D. Colony management
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Although all the colonies of Apis mellifera in Asia belong to the same racial group, no unified colony-management scheme exists which is suitable for the entire continent. How a beekeeper handles his colonies at a given time of year depends on the bees, their environment and how they react to changes in it. Beekeepers in temperate Asia, like their counterparts in Europe, Australia and North America, enjoy the advantage of clearly-defined seasonal changes to which the annual biological cycle of their bees is well adapted. But when colonies of the European races of the common honeybee are kept in tropical Asia, their normal annual cycle is disrupted, the warm temperatures and flourishing vegetation enabling them to be active virtually all year round. Under these circumstances, overall colonymanagement schemes for A. mellifera in tropical Asia are bound to differ from those for the temperate regions of the continent.
The following basic manipulation techniques are offered here as guidelines equally applicable in temperate and tropical areas. They are particularly useful in the production of liquid honey.
(1) Examining the Colony
The best time to examine a colony is when most of the foragers of the colony are out of the hive: the older field bees being most apt to sting, the beekeeper has less chance of being stung when they are away. Working with colonies on cloudy or rainy days is to be avoided, because at such times most of the older workers are within the hive.
On entering the apiary, the beekeeper should he fully prepared: he should he wearing his veil, his trouser-legs should be well attached around his ankles, and he should he carrying his hive tool in one hand and a well-lit smoker in the other. He should always work at the side of the hive, not in front of it (see Fig, 5/11); he thus avoids blocking the hive entrance and reduces his chances of being stung by returning or departing foragers .
All his movements when working with or near a colony must he slow and deliberate. In handling the hive, he directs a small puff of smoke into the hive entrance, waits for 30 to 60 seconds, lifts the hive cover slightly, puffs a little smoke within, and only then he gently removes the cover, placing it on the ground in front of the hive. Again he puffs a little smoke, while using his hive tool to prize free the inner lid, which he places upside down in front of the hive. With his hive tool he prizes all the frames apart; he may find it necessary at this stage, and throughout the further manipulations, to administer a little smoke occasionally, to calm the bees. The first frame to he removed is the second one on the beekeeper's side; after inspecting both sides of it carefully, he gently leans it against the front corner of the hive. The remaining frames he removes one at a time, inspects, and replaces. When all the frames have been inspected, he replaces the frame that was set aside and restores the inner lid and cover to their original position.
In inspecting the Frames, the beekeeper pays particular attention to the presence and number of brood cells, honey-storage cells, pollen cells, and egg cells; the pattern of the brood comb; the presence or absence of queen cups and cells; the appearance of the adult workers; and especially signs of disease and other abnormalities. In a relatively large colony, it is not essential for the queen to be seen at every inspection: the mere presence of eggs laid uniformly in a relatively large worker-comb area indicates the presence of a good-laying queen.
(2) Combining Colonies
The productivity of a colony depends largely on the number of workers it contains. Occasions arise when the beekeeper must combine two weak colonies to form a single, stronger hive unit, or a queenless colony or a colony with a failing queen with a "queenright" colony.
Several methods can he adopted to combine colonies. In dearth periods, the most reliable technique is to place a sheet of newspaper over the frames of the stronger colony, make a few slashes in the paper with a hive tool, and then remove the floor of the other hive and place it above the first. Within a day or two, the bees will have gnawed the paper away; they will then gradually mingle, and the scents of the two hives will mix. In time, one of the queens will be lost naturally; if the beekeeper specifically wishes to preserve one of the queens, he removes the other before the operation.
A more rapid method is to install all the brood combs from both hives in one hive, with a pre-selected queen. The bees from both colonies are shaken out in front of the new hive entrance and are sprayed with sugar syrup, at the same time as the hive is being smoked. The bees in the two colonies will combine in such confusion that there will be little or no Fighting among them.
Another rapid method is to place the better queenright colony over a queen excluder which has been placed above the weak, queenless colony. Then, while smoke is applied into the hives, sugar syrup is sprayed on the bees.
During the nectar flow, some experienced beekeepers who have little time to spare unite their colonies by simply installing the weaker above the stronger; there will be little or no fighting among the bees. For the average beekeeper, however, combining colonies by using a sheet of newspaper often proves to be the most reliable method, in that it reduces to a minimum the risk of losing bees by fighting.
