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Dave Black

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There have been, and are, members from the group that show an interest in providing hives for pollination. It’s not easy, and not a game. This can involve a contractual obligation to provide hives to a written standard on a defined time, and affects someone else’s income too. While most of us can muddle along and manage whatever the bees decide to do, for pollination the beekeeper is definitely in charge, even when the bees disagree.

One of the essential skills, useful for beekeeping in general, is the ability to assess a colony’s size or strength, the number of foragers and the amount of brood, and takes you beyond just coping with your bees. Build it into your swarm prevention (so you don’t end up doing swarm control!). On this occasion we had a number of colonies each in three ¾ boxes to open and assess, already disease checked and ‘evened up’. Having an apiary with all the hives at roughly the same stage of development greatly simplifies life.


The standard hives are supposed to meet have generally followed the kiwifruit industry and the Kiwifruit Pollination Association (KPA) who were the first in New Zealand to establish some sort of ‘best practice’ approach. Nowadays others like New Zealand Pipfruit and the Avocado Industry Council have done the same. These have all been published on the internet, but for some reason all hide behind a corporate wall and are only available to the privileged few. The basic requirement defines a number of brood frames, and a number of ‘bee covered’ frames to match or exceed, and will then include other aspects like being disease free, or having empty comb-space, management disciplines you should have anyway. For kiwifruit, using full-depth Langstroth frames, the standard requires at least twelve frames completely covered with bees, and four frames that are 100% brood (or seven that are 60% brood).


Because someone long ago did the work we know these size frames will be covered by around 2,500 bees, and a properly drawn frame will have about 7000 cells to use for brood or food (when full of food, honey, I count each one as a kilo) and half decent queen can lay around 1000 eggs a day, oh and, there are approximately 10 bees to the gramme. If you remember these numbers, and/or adjust them for your comb size (many of you will use ¾ frames) there are also sorts of things you can hazard a guess at – how heavy your honey boxes are, when your queen will run out of laying room (while you are on holiday), and how many bees you have in your swarm.


Put very simply, the idea behind the pollination standard was to use a hive that had enough workers to be foraging for pollen sufficiently well to fund its growth into a honey gathering hive, a hive with about 30,000 bees that will grow by at least another 20,000. Twelve frames of bees (x 2,500 = 30,000) and four full brood frames (x 7000 = 28,000).


So how do we look at a hive and guess the numbers? Without all the nuance it’s simple. Smoke the hive gently, look under the cover and count the gaps between the frames that are full of bees (the ‘seams’). Pull the top box forward slightly so you can tip on its end without it sliding off, and looking at the bottom of the top box, count the full seams. Add both numbers together and divide by two. Take the box off, look at the next box, count the seams, tip it, count the seams again and divide by two. Add the seam count for both boxes together and multiply by 2,500. That’s how many adult bees you have. I know, it’s an estimate.


If you wanted to know the nuance, to count your brood frames, or know what to do with weak or strong hives, you had to be there.

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