what to do in spring

The way hives kick off in spring depends on the temperature, both days and nights.

DO NOT OPEN HIVES too early in spring as brood and bees can become chilled and die.

The thing to do early is:

  • Observe bees flying, to see how many and how much pollen is being brought in
  • Feel weight of hive by back handle method.   If light, stimulative feed, i.e., 1 part of sugar to 2 parts of water.  Feed warm and don’t give large amounts as whatever is not eaten quickly can start to ferment and alcohol kills bees.

After a couple of weeks of warm weather, both days and nights:

  • Inspect hives in the middle of the day
  • Look at the brood, observing the number of eggs, pattern of laying, larvae and sealed brood
  • Look for signs of disease – E.F.B., A.F.B., Chalk brood, Sac brood, Nosema and spring dwindle
  • Available food supplies

Now is time to FIND and CLIP and MARK the queens

Depending on brood and conditions

  • How much pollen
  • How much available nectar, shake frame to gauge
  • How many bees.  If necessary add additional super, lifting up frame of sealed brood.  Put drawn comb into space left vacant.

Look at the bees EVERY 3 WEEKS, unless wanting to breed queens.  Eliminate drone comb by removal.  In its place put worker drawn comb.  The drone cells on bottom bar of frames should be scraped with the hive tool.  Bees will clean them out.  The queen will lay again but as it takes 25 days for drones to hatch out, and providing you are looking every three weeks you just go through the same process again and again.


  • Congestion of brood nest.  DRONES help do this.
  • Insufficient room for queens to lay in
  • Plentiful supply of pollen and thin stimulative nectar.  Remember 1 of sugar, 2 of water to stimulate feed hives.
  • Old queens
  • Queens bred – or swarms gathered at swarming time (this genetic trait is bred in them)

As the season moves into late spring or earlier, depending on weather conditions, the signs to look for indicating bees preparing to swarm are:

  • Queen cups (drawn out of face of combs)
  • Congestion of brood nest
  • Lack of amounts of eggs
  • More larvae
  • Sealed brood
  • Maybe eggs in queen cups


  • Expand brood nest
  • Remove all sealed brood frames.  In their place spread out the other frames and interleave frames of foundation so as you have brood, foundation, brood and so on.
  • Place the new super containing the brood frames that have been taken out and repeat the same brood, foundation, brood process in that box.  Then add a super of foundation on top of that box.

As a result conditions of ABNORMALITY have been created in the hive;  and the bees that were thinking of swarming have to repair after this interference.

  • A hive works internally on a BEE SPACE and this has the backs of the bees on one comb just touching the backs of the bees on the next comb.  As new foundation has been placed in the hive this cannot occur and therefore the bees draw the foundation out to get the required bee space.
  • Also in the BROOD CHAMBER there cannot be gaps in the brood as this is unnatural and as such the bees feed the queen lavishly on Royal Jelly and her abdomen swells and she commences to lay up all those frames of foundation that you interleaved between the brood.

So as you can see the whole hive has to work to get their hive back into shape again and there is no time to think about swarming and queens in full lay cannot swarm.  In a couple of weeks look at the brood again, as well as the condition of the hive, and if the bees are preparing to swarm repeat the process all over again.

If you have any weaker hives you can take frames of brood and bees and add them to weaker hives to make them stronger.

If, on the next inspection, the bees are still making preparation to swarm create an artificial swarm by taking a whole box of brood and bees and moving this to a new place with a new bottom board and lid and in its place put a new box with frames of foundation and move up brood frames and do the interleaving process again.


However, if the queen cannot be found, look at both hives in the next two days and you will know which hive has the queen in it as the other one will have drawn cells.

Once, either a honey flow is found or the main honey flow has commenced then the bees will forget about swarming, the bees will get down to gathering.

If that extra hive is not wanted, and if the new queen that the bees have made and her progeny is quiet and easy to work then kill the original queen and UNITE the two.  To do this use a couple of sheets of newspaper with a couple of sharp knife splits or cuts in it resulting in a super honey gathering hive.


This is the time to start extracting.  It depends on

  • The honey flows and what is to follow
  • How much honey taken

This is the time to get good drawn combs by interleaving foundation between the stickies which have been put back on the bees.