(3) Feeding Sugar
Since honey usually commands a high price in Asian markets, many beekeepers harvest most of their colonies' honey stores and replace them with a cheaper source of energy: sugar syrup. Notwithstanding a common belief that feeding bees on sugar is not necessarily required in the tropics, there is in fact a relatively long nectar-dearth period in the evergreen vegetation of many tropical areas. Moreover, bees kept in the tropics consume more energy per year, in the form of honey or sugar, than bees in the temperate regions, because they remain active and take flights throughout the year. Where no nectar is available in the field, a populous colony of A. mellifera may consume as much as several hundred grammes of food in a day.
The syrup used consists of sugar dissolved in an equal weight of hot water; the solution is allowed to cool before being given to the bees. Where unrefined cane sugar (brown sugar) is available, it may be found to be less expensive than refined (white) sugar, particularly if it can be bought in quantity directly from a sugar mill. It may however he necessary to strain brown-sugar syrup through a double layer of cheese-cloth before feeding it to the bees. The feeding methods most generally preferred are the use of a division-board feeder or a feeding pail.
The amount of sugar required by the colony depends on where it is kept and the time of year. In temperate regions, the beekeeper may have to give a colony 15-20 kg of sugar or more to ensure that it will survive the winter. In the tropics, the colony should be inspected frequently to ensure that at least 5 kg of honey or sugar are available in the storage comb whenever there is no honey flow: especially under tropical conditions, a food shortage causes the colony to dwindle rapidly.
When feeding sugar syrup to a honeybee colony, the beekeeper should bear in mind that if unused syrup remains in the storage combs at the time of the honey flow it will result in contamination of the pure honey. As soon as the honey flow begins, therefore, any comb containing sugar must he removed from the hive, and feeding should stop immediately
Another problem that can arise as a result of overfeeding is a condition in which the combs are "honey-bound". It occurs when the workers have used so much comb for storing sugar that the queen no longer has enough space in which to lay eggs (see Fig. 5/22). The difficulty can he remedied, at least in part, by stopping feeding and by providing extra space between the frames.
(4) Feeding Pollen, Pollen Supplement and Pollen Substitute
Brood-rearing requires a substantial amount of pollen as a source of protein, fat and vitamins: it is estimated that one cell of pollen is needed by the trees to rear a larva until it reaches the pupa stage. A shortage of pollen is therefore most critical to a colony, particularly before the honey-flow season arrives, and the beekeeper often has to provide a pollen supplement or substitute as an alternative source of protein to stimulate brood-rearing.
A pollen supplement is composed of the pollen collected by the bees, mixed with other protein compounds such as soybean flour, dried brewer's yeast or dry skim milk; honey or sugar is also added to make the mixture more palatable to the trees. While Formulas for pollen supplement vary, it should contain at least one third of fresh or dried pollen: the general rule is that the more pollen is contained in the mixture, the better.
Bees' pollen must be stored properly; otherwise, much of its nutritive value is lost. The simplest way of storing pollen, unless it is too moist, is to mix two parts of fresh pollen with one part of granulated sugar and pack the mixture tightly in a sealed container. Pollen can also be dried at room temperature, or by direct sunlight, and stored in a refrigerator until needed for feeding, either directly or in a supplement mix.
A pollen substitute is a proteinaceous mixture of bee diets with no added pollen. The most popular formula for a substitute is one part each by weight of soybean flour, dried brewer's yeast and dry skim milk, with honey or sugar added to form it into pellets.
While under some circumstances provisioning honeybee colonies with pollen supplement or substitute is beneficial in increasing the number of brood reared, no mixture can replace fresh pollen. Moving the bees to places where pollen is naturally available, whenever this is possible, is always the best remedy for a pollen shortage. If moving the bees is difficult, the beekeeper's next best solution is to trap pollen during the high season and save it for the dearth period.
During severe shortages of natural pollen, bees have been known to collect various kinds of materials in the form of fine particles. Rice bran, fishmeal, animal feeds and even sawdust are sometimes collected and carried back to the hive in the same manner as pollen. Although some of these materials are edible and have some nutritive value they cannot be used as replacements for natural pollen.
