A Column by Kathy Cox
By now the weather is improving with some sunny days and temperatures approaching the 70’s. The colonies are starting to increase as the bees are bringing in Maple nectar and pollen and the longer days are signaling to the bees that it is time to get going to prepare for the nectar flows. Most all colonies have adult drones who are going out each day to meet at the DCA – drone congregation area. Soon the queens will be taking mating flights to those areas. Did you know that your queens do not mate with your drones? Your drones have DCA’s near the apiary up at about 30 feet, but in order to remain genetically diversified, your queens search out other DCA’s with neighboring drones. Sometimes they have to fly many miles away to find them. Also, the temperature needs to be in the 70-degree zone, before they will fly to mate. Some queens never make it back due to getting eaten by a bird, hit by a car, caught in a rainstorm or chopped up by a wire! Oh my!!
This is a good time to consider splitting your hives. You should take a class and read up on how this is done. Looking at your hive, do you see at least 6 frames of brood? Is there pollen and nectar in at least 4 frames? If so, that hive is a candidate for splitting. Other considerations are the daytime temps and the rain in the forecast. When you split you are creating a brood break for the split that is making a new queen. There will be somewhere around 4 weeks of a broodless period. Usually there is no need for a treatment for those colonies. And for the other split, make sure to do a mite count to see if there is a NEED to treat. Those beekeepers who treat without counting mites are not doing it right. There are several ways to count. You can do a sugar shake. But, I believe the easiest and most exact counts are by sampling 300 bees with VARROA EZ CHECK. It is fast and sacrifices a few bees. Lots of newbees say they don’t want to kill bees. I counter that statement with would you rather kill 300 today or 30,000 later when the mites overtake the hive?
Many of you are getting packages or nucs. Packages are around 3 pounds of bees who are gathered by the thousands and measured out into a box. The queen is raised separately and is unrelated to the bees. There is no drawn comb for new beekeepers to introduce the bees to in their new equipment. This means a slow start, as no forager can store honey or nectar and no queen can lay eggs until there is drawn comb. A nuc, which is 5 frames if you order a deep and 8 frames if you order a medium, has a laying queen and pollen and nectar and all of the related bees who are already acting as a colony. Both purchases need to be fed. As you can see there is a big advantage to buying nucs. The population is growing fast and you do not have to deal with a caged queen. If given the choice, make sure to get a marked queen.
Now for the feeding! It is 1:1 syrup that you feed this time of year to get them to build up and make wax. The young bees from 8-22 days old are making wax in 8 glands on the underside of the abdomen. There must be an uninterrupted supply of syrup for this to happen. Some folks get hung up on the syrup and measuring. If you do it by volume you can actually eyeball the 5 inches of sugar in the bottom of a bucket and add 5 inches of very hot tap water. It is that easy. DO NOT BOIL THE SYRUP. Stir it until all the sugar is dissolved and add a splash of vinegar to help keep it from molding and make it more digestible to the bees. There are top feeders, frame feeders and boardman feeders to choose from. Top feeders are the easiest, since you don’t get into the hive/bees, but rather open the top empty box where your feeder resides. (NOTE: temps need to be above 55 to feed syrup.)
By now you should have cleaned off the bottom board and the sticky board. If there is no brood in the bottom box, you should reverse the boxes. Don’t do this if there is brood, instead put all the brood together in the bottom box and if there is more, put those frames right above in the second box. NEVER SPLIT THE BROOD. If there are empty frames with mold on them, you can use the garden hose to gently wash them and let them dry in the sun. The bees can clean out frames, but they can’t clean out a whole box at the same time. Give them a frame in each box. After that looks good, do it again.
Last but the most important is to keep on the lookout for swarm cells. These will appear on the bottom of the second box. It can be as easy as tipping that box up and peering under to see if there are the peanut shaped cells hanging down. Once swarming is underway, there is no stopping it. If you know how to split, this is the best way to mitigate the problem. If a swarm does issue it will probably happen between 10am and 2pm. Half the hive leaves with the old queen, so get in the hive every 7-10 days to watch for the swarm cells. If you do not know what to do, call your neighborhood captain for advice and read about swarms in your resource books. Swarms issue and will normally land 50 or more feet from the hive they left. They gather to make sure the queen is with them and wait while the scout bees go looking for their new home. This could take 2 hours or 2 weeks.
Happy beekeeping and next we will talk about equalizing the colonies and getting ready for the blackberry flow.