming-shows-no-sign-of-ending) has produced consistently colder, stronger winds and more rainfall from the Southerly quarter. Not ideal for bees or their keepers! To build new wax comb for housing new brood and storing pollen, honey and nectar, bees need many days of 17-20 degree temperatures, such barmy days have been few and far between in the Top of the South this Spring! As a result, hive productivity and reproduction has been later and slower than usual. Patience is crucial and seasons like this highlight the need to choose warm, sheltered hive sites where foraging bees have access to plenty of early spring pollen sources such as willow, gorse and Spanish heath. We have moved hives from exposed sites into warmer spots (like from Collingwood into Takaka) to improve foraging potential increase the chance for new virgin Queen bees to mate and become prolific breeders!
Some of our best 3Bee Manuka apiary sites are in cooler alpine climates (Awatere Valley) or high rainfall areas (Golden Bay) so the effects of Antarctic Stratospheric Warming are consequential to our predicted harvest volumes. The flowering season of our target flower species maybe a little later than usual. More patience required over here please!
By necessity we are avid weather-watchers and have all the best weather forecast apps on our mobiles, we check every few hours. At the same time, we send good foraging vibes to our fabulous bees.
It’s exciting leading into Christmas and we always enjoy seeing the hives progress between visits and constantly dream of that Golden Season when we yield high honey volumes and even higher MGOs! But either way, we love being out in the most beautiful nooks and crannies of this beautiful country and observing nature at its most fascinating. Everyday 3Beekeeping is an adventure!