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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Full Steam Ahead – Cells, Queens, Moves and Swarms…

INSIDE PYRAMID APIARIES

In last-month’s compilation I claimed we were “near full noise” and now, following an October where hives kept me busy both day and night, we can say it is officially full steam ahead, with hives out of the cherry orchards, onto their summer sites, and swarm season upon us. All the while the queen mating units are filling, both with nectar and pollen from the spring flows, as well as queens on the lay.

In Marlborough, at the top of the South Island, our contract pollination options and fairly well limited to a handful of cherry orchards that are valiantly holding off the seemingly unstoppable march of vineyards across the plains. That said, the 120-odd Pyramid hives which are distributed (one hive at a time unfortunately, no palletisation here) in the orchards are enough to keep this beekeeper busy in October. I’ve spoken with beekeepers from the North Island who were just shifting their hives into kiwifruit orchards as mine were coming out of the cherries, meaning I can happily put the night hours behind me now, at least for a couple of weeks, while the toil very much continues elsewhere around the country.

The Pyramid Apiaries incubator has been filling up, as Marlborough beekeepers order in queen cells to make splits or requeen their hives, and mating units need their queen replaced.

The “night moves” follow beekeeping activities in the daylight hours, centred around cell-raising and caging newly-mated queens from our mating units. October is a key month for so many of the country’s beekeepers and so locals are in and out picking up cells, while we spend weekends caging mated queens for sending all around the country on Mondays. All of our mating-yards are within 15 minutes’ drive from home, and our cell-raiser and breeder queen hives are but a 100m walk from the house. It makes the long hours, at times such as this, a lot more manageable – it’s the benefits of a small-medium size commercial operation without staff.

The queen orders usually slow as November wears on as beekeepers complete their spring splits and requeening. Already we are spending bit less time on the grafting tool or with queen cage in hand. That’s lucky because swarm season hits us in Marlborough from about mid-October and so we have also been dealing with that task recently.

The last step of the queen grafting process – ‘harvesting’ the cells off their bars and into the incubator.

One of the challenges of running hives for early season (September-October) pollination contracts is then managing very strong hives once they come out and swarm season hits. As I mentioned last month, nets on the orchards can weaken hives significantly, but there are always plenty which come out super-strong. So, within a few days of them leaving the orchard I visit them on their new sites and place an excluder and honey super on top. That’s after working both brood boxes and pushing brood and honey down and any frames with space to fill up into the top of the brood nest. Along with running young queens (most are in their second season), we hope that’s enough to stop half the girls flying the coop, and it usually is if done every two to three weeks.

Interestingly, I have had a few calls regarding swarms near our apiaries which I feel obliged to catch. On every occasion so far this season it has not been any of our hives that have swarmed though. I can only figure that the scent of our hives attracts a swarm from a neighbouring hive and they take up residence on a post or branch nearby to the sweet smelling stuff of our apiaries.

Writing about it is not going to stop the strong colonies from swarming off though, so I’ll cut this month’s column there as our next round of swarm prevention is fast approaching.

P.S excuse the lack of photos this month, it seems I have been too occupied with the work of the bees to snap many pictures as I go!


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