Stuart Garske
bee sting envenomation

Generally what is the cause of the widespread fear of bees in the community?  It is the fear of bee stings.  Not only do bee stings hurt but vast numbers of people believe that because they swell at the sting site they are allergic to bees.

True allergy to bee stings is extremely rare.  Estimated at .03% to .05% of the population.  Nevertheless it is a serious problem accounting for at least 1 death per year in Australia, 40 per year in America.  In Australia between 1980 and 1990 there were 20 deaths from bee stings and 19 from lightning strikes.  (ref. Stevens & Paxton, 1992) 

The purpose of my talk is to establish the

  • Normal response to the toxic responses of bee venom (stings)
  • Abnormal response, allergy or hypersensitivity.

So what is the difference between those highly allergic and a sensitivity.

ALLERGY is a hypersensitivity response or anaphylaxis.

 The normal reaction is general swelling at the sting site.  This can continue for several hours, the softer the tissue the more it swells, e.g. face, forearms and heaven forbid the genitals.  This may last several days, turn a dull red and become itchy.  

I have noticed I get thirsty and cannot drink enough fluids – this is a sign of shock.

People who suffer a higher than normal swelling which is more extensive, angry looking, very itchy and lasts much longer, could be the beginning of an anaphylactic reaction.  

What to do:

  • Take antihistamine tablets
  • Put on ice packs
  • Stingoes cream
  • You need to see a doctor.  To alleviate this reaction the doctor will give a prescription for steroids.

In contrast a truly allergic person’s first sting is potentially fatal.

Normally, when stung, aperson’sbody sets up antibodies as a defence reaction, a normal response to the next time you are stung.  This is what some beekeepers call “immunity”.

In the allergic person the body produces an antigen which reacts with the antibody and white cells to produce a toxic and dangerous substance called histamine, which produces the physiological effects we know as an allergic reaction.  

In these extreme cases the bronchial tubes go into spasm narrowing the airway causing breathing difficulties, low blood pressure.  The patient goes into shock and potentially can lead to death.

Fatality solely due to the toxic effects of bee venom is approximately 1400 stings for the average male and 1100 stings for a female.  However, death has been recorded after as few as 50 stings.  As a byline 500 bee stings equate to a rattle snake bite.

Now with all this knowledge for the lay person the signs to look for are:

  • Swelling distal from the site of the sting
  • Swelling of eyelids or lips
  • Hives or welts over body
  • Red and white blotchy skin
  • A persistent cough trying to clear throat because of breathing difficulty
  • Weak and thready pulse
  • Finally unconsciousness
  • In young children pale and floppy

The patient needs adrenalin in the form of an Epipen.   The cost currently is $126 without a prescription, or $38 with a prescription.   An Epipen is a once only use.

However, people who have not been allergic can develop allergies over time.  Signs to look for:

  • Blotchy skin
  • Itchiness all over.

TREATMENT of bee stings.  Normal effects require no special treatment, however as beekeepers you should scratch out the sting immediately.  Either puff smoke, or rub honey on sting site, this takes the smell of the sting site away.  The reason being the stinger’s sisters are attracted to the sting site and if working a number of hives you could get multiple stings.


A complex mixture of chemical substances including enzymes, peptides, amines, including histamine and noradrenalin.  The enzymes are highly allergenic and include Hyaluronidase, Phospholiphase and Acid Phosphatase.

I would suggest to any prospective beekeepers they deliberately get stung to assess their reaction before outlaying a lot of money to start keeping bees.

Stuart Garske
breeding queen bees

Queens are bred based on three factors:

    •    Swarming impulse
    •    Queenlessness
    •    Supersedure

Queen Mother  -  Purebred-  First cross

Queen Father  -  Drones from selected hives spread throughout the apiary. These need to be started at least 6 weeks before queens fly to mate.