(5) Moving Rees
Practical beekeeping does not depend on growing nectar and pollen plants for bees. For many commercial beekeepers, moving colonies several times a year to places where bee forage is available - be they agricultural lands, forests, roadside plantings or waste lands - is a common practice.
Honeybees recognize the position of their hives by using surrounding landmarks as references, but they have a relatively short memory, lasting only for several days. If they are moved over short distances, within the flight range of their original apiary site, a number of foragers will return to their former location and be lost to the beekeeper. For this reason, bees should be moved at least 4-5 km beyond their former flight range. If they are to be moved for short distances, the slow but reliable method, to avoid confusion among returning foragers, is to change the position of the hives a little each day.
For long-distance moving, it is important that the colonies be moved when the foragers are in the hives, i.e. in the very early morning or late afternoon. To avoid unnecessary damage to the trees and the hive parts, the hive entrances and all cracks in the hive walls must be sealed before moving, and all movable pieces of the hives should be fastened securely.
In the heat of the tropics, it is advisable for long-distance moving of honeybee colonies to be carried out at night. The outer and inner hive covers are often replaced with movable screens placed over the top supers. It has been found useful to have the Lorry engine running while the hives are being loaded, because the vibrations of the engine inhibit the activity of the bees, making the operation much easier.
(6) Preparing Colonies for the Honey Flow
The honey-flow season is the busiest time of the beekeeper's year. Before it arrives, therefore, he should take a number of measures in order to be prepared for it. He must have all his necessary equipment, appliances and supplies ready; his colonies must have enough space for brood-rearing and honey storage; empty drawn combs, Frames fitted with comb foundation, and supers must be readily available to be given to the trees as and when they are needed.
This period is in particular the time when the beekeeper must bring his colonies to a state of readiness. While colonies in temperate regions can be built up gradually in early spring, before the arrival of the major honey flow, in areas of tropical Asia where the honey-flow season is short the beekeeper must manage his colonies in such a way that their strength reaches its peak at the start of the Flow, and not later in the season. In order to do this, he will have to envisage any necessary requeening and combining of colonies, supplemental Feeding to increase brood-rearing, and controlling tree pests and diseases.
For migratory beekeeping, all prospective apiary sites should be visited and surveyed before the colonies are moved to them. This enables the beekeeper to collect a great deal of needed information: the general outlook for forage availability in the sector, the estimated time of blossoming of the honey plants, when to move the colonies, the extent of the risk of bee poisoning by insecticides, other risk Factors, etc.
(7) Determining the Honey Flow
The best means the beekeeper has to determine the arrival and end of the honey flow is to monitor changes in the weight of his hives. When there is no food in the area, the hives lose weight because food stores are being consumed; a gradual increase in hive weight indicates that the flow period has arrived. It is not uncommon for a strong colony to gain as much as 3 kg or more in a day in good nectar areas, such as the longan orchards of northern Thailand. When the weight gain ceases - that is to say, when the food consumed is equal in amount to the food collected - this indicates that the honey-flow season is ending.
During the honey flow, inclement weather may prevent the bees from flying for a few days, and this may cause a sudden drop in the rate of the colonies' weight gain. The beekeeper must judge the situation properly, and not misinterpret this decrease as a sign of the end of the honey flow.
(8) Colony Management during the Honey Flow
If all has been well prepared before the arrival of the honey-flow season, colony management during the season itself usually involves routine apiary inspection, management of brood areas, supering and adding frames, and swarm prevention and control.
Every hive must be inspected frequently to ensure that all is going well. The colony must be provided with enough comb space for food-hoarding and brood-rearing. If the apiary is located near farmland, the beekeeper must he certain that his bees are safe from pesticide poisoning, and he must ward off other potential bee enemies and intruders.
The management of colony's brood area is critical during this season. Brood combs and honey combs must be separated carefully; a queen excluder is often used for this purpose. Another method is based on the fact that the queen starts laying eggs at the bottom of the hive and gradually works upward. When bees are kept in multi-storey hives, with at least two brood chambers, the beekeeper can reverse the position of these boxes and so confine the egg-laying activity of the queen to the lower part of the hive, while the supers are spared for honey storage.
