Apiary inspection and adding more honey supers

We have now reached that time of year where the swarming risk is hopefully over and the adult bee population is reaching its peak for the year, with about 80,000 bees per hive, so there is a lot of activity going on both in and around the hive. The beekeeper can hopefully relax a little and now also get some idea if there will be any ‘honey surplus’ to take as a crop this year.

Many reports have said that this year has been the best for honey production in about the last 5 years, with the long cold winter helping to reduce parasite numbers in the hive and the warm spring and hot dry summer allowing plenty of time for the bees to get out and forage and bring back the nectar and pollen. On an average year a normal hive will produce around 50lbs of honey but some beekeepers are reporting crops three times this size for 2010.

As this is the first year with my own bees they have all been given new wax foundation, sheets of bees wax that has been ‘stamped’ with the hexagonal comb pattern to encourage the bees to draw the wax out more rapidly. The bees use up around 4lb of honey for every sheet of wax that they draw out and there are eleven frames in the brood area (where the queen is allowed to lay eggs) in both the deep and shallow boxes, and then a further ten frames in each of the honey supers above. A quick calculation indicates that my bees have drawn out over 90 frames of new foundation this year of which 22 were deep brood frames so this means that they have probably used up over 360lbs of honey in energy just to produce the comb already. Following the honey extraction the ‘wet’ comb is then returned to the hives and the bees are allowed to clean it up of any remaining honey and then it is carefully stored away for the winter to prevent damage. Next year my bees will have a massive headstart at the beginning of the year as they will not need to start from scratch with drawing out the comb but will have this years returned to them. The comb then needs renewing every few year to prevent disease and spread of parasites.

At my last visit to my hives on July 20th I checked the honey supplies that the bees have stored, both in the brood boxes and in the honey supers. The honey in the brood boxes will be left to help sustain the colony over winter but some of the honey from the supers above will be extracted for my use, gifts to friends  or for sale. The three hives, all standing shoulder to shoulder, have varying amounts of honey in them but my ‘daughter colony’ from the splilt swarm has already drawn the comb and filled and capped two full supers above the ‘brood and a half’ and the third super was added during the visit, the hive is now beginning to resemble a high-rise block next to its neighbours.

Since my last inspection visit I have managed to get down to the apiary on a couple of occassions without hive duties to carry out – a rare oppurtunity for me  as normally I get a short ‘time window’ to travel to the hives, smoke and inspect the bees, make any changes and then get home again. It really is a pleasure just to have some time to sit back and watch the bees arriving and leaving the hive,  laden with different colour pollen, and others simply there guarding the hive so its amazing to see the level of activity around the hive entrance at this time of year and knowing that every returning traveller is helping secure the future of the colony as well as adding to the honey crop!

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