Contributed by J. Morgan
It was a large turn-out with about 53 people in attendance. Typical meetings have a mix of new and second, third or forth year beekeepers, so we lead a discussion on building up colonies that made it through the winter and develop a plan for each hive. We suggested ideas, and more seasoned beekeepers added their insights! We took questions as they came, and it made for a really great format. One thing to keep in mind is that we made generalizations on timing. The time to do something here in SE Indiana, may be slightly different then the time in areas further north, or south. Here's a summary of the discussion. Please comment and leave your thoughts!
What a beekeeper should be doing in March:
- Finish up new boxes, repair/paint any other woodenware that need it, and be sure your honey supers are ready to go.
- Prepare your swarm traps. Swarm traps go out in April so order swarm lure or try lemon grass oil.
- If it isn't too cool, perform a quick inspection to see if you have bees, larva, eggs, and a queen. Remember, if you see eggs, with 1 per cell, there is a queen. If there is a problem, consider marking the hive for re-queening, or combining.
- If you have been adding pollen patties to the hive, beware when weather warms up, unused patties will attract small hive beetle. Add small amounts and let the bees consume, then add more.
- Some of us plan to conduct mite washes as soon as the weather is warm enough to get our basis. If mites are higher than we like, some of us will start OA treatments. (can talk about the methods and say we'll cover them in April and May)
When the imminent threat of bad weather is behind us (Temps ideally 50F or higher)
- Some may choose to move brood frames to the bottom of the box, honey to the sides and empty comb overhead. Do not disturb the cluster too early though as this can result in chalkbrood.
- Clean the bottom boards out.
- When the bees are waiting in line to get inside the hive, enlarge your entrances... or remove entrance reducers completely at your discretion.
- At the end of March, remove candy boards. Those who feed, start feeding 1:1 sugar water and pollen. If the bees didn’t eat the candy boards, store them in the freezer, or use in your sugar water feed.
- Watch for drones and queen cells. This will be the bees way of telling us that it is the time to start making splits.
By April, the overriding objective is for all colonies to be queen-right, healthy, and well-nourished so they can build up to maximum populations for the onset of the major nectar flow. This all needs to be done while keeping a fine balance between the growing population and the amount of space available so that the bees do not have the chance to think about swarming.
- We should have a PLAN for each individual hive. Some hives will be honey hives. Some may be for splits/apiary increase. As you inspect your hives, and log your notes, over time, decisions for each become more apparent and you will feel less and less overwhelmed on all the things we have to think about during bee season.
- On a calm, warm day go through your hives and do a thorough inspection.
- Remove mouse guards.
- Replace poor quality frames or brood frames with new comb or foundation.
- Move brood down (if you can), honey frames to the side, and empty comb over-head. Note: Both boxes will probably be filling up with brood by mid-April. In many cases, the queen may start heading down on her own to find more space to lay.
- Those waiting for packages likely will not have them until mid-April.
Is it time to make splits? Splits are a great way to do apiary increase or replacement nucs. It also helps facilitate a robust honey crop and is a form of varroa control as it disrupts the brood. Each split will require a new queen. Before your queen emerges, mature drones are needed. Drones are mature 8-10 days after they emerge and they hang out on the edge of the brood nest. Queens prefer sunny, 75 degree days, with winds less than 10mph. Use the splits to replace winter losses or increase your hive numbers. If increasing your colonies, pick out your locations for each.
Consider adding disease free dead-out brood boxes to booming two-story hives in anticipation of making splits with them when your new queens arrive. It will relieve congestion and give these overly populous hives something to use and will make excellent splits later.
Watch for swarming: If you already have queen cells, what kind are they: swarm, emergency, or supercedure? Note: This can also indicate the timing is right to start making queens. What will you do with the queen cells?
- Move them to make nucs or splits.
- Try to cut them all out and keep rechecking.
- Make a nuc with the queen mother.
- Let the bees bee.
- Place swarm traps around mid to late April.
Get on swarm call lists, register with the state beekeeping clubs, and get on SIBA beekeeper locator map. If you want to give your hives a boost, feed with 1:1 sugar water (4 lbs. sugar to 1/2 gallon of water. But, DISCONTINUE sugar feeding before supering.
Around here, the 'Rule of Thumb' for putting supers on hives is when the dandelions bloom.
Wax moth and SHB activity dramatically picks up when the temperature rises, keep an eye on your stored supers – especially ones that contained pollen or brood. Leftover honey frames should be adding into live colonies, or frozen before small hive beetle (SHB) moves in and ruins them.
Those of you using paramoth or other products to store your drawn comb under for wax moth protection should be sure to air out those supers and frames two weeks before you put them on the hive.
By May, your bees will constantly be on the verge of swarming but hopefully, never fully to that point. May is swarm season and your job is to intervene. Of course, there are many schools of thought about beekeeping. Some say, just let them "bee" and they will do their thing. That is true... and swarming is the bees natural way to combat varroa mites. Bees also want survive and their natural instinct is to split and swarm on thier own. If we allow them to swarm, then we lose the foraging force we needed to bring in a honey crop. If we prevent them from swarming, then we can also be assured the mites will continue to build in numbers and we will have to deal with them later. Only time impresses experience on us... and in the meantime, we use each other to bolster experience and ultimately determine our own methods of hive management.
Traps should be in place by the first week in May.
The exciting thing about seeing the first swarm of the season is that you know the bees have determined it is time to make queens. Drones will be out flying regularly and mating flights will occur during 75 degree days with winds less than 10 mph. Be thinking about what you can do with new queens.
When you open the hive, look for nectar and pollen stores, and make sure there's a nice laying pattern in the brood chambers. Requeen if the brood pattern is not satisfactory. Maybe the bees will have already made the decision for you by creating some supercedure cells. Typically, queen cells hanging off the side of a comb indicate a supercedure cell. Supercedures are replacement queens and it means the bees have decided the current queen is not getting the job done. In these cases, you might consider leaving those cells alone.
We're still watching for swarming! How do we determine if a hive is about to swarm? We look for other signs. Is there enough space in the hive? How has the colony population built up between the spring clean out, and now? Has it doubled or tripled in the last month? Have you been feeding the colony? A healthy colony of bees should be brimming right about now and each inspection should consider the ratio of available hive space, and the amount of bees.
The number of frames of capped brood (bees about to emerge) should be known. If you have two deeps of bees and the bees are occupying 7-8 frames in each box, then you would want to have 2, maybe even 3 honey supers (mediums) on top. More specifically, if you have 4-6 full frames of capped brood, then there will be a boom in population in a matter of days when they emerge. In that case, more supers, or even a 3rd deep on top of the original 2 deeps may be called for depending on your goals for each specific hive.
During the rush to think about new queens, don’t forget about the nectar flow. Make sure there is room in the hive for honey before the locust flow arrives (note: we have seen locust blooms as early as April 15th). Keep empty comb overhead and add more supers if needed. Research has found no difference in top-supering vs. bottom-supering and it is one of those highly debatable issues among beekeepers. Poll the audience!
Use this time to make nucs and splits to increase the size of your apiary. If you have a hive that you believe is about to swarm, it might make sense to split out a nuc... or maybe two or three. Take the current queen and put her in a nuc with enough resources to support her, and move her to another apiary if you can. Letting the original hive rear a new queen during the honey flow is a good time to do it. At the same time, you can maximize your honey crop since the bees won't have any young larva to feed.
You should always have a specific goal for each hive. One might bring a honey crop, others may be used to build up and split for apiary increase.
Keep coming to the meetings and ask questions. It's a great way to get multiple views on any topic, and also meet prospective mentors, or friends that can come over and help you out.