Research has demonstrated that the amount of food collected and stored by a colony depends on the amount of empty comb space available to it. The beekeeper will therefore find it profitable to provide his colonies with more empty frames than they actually need. This practice also ensures that the colony will not lack storage space when the season is exceptionally good. With strong colonies, super containing empty frames with drawn combs or comb foundation can he simply placed over the brood chamber, while for a less populous colony, a few frames may be given at a time. The beekeeper should however have enough drawn combs in stock to be able to use them as the situation requires.
For the honey supers, placing nine frames in a 10-frame standard body is generally a good practice. Not only can the combs be harvested more easily, but the expansion of the top of the combs, resulting from the fact that more bee space is available, simplifies not only the harvesting but also the uncapping process.
(9) Swarm Prevention and Control
Swarming, as has been seen in Chapter 2 C., is a reproductive phenomenon of honeybee colonies. With an understanding of the bees' basic biology the beekeeper can either prevent or control swarming. In the strict sense, swarm prevention consists of the steps taken by the beekeeper to deter or prevent the colony from constructing queen cells, while swarm control consists of the steps he takes once the cells have been found.
One of the major causes of swarming is congestion of bees in the hive, and especially in the brood nest. If the colony is managed in such a manner that this congestion is avoided, the bees are less likely to swarm. Among methods generally adopted for swarm prevention, then, are reversing the position of brood boxes, placing brood frames in a chamber above the existing brood nest, and adding frames and supers.
Removing queen cells is the easiest method of swarm control, but it requires frequent and thorough inspection of the hives to eliminate all cells as they appear: when queen cells are cut, the colony will often build new ones shortly thereafter. In order to deter or prevent the construction of such new cells, it is possible, after the queen cells are removed, to replace a few brood frames with empty combs; the brood frames are then given to weaker colonies.
In some tropical Asian beekeeping areas, such as northern Thailand, swarming occurs in the early monsoon months, after the major honey-flow period but at a time when plenty of pollen is still available. At such times, new colonies can be formed, using queen cells removed from existing colonies, together with brood frames and some bees from populous colonies. With proper management, the natural availability of pollen and heavy sugar feeding during the monsoon months will allow both the new and the old colonies to build up to full strength before the onset of the next honey-flow season.
Good laying queens are important to productive beekeeping. Although queens may be able to live for several years, it is to the beekeepers' advantage that their colonies possess good young queens, and to ensure that they will have an ample supply of queens, many of them rear their own.
The best time of year to rear queens is when pollen and nectar are abundant and there are enough drones present to ensure successful mating. In temperate Asia, this is the period between mid-spring and mid-summer, while in tropical zones the best season is often between June and late October or early November.
Basic queen-rearing supplies and equipment include a grafting tool, wax or plastic queen cups, a queen excluder, queen cages, and mating nuclei. The grafting tool can be anything small enough to be conveniently used in the safe transfer of young larvae from worker cells to queen cups; metal tools are commercially available, but many Asian beekeepers prefer to make their own from a bamboo sliver not much larger than a toothpick, sandpapering its tip finely to shape it into a tiny flat spoon or an angled spatula. Wax and plastic bee cups can also be obtained from bee-supply firms, but wax cups can easily be made by dipping a wooden mould, soaked in soapy water, into melted wax.
The first step in grafting is to fasten not more than 20 queen cups to each cell bar of a wooden frame, and to prime each cup with a drop of fresh royal jelly removed from queen cells. Using a grafting tool, the beekeeper gently transfers worker larvae about 24 hours old from the cells of the selected colony into the queen cups (see Fig. 5/24), taking extreme care that the delicate larvae are not injured and that they do not roll over.
The frame, bearing 20-40 grafted queen cups, is then placed in a nursing colony, prepared in advance. This is a healthy colony, intentionally crowded with the greatest possible number of young adult workers that have emerged from brood combs given to the colony shortly before, and copiously fed with pollen and sugar syrup. The colony may be queenright or queenless; in the former case, a queen excluder is used to prevent the queen from destroying the developing queen cells. If the grafting has been well executed and the larvae are uninjured, the nurse bees will accept them and feed them lavishly with royal jelly. As the larvae develop, the adult bees will add wax to the queen cups and expand them into queen cells, which will he sealed when the larvae are being transformed into pupae.
