Autumn hasn’t quite decided to set in here as of mid-March. We did enjoy a scattering of snow on the mountains at the beginning of March along with a welcome drop in temperature; however, a burst of rain soon put an end to the lovely fresh mornings as it rudely washed away the snow and restored the ongoing humidity.

It seems the humid conditions have caused all sorts of havoc with nature. Just today we noticed a paddock of dandelions in flower, which is most unusual for this time of year, and this was while we were on our way
to investigate two separate reports of swarms in the area! What ever happened to the theory that swarming is all over by Christmas day?

Beekeepers seem to be busy feeding syrup now that the pasture honey has predominantly stopped yielding and wintering down is in full swing. We have noticed quite a variation in the condition of hives, which seems to be relative to their location. Some have gathered a lot of pasture honey and are strong with good stores, whereas the hives in other sites are very strong, very light and in need of a lot of feeding. There is, however, no shortage of pollen, with catsear as the favoured variety at the moment, and gorse just starting to come into flower.

On a whole, the hives seem to be in reasonably good heart with good quantities of healthy young bees coming through to see the colony through the harsh months ahead.

- Carla Glass

During January/February the hot weather was hellish and exhausting to work in. The countryside is bone dry, looking like another planet. In early March we received atmospheric dew at night, and a slight greening is being seen on lawns.

Over the last few weeks, most crops have been harvested and this, along with extreme dry conditions and lack of food sources, will force rodents into sheds. From now on in, robbing will be a major issue; necessitating working early a.m. and near dusk. Looking forward to a quieter April. On a very positive note, during February and early March, 10-day-old cells are having a 10-day turnaround of mated laying queens.

Good-sized virgins have emerged from these queen cells. Photo: Maggie James.

Despite wasp numbers high in spring, wasps are now very low. Maybe we have the extreme heat to thank.

Honey yields have been appalling, with extraction plants shutting early. Also contributing to low yields, as in other parts of the country, is the spread of dairying. In this area there is a definite rise in mainly wind- pollinated cereal grain crops, which no doubt will increase as our Mid Canterbury summer temperatures rise.

- Maggie James

From New Year’s Eve the summer weather shifted into gear, with a change from the dull, overcast, drizzly conditions we had been experiencing up until then.

Apart from hives on small seed crops (e.g., radish, brassica), some of which surprisingly produced up to two boxes despite crops looking patchy earlier, the pasture clover crops really didn’t eventuate. I think ground temperature could have been too low.

All in all, this led to a disappointing season. The Mackenzie Country, however, produced some crops of clover honey, with hillsides snowy white in some areas.

The earlier rain has meant grain crop yields will be lower and quality will be reduced. Most crops have had a patchy start. Helicopters have had
to be used in spraying fungicides due to moist and warm conditions. It’s been a very trying season for farmers and beekeepers. I am coming across hives needing feeding, so it is a mixed bag of things requiring attention as of mid-February.

Also, during this period we’ve had a run of 30°C days making collecting honey crops very hot work, with a healthy dose of robbing thrown in for good measure.

We are working in a landscape of falling honey prices and limited selling opportunities, or at least harder to find. Beekeeping has been, and still is, a tricky game.

One concern l have is the discarding of surplus household honey. A lot must get thrown out without the consequences of this action ever being thought about. I hope at least it goes out with container lids on, but I suspect this doesn’t always happen. We need to take any opportunity to advise others who do not realise the flow-on implications of this practice. Many people out there are not aware of this, as I come across it quite often.

Good luck for the harvest.

- Noel Trezise

Despite a fickle spring and some splits being made, there is a surplus of honey from the club hives. The hives are wintering down naturally this year for a change which is nice, albeit a little early.

Currently echinacea, sedums and michaelmas daisies are flowering in the garden, and yellow flowering weeds in the fields are propping up my bees nicely at this time of year (although the spikes in the centre of the echinacea make it hard work).

 

A hard-working bee on an echinacea flower. Photo: Nick Thorp.

 

For something a bit different, several members have tried variations of the no cut ‘cut comb’ systems. A small number of hives did not take to them at all, but the others made a good effort with reasonable results for the first year.

“Get stuck in to beekeeping for the best results” is the advice from one of our newer members. They started with 12 nucs in spring and now have strong hives, all with honey to take off. He found it was far better than having one or two hives, as you got to see the law of averages better.

The club is looking forward to having a stand at the Beekeepers’ Big Day Out, 12 May at Lincoln University, and to meeting like-minded beekeepers from near and far. We will hopefully see you there!

- Nick Thorp and the NCBC team 

The last fortnight we have endured temperatures in the late 30s, and beekeepers have lost weight. Who needs to sit inside a sauna when you can work outdoors in Mid Canty wearing overalls? Fire risk is high. Yesterday was a shock to the system for humans and bees, with the temperature plummeting, reaching a maximum of only 13°C by mid- afternoon.

Those travelling further afield to chase the mānuka dream will be lucky to recover costs. The clover flow has been minimal, and some hives will not have a honey crop. Some hobbyists will choose to leave their ‘crop’ on the hive, instead of feeding sugar. The clover price remains low. Extraction plants, unless there is a major beech dew yield, will close early.

Above is a photo of honey bees working a magnolia flower in my garden. Interestingly they weren’t working the pollen whilst stamens were attached upright on the flower; they were waiting for stamens to fall off into the petals before harvesting to pack their baskets (pollen sacs).

- Maggie James, Canterbury Hub Committee