Wintering Down the hives in March

Kiwimana Strategy Meeting for Wintering down the apiary.

We identified some key areas to consider….

  • Apiary
  • Weather
  • Treatments
  • Feeding
  • Bee Keeping Practices

We used our previous experiences of Bee losses and also looked at some of our Bee keeping practices to help us look for ideas for going forward.


Our Bee season started around August 2011 and we believed would run to around April 2012.  So in August we started dealing with the location of the Apiary.  Previously the “Bee Garden” was positioned under a canopy of Manuka, Kanuka’s and other NZ natives, unfortunately the canopy and dampness we think partly contributed to our Bee losses.  (NB: The Bees were tested by AsureQuality so we know it was not AFB.)

At that time we decided that…

  • Re-positioning of the apiary was our first job.
  • Criteria was that the site must be accessible, clear of canopy with day long sunshine and open space
  • New location – up on the flat closer to our house
  • The flat area is a sunny and open position

Our new “Bee Garden” was identified.


Here in the Waitakeres, on the West Coast of Auckland  – we experience a lot of rainfall – often constant and heavy.  Auckland itself also suffers from high humidity.  So how could we address this? …well…

  • we designed a hive stand
  • Aim?… to keep the hives up off the ground so as to enable good air flow under the hive whilst also allowing water run-off.  Features needed to include longevity and strength.
  • H5 treated wood
  • We decided on 60cm legs, high enough to prevent splash up in to the hive entrance
  • Each leg cut with a spike about 30cm long to go into the ground so the hive stand sits 30 cm above the ground
  • Cuts on each spike are painted with linseed oil to help preserve
  • Solid so as to be able to take the weight of a honey flow working hive
  • Easy to level the hive stand horizontally
  • Comfortably fits the kiwimana meshboard.

To the left is our fully working, honey flow “Kiwimana Hive” designed and purpose built by Gary to cope with Waitakere weather, features include…

  • a high pitched roof,
  • a kiwimana meshboard,
  • individually made hive boxes (made from locally sourced macracarpa),
  • all sitting on the very sturdy and solid hive stand.


On a personal note…

In October our first new hive arrived.  Gifted to us from one of our very generous Bee keeping friends so as to help us start our new apiary.   Thank you our friend and we remain so grateful.

We named the hive “Taupaki 1” (we name our hives from the area from which they came from.)

They are doing really well.

…yay….we were back on our Bee keeping journey!

Point of Note:  Because of our own Bee losses, we strongly recommend that each Bee keeper understands their own local weather conditions, we feel this is crucial within New Zealand.  To understand this will help you provide an environment which supports an apiary where hives boxes are warm and dry and which house happy and healthy Bees.


Last Bee season we really wanted to avoid using chemicals so we sugar-shaked which was very intensive work and required several treatments.  We wanted to treat the Bees naturally but unfortunately it was too late for our Bees, when we did finally chemically treat them, it was too late.  We tried this ‘natural’ method mainly because we began to hear that the chemicals being used, were starting to create varroa who were becoming resistant to the chemical treatments.

This Bee season we have actively looked for ways to treat with more natural products.  We found Api Life Var, a thymol oil based treatment which we have used several times this year.  For the wintering down we will use this treatment.

Before Treatment

  • The first step we decided to take was to conduct mite counts in the hives, so we added mite inspection sheets (with canola oil spread on for mites to stick to) for a 24 hour period.
  • Record the mite counts and do a count after each 7 day period after each treatment.
  • Aim to reduce hives to 2 levels (all Brood frames)
  • Establish what capped honey stores are in the hive
  • Consider adding entrance reducers while treating

See below some pictures of what I discovered in the rows of mite fall, these are called protonymphs which look pretty similar to the male varroa.

Photos Taken of “Starting with Bees” National Beekeepers Association of NZ


Please note that the Bees do not like the thymol treatment and beard outside, don’t be alarmed – this appears normal with this treatment, we found the Bees have been fine.

