As the daylight hours become shorter in the late autumn, the bees consolidate the brood chamber. The queen lays fewer eggs and the brood is confined to the middle frames. The remaining frames are filled with honey for winter survival.
The queen starts laying again from about mid august onwards and as the new bees hatch out in the next month or so, the hive population increases. In suburban conditions the bees are often able to collect nectar during winter and don’t use up much of the stored honey in the brood nest. If honey has not been extracted in late summer and the super on top of the brood box is also full of honey, the hive can be thought of as ‘honey bound’.
This is the classic scenario for swarming.
So what does the backyard beekeeper do about this?
On a warm mid to late September day the outside honey frames in the brood box are raised above the excluder and replaced by a mix of frames of newly drawn out worker cells and frames of foundation. If there is room in the super the honey frames from below should be placed above the excluder so that there are sufficient stores to ensure that bees don’t starve if there is a sustained cold snap in a classic case of the ‘spring dwindle’.
Giving the queen more room to lay is the result and giving the bees work to do by drawing out foundation gives you a better chance of avoiding a loss of at least half of your worker bees.