Starter Bees  -  Gauze box – dummy bar

Finisher Hive  -  Queen right hive with queen below queen excluder, plenty of fat nurse bees

Mating Nucs  -  4 Frame – 3 Frame – Mini Nucs

Conditions  -  Must be a good supply of nectar and pollen coming in

Conditioning  -  Preparing hives for all the upcoming operations by feeding light sugar syrup and pollen if necessary

Plastic Queen Cells

Size 00 Sable Hair Paint Brush – Chinese Grafting Tool

Book Australasian Queen Rearing by WS Pender


When all is ready and prepared and the weather is right prepare the gauze box with young bees shaken off frames of larva.  These frames should be prepared the day before by shaking all bees off frames into bottom brood box then putting on a queen excluder the day before you need the young nurse bees so as not to have to look for the queen.  Give bees a spray with light sugar syrup and put the gauze box with the bees into a cool dark spot, such as the garage, late in the afternoon and leave them overnight.

They will cluster and cry and will be in the position that you want them in.  First thing next morning when the temperature is not too hot, and the air is not too dry, is the time to start the process of grafting.

The previous afternoon after shaking the bees off the larva and putting the hive back together an outside frame should be left out and the remaining frames spread out leaving a gap.  In that gap place the cell raising bar with the empty plastic cell cups for the bees to warm and clean.
Open the hive with as little smoke as is needed, get out the frame that you have selected from the hive you have been preparing to be your Queen Mother.  The cells you need to be grafting from need to be three days old.  To get these you need to put an empty frame, preferably with dark cells, meaningthey have had a few cycles of brood raised in them, this makes it easier to see the white larva in the base of the dark cell.  This frame you put between two frames of eggs and larva four days before you want to graft and then the larva will all be the same age for grafting.

Using the size 00 Sable hair paint brush lift out a couple of larva from one of the frames on either side of the grafting frame and lift out a couple of larva that are at least six days old.  They will be big and underneath them will be plenty of royal jelly.  Dip your brush liberally into the royal jelly and fill the brush with it.

You are now ready to start grafting.

Take your grafting bar with the warmed cells, place it across your frame you intend grafting from, and with the sun over your shoulder to illuminate the bottom of the cell (so you can see the larva)  slide the brush down the side of the cell.  It will slide under the larva, lift it out and put the tip of the brush containing the larva into the bottom of the cell cup and with a twisting motion deposit the larva into the bottom of the cell.

You need to be quick and repeat the above process until you have grafted all you queen cell cups.  You can have 18-20 cell cups per bar.  Speed is of the essence as the longer the grafts are open to the air the quicker they dry out, the more chance they will dry out and not be accepted when you put them into the crying bees in the gauze box.

These bees feel all is hopeless and are in the depths of feeling all is lost, then voila the dummy bar is lifted out by giving it a gentle shake and then carefully replace it with your bar of grafts and hey presto instantly all is bright and the bees start to groom and feed the larva that has just miraculously appeared.  Any larva that have been damaged or dried out the bees will drag out. 

All cells that have been accepted will have wax added to the sides of the plastic cells.

Come afternoon, all the accepted cells will have the wax drawn onto the edges of the cells and you will see the larva just swimming in a sea of white royal jelly.

Now is the time to be looking at your queen finishing colony which is just a queen right colony with the queen confined below a queen excluder and frames of eggs and larva above the excluder like the box that was prepared to get the nurse bees for your starter bees.

If you want to start more cells give your starter bees in the gauze box a spray with light sugar syrup, leave them overnight and they are ready to start another bar of grafts the next morning.
Repeat the above steps.

After raising one or two bars of cells you need to shake those starter bees out in front of the hive that you took them from with a judicious use of smoke to help them into their hive.

Now, as is well known, it takes 15 days from an egg to a queen.  Three days from an egg to a larva which has been grafted.  So, ten days later the cells are ready to put out into your mating nucs, where two days later they hatch out.  The bees feed them and look after them and several days later they fly and mate.  They will do this as many times as is needed to fill the spermathea with sperm and lasts her lifetime and she either runs out of sperm or eggs.  

Do not look until at least ten days after the new queen has emerged.

It takes 21 days for worker brood to hatch so after 12 days the queen can be caught and the young bees to care for her and put them into an introduction cage ready to re-queen the hive needing a new queen.
If breeding a lot of queens just do the maths so that when you catch the queen out of the mating nuc it needs to be queenless for two days and then it will be ready to accept a ripe queen cell that will hatch out in the next two days.  Just follow all the steps outlined from conditioning to preparing starter bees – cell finishers – mating nucs and so on.
This all sounds mathematically easy but if there is an extended bout of inclement weather then the virgin queens don’t get to mate and you have to start all over again as well as having to find and kill all those unmated queens.