  • Seal the hives with meshboards
  • Add entrance reducers
  • Remove boxes with capped honey – if you don’t like thyme flavoured honey
  • Reduced to 2 levels – place capped honey boxes next the hive they were taken from and seal-up
  • After 7 days add new treatment – do another 2 treatments
  • Add mite inspection sheet for 24 hr period

After Treatment

  • Conduct a mite inspection
  • *Put in a feeder with a sugar-syrup feed
  • After mite inspection – return the capped honey stores to the original hives
  • Conduct full hive inspection – aim to remove drone comb/ check for new eggs/check larvae health
  • Add drone management frames to each level
  • Remove capped honey frames and move into third level (hive winter feeding)
  • Add new frames with foundation to replace the removed frames from the lower levels – to create space for the queen to lay

This Bee season has gone on quite long, we have noticed some of the queens are still laying quite prolifically.

Points of Note:

At a meeting where Randy Oliver spoke (from he mentioned  that he treats his bees more regularly, every three months – using natural treatments – he said it was called Mite Away Quick Strips (it does not taint the flavor of the honey) – we are sourcing this product for NZ Bee keepers – so watch this space !

Something else I picked up on at a meeting where Randy Oliver spoke, he said they are treating their Bees more often, every three months, using natural treatments which don’t taint the flavor of the honey is working well in the USA.


This leads nicely from one comment from Randy Oliver to another where he talks about ‘feeding’ his Bees, he said he feeds them regularly with sugar and protein feeds – he explained the results show good survival rates after winter regardless of varroa – it appears Bees are more able to fight virus’s which varroa transmit with these extra feeds.

So it’s a recommended combination of…

  • more regular natural treatments and
  • extra feeding.

*We decided that we will be feeding our Bees after our wintering down varroa treatment.  This year our summer weather has been very wet which I believe has created less food for the Bees.  We have been inspecting our hives and the Bees are working very hard and we see nectar and pollen but not in as large quantities as last Bee season so a feed will help the Bees create more wax – providing more space for honey/pollen/nectar.

Bee keeping Practices

Well this area of keeping of bees covers everything from tools to Bee suits and learning from our experiences and also learning from others experiences, we need to consider the following with our Bee work…

  • Keep your tools clean – clean after each hive – bleach mixed with water  use from a spray
  • Gumboots/footwear – have a tray with bleach and water and step through after finishing work in the apiary
  • Don’t leave honey out for Bees – honey can spread disease spores – if you have honey for feeding a hive – put it in a hive box on top of the same hive it comes from – prick holes for easy access
  • Removed drone comb – easy spread of varroa mites if you leave it out – better to add to wax melter all waste (sealed) into rubbish bag for collection.
  • If larvae is removed – virus’s may be present don’t leave lying around
  • If sac brood/chalkbrood/PMS  is found – cut out brood – don’t leave lying around – seal and throw in rubbish
  • Wash suits regularly and keep stored in garage not in house due to risk of allergy
  • Bee stings – use bicarbonate soda

We have each obtained DECA status, we have registered our hives and been part of AsureQuality testing, we are active members of local Bee Clubs.  The first thing we learnt as part of the DECA training, was that Bee keeper hygiene is crucial because a Bee keeper can spread disease easily by handling with infected gloves or using unclean tools, infected footwear, swapping and relocating uninspected infected hives, swapping and selling used infected hives and/or hive parts or tools.  Not having their Bees and hives  inspected and cleared of disease.

  • Regularly have your bees and hives checked
  • Regularly clean ALL your gear
  • Regularly clean your footwear when moving from apiary to apiary
  • Have your Hives tested for disease
  • Get your honey tested for disease
  • Get your Bees tested


  • Share information and ask questions of more experienced Bee keepers, listen to feedback.
  • We have found that often views vary from Bee keeper to Bee keeper so keep your mind open and give things a try

There will be a follow-up BLOG with photos once the treatments are completed.

Thanks for following our BLOG, any comments and feedback are greatly encouraged  &  appreciated  : )

One thought on “Wintering Down the hives in March

  1. Avatar photo
    Emily Heath says:

    Your approach has a lot of similarities with the way we do things in Ealing (London).

    If you have chickens they will gobble up drone larvae.

    We use Apiguard here, which is also a thymol based product and seems to have good results.

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