Friday, March 2, 2012

Are you suffering from ‘fat bees’?

Derek's story below seems to fit the problem we (and many other this year) have. That is, even though there is lots of nectar around the honey boxes don't seem as full as normal.

The main points:
* The bees grab lots of nectar and become bigger
* In the hive they don't want to get through the queen excluder
* Remove queen excluder, during big honey flow
* With more nectar going up stairs the queen has more room
* Queen is happy to stay below


Are you suffering from ‘fat bees’?

At a meeting last night several people around the table were reporting that the upper brood boxes on their two brood box hives were jammed packed with honey and yet the honey supers above the queen excluder were hardly touched by the bees.

Rather jokingly, Kevin said that the bees are too fat to get through the queen excluder. After the initial spurt of laughter things started to get serious as we realised that he was not far off the truth of the matter.

Jeff, being a really smart beekeeper, had already sussed out the problem and the solution much earlier in the season. As he put it, the season was a one in ten year boomer with lots of nectar to be collected. Foraging bees found large amounts of nectar and gorged themselves on the bounty.

Back at the hive they would typically make their way up to the honey supers where they would usually offload and then return to the field for another load.

This is where some imagination is required. When the loaded bees could not get through the bars of the excluder they merely dumped the load into the nearest cells which just happened to be in the upper brood box. Very quickly, the upper brood box was filled. The nectar flow was still heavy so they filled out the brood frames even more to the point where adjacent combs were almost touching and in the process they caused the queen to cease laying.

Some beekeepers, myself included, saw this happening and placed the very full upper brood box above the queen excluder, after giving the hive an empty upper brood box. The bees promptly filled the new brood box in the same way that they filled the first – and still ignored the honey supers above.

In fact, the upper honey supers in both cases were isolated from the lower part of the hive and the bees naturally thought the hive was filled. Along with the queen who found no more room to lay brood, they soon swarmed. This was what promoted the heavy swarming early in the season!

Instead of getting a super honey crop some of us got just the two filled brood boxes. Oh dear I hear you say. I wish I had realised it early in the season.

Clever clods, Jeff had; and his solution was to put the filled upper brood box at the top of the hive, give them another brood box – and REMOVE the queen excluder. Now the bees had no impediment to getting to the honey supers and they filled the whole hive, and quickly.

I thought that the queen would move up and lay in the honey supers but it turns out that she is quite happy to stay in the lower boxes and make brood.
Oh dear, we live and learn, as they say. Well done Jeff.

At the field meeting it would be nice to hear from others who think they have experienced this phenomena during this season. I have lots of apiaries and it has been the same at all of them.

Derek T Skinner

1 comment:

  1. This fat bee issue is more apparent when forcing the bees to walk through the queen excluder to store nectar. We have a slot cut into the excluder so that bees can go directly to the honey box and not have to make their way through the brood box. We initially put the slot on the top so that the bees did not have to go through the queen excluder. But this also means that drones have free access to the honey box. I prefer they eat the honey in the brood box so the slot went on the under side of the queen excluder which now excludes queens, drones and fat bees. If there is a large honey flow remove the queen excluder or have the slot upper most.
    We don't use a queen excluder in winter so the slot doesn't need blocking off (for preventing mice and cold).