Despite a reasonable spring, many parts of NSW are facing a tough outlook for the next 3-6 months. It is important to prepare your hives adequately now so that they can idle along with as little stress as possible.
Ensure hives have a good store of honey (at least 15-20kg) and sufficient bees in all boxes to keep hive beetles under control. Consider reducing weak hives to a single box with 3-4 frames of honey as weaker colonies do better in a smaller volume. All weak hives should have their entrances reduced so that they can adequately defend themselves against robber bees.
If your colonies are weak, you need to find out why and try to do something about it. Hives suffering nosema, chalkbrood or European foulbrood may need to be moved to a location with better conditions (natural pollens and nectar) to improve the health of the hive, otherwise if a move is not possible then be fed pollen substitute and small amounts of sugar syrup. Older queens may need to be replaced as hives fare better with younger well-mated queens (although it is also common for most queens to reduce laying when conditions are poor). Any hives with American foulbrood need to be destroyed and made bee proof before treating equipment appropriately.
Many hives will be discharging their drones (as they feel conditions do not require them anymore) so you may see a lot of dead drones and older field bees in front of hives. This is often seen when hives are preparing for a period of tough conditions, but can also be the result of extreme heat conditions, nosema or pesticide poisoning. The bees know that there are tough times ahead and we as beekeepers should be ensuring that we have our hives set up in such a way that the bees are comfortable and not stressing about inadequate honey stores or too much space to protect from beetles and wax moth. Cover these requirements and your bees should do ok.
This article by NSW Department of Primary Industries Bee Biosecurity Officer Rod Bourke was originally published in the NSW Bee Biosecurity News e-newsletter for registered beekeepers.