To ensure that the larvae are lavishly fed with royal jelly, many beekeepers use two nursery hives instead of one. The developing queen larvae are first placed in a "starter colony" for 24-48 hours and then transferred to a "finishing colony". 80th colonies, often made queenless, are crowded with heavily-fed young adult bees. Workers in the starter colony are not allowed to fly, while those in the finishing colony have free flight.
On the ninth or tenth day after grafting, part of the wax on the tips of the queen cells will have been eaten away by the workers. At this stage, the cells are gently removed from the colony and transferred to a "mating nucleus", which is a small hive unit usually consisting of one frame of honey, one of pollen, and one or two of empty combs. Each mating nucleus accommodates one capped queen cell, which is attached to the side of an empty comb placed in the middle of the hive. A few thousand workers are shaken into the hive. Within a day or two, the new queen will emerge from her cell and be fed by the workers. After several days she will have gained enough strength to make orientation flights, and soon thereafter she will mate with drones in her nuptial flights.
Within a period of 7-14 days, the queens in the mating nuclei should he mated and begin to lay eggs. They are now ready for sale or to be used for requeening or to increase the number of colonies. The entire process of queen-rearing and mating takes from 21 to 30 days, given good weather and a sufficient number of drones for mating.
When laying queens are removed from the mating nuclei, it is best to put them in wooden cages called "queen cages", together with some worker bees from the nucleus hive. The entrance of the cage is plugged with queen candy, care being taken that the candy is not too moist, lest it run into the cage.
More queens must be reared than the number the beekeeper actually needs. In the process of grafting, some larvae may be injured, and these will not be accepted by the nurse bees. A rate of success in grafting of 70% is normally considered good, although it is not uncommon for experienced queen-breeders to attain rates above 90%. A 75-85% rate of success in mating is accepted as good.
An apiary consisting of many mating nuclei is called a "mating yard". It must be situated in or near a place where drones are abundant. (Commercial queen-breeders often intentionally prepare colonies to rear large numbers of drones, by simply crowding the colonies and providing them with empty drone combs.) The site should also he protected against such predators as Insectivorous birds and insects.
(11) Requeening Colonies
Many commercial beekeepers requeen all their colonies annually. While there are different methods of introducing a new queen to a colony, it is unfortunately true that none of them is foolproof.
One practical method of queen introduction is to use a wooden queen cage, one side of which is made of wire screen. The old queen is killed before the new one is introduced. Some of the queen candy blocking the cage entrance is removed, and the cage is placed in the hive of her new colony. (It is not necessary to release the workers from the queen cage.) By the time the trees have consumed all the candy, releasing the queen, she is no longer foreign to the colony.
(12) Harvesting the Honey Crop
For the most part, keeping honeybees in Asia is labour-intensive. Harvesting methods vary widely according to the beekeeping area, from collecting individual frames to removing entire supers filled with honeycombs. Since honey is in strong demand in many parts of the continent, and prices are correspondingly high, it is not uncommon for beekeepers to harvest all the extractable honey from their hives, including honey from frames also containing brood.
In secondary beekeeping areas, where there is no major honey-flow season but where some bee forage is available for periods of many months, beekeepers harvest their honey crop by taking only a few frames at a time but repeating the operation several times during the season. By adopting such intensive practices, they are able to obtain annual hive yields of between 10 and 20 kg of honey.
It is important that only ripe honey be collected from the colonies. If the beekeeper fails to watt until at least one half to two thirds - but preferably all - the honeystorage cells are capped before harvesting, too much water will remain in the honey. Operators of large apiaries should possess and use a honey refractometer (see Fig. 5/26) to measure the water content of their honey. A water content not exceeding 20% is acceptable to most buyers, but some prefer honey with a water content less than 18.6%, because at this moisture level it is not susceptible to fermentation.
Some large honey firms have hot rooms or equipment enabling them to get rid of excess water from "unripe", or "green", honey (see Fig. 5127), but tints is justified only in very large-scale operations.
Thus far in Asia, removing honey frames and supers from the colonies does not involve much use of equipment and chemicals such as bee blowers and bee repellents: brushing trees off the honey comb is by far the most popular method used by many beekeepers, including some whose operations cover several hundred to more than a thousand hives. Where labour costs are low, and? the beekeeper can spend enough time on intensive, frame-by-frame honey collecting, the brushing method seems suitable, while in large operations the use of a bee blower may be found more convenient and economical in terms of worker time.
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