When making up mating nucs do not forget they have to be moved at least 4-5 kilometres from where they were otherwise the bees will just gravitate back to the hives from whence they came.
If they have to be moved to an out apiary you can make them up and lock them in and move them the next morning.  The ripe queen cells that you are going to put in them can be carried in a small polystyrene six can esky half filled with sawdust.  Make hollows in the sawdust and place the ripe queen cells standing up supported by the sawdust.

On arrival at your out apiary you can open up the nucs with a few puffs of smoke at the entrance.  Wait 15 minutes then you can place the cells between two frames, the plastic being held by the top bars or the comb at the top of the frames.

If nucs need to be made up and moved straight after making them then put ½ plastic hose sleeves over the cells only leaving the end poking out the bottom of the plastic sleeve.  This stops hostile bees tearing down and stinging the queen inside the cell thus killing her.


Stuart Garske
wintering bees

Bee hives ideally should be sited to take advantage of the early morning sun and they should have a slight forward slope to shed condensation.  Hives left in shaded, damp conditions are conducive to infection such as Nosema Disease.  This infection leads in spring dwindle and often with heavy infection loss of hives is the end result.

Hives should also be protected from wind.  Reduction of hive entrances also helps keep those winter chills out.

Conditioning of Hives - Preparation in the Autumn

Ensure hives have ample supplies of pollen and honey.  Pollen is most important as bees need an abundance of pollen in spring, particularly if you get a flush of higher temperatures and then plunge into winter type conditions.  As we all know pollen is the protein food for bees.

A strong hive of bees needs as least five (5) frames of pollen and at least 15-20 kilos of honey.  If honey is lacking you can feed your bees in the autumn with
2 units of sugar and 1 unit of water.

Only give enough so that the bees can process and store what you give them in a couple of days.  If they are given more than they can utilize it is liable to ferment and fermented syrup KILLS BEES.

Take off excess woodware to pack bees down so that your box, or boxes, are full of bees.  This allows them to keep the normal temperature of the hive easily.  When you have been moving frames around preparing the hive, hives, for winter you should have been moving those heavy black drone ridden combs out and up so that finally they are moved out and into your solar wax extractor or drum of boiling water.

If you are working Spotted Gum you will not only get honey but also strong bees because the latter tree produces good pollen which they put into new brood.
If you migrate your bees there are still honey flows to be had and it is the same as your summer itinerary.  

You may like to requeen your hives at this time so you have young vigorous queens going into winter and more so coming into spring.  Remember all things being equal young queens are less prone to swarm.

If you are looking ahead to winter honey flows like White Box or Mugga Ironbark where the pollen is no good ensure your hives have plenty of stored pollen, so there are maximum numbers of young bees available to work them.

Working Mugga Ironbark of White Box you must have at least 8 – 10 frames of stored pollen as the pollen from Mugga Ironbark and White Box is no good for raising brood and the bees will dwindle away in winter so that come spring they will belittle better than 3 – 4 frame hives.

If you intend working winter honey flows you should have been conditioning the hives from early autumn, that is, making the queens lay by splitting the brood and putting in a couple of nicely drawn combs in between frames of brood.  Sothere are maximum numbers of young bees to work with.

If there is no nectar coming in feed the bees thin sugar syrup with 1 unit of sugar to 2 units of water.

Fortnightly you should do the splitting and interleaving two nicely drawn combs between two frames of brood and move the sealed frames up into the box above the brood box.  The reason being to ensure there are full, I mean really full, boxes of young bees so you do not suffer heavy bee mortality as would happen with old bees.  As it gets colder bees will not draw foundation so that is why you need drawn comb.

When taking off full combs of sealed honey do it in the middle of the day when it is at the warmest time of the day and replace four sealed frames with fourstickies or four dry drawn combs.  This is done very quickly so as the temperature loss in the hive is kept to a minimum.

Get the honey that has been taken off to the extractor as quickly as possible so it can be extracted while it is still warm.

If you do not migrate bees it is time to start packing them down in preparation for your winter itinerary.


Stuart Garske