A Column by Kathy Cox
Early April In the Apiary
It is April, rainy and cold with hardly a day over 55 degrees. If you are not feeding dry sugar and pollen patties, you should be. This is when hives die of starvation! It is still too cold to feed syrup. Not many trees or plants are producing pollen. No drones are in all of the colonies yet.
But things are going to change and fast. West Seattle gets drones two weeks before Renton and Renton has drones two weeks before Maltby. You can’t even think of doing splits until drones are hatched and their exoskeletons harden off, so they are able to go up to their DCA’s – drone congregation areas.
When there is a day over 55 degrees, you can look at the colonies and clean the sticky boards and clean off the bottom boards. If the bees have moved up and there is no brood in the bottom box, you should reverse the boxes. If they have eaten all the stores in the top medium and there is no brood, you can remove it. It is also time to remove the moisture quilts. Take out an extra couple of inner covers so you can cover the tops of the boxes while you are working, to help keep the brood warm. It is time to note if you see eggs, this makes sure that you still have a queen. Also, take note of how many frames have brood on them. You don’t want to start splits until there are at least 6 frames of brood in all stages, with bees covering it.
Make sure to keep a hive log. It can be as simple as a notebook or you can use things you find online like HIVE TRACKS or the one on the PSBA WEBSITE. I like to go freestyle and use a notebook. I use the margin to write what I need to do or bring next time.
If you are approaching 2 full boxes of bees, it is time to give them more room. Add a super. Remember it is important to stay ahead of their need for more space and it is not just up above in the supers. If the brood area is full, remove one of the frames in position 1 or 10 and replace it with drawn comb. If you don’t have drawn comb, give them a frame with foundation. If the bees have work to do, they will not think of swarming. Even if you have lots of drawn comb, give them some undrawn foundation in the in the honey supers.
When the hive is a booming one, you must get in the hive every 7-10 days to check for swarm cells. (More on that next time) Is your entrance reducer on the large opening? It should be when the hive is growing. Are you seeing lots of activity in front of the hive? It does not always indicate swarming. It could just be orientation flights. This usually happens between 10 and 2. The bees come out and crawl up the front before flying backwards in front of the hive. They are nurse bees who are graduating to foragers and orienting to the geography around the hive. The next day they may fly around the hive bodies and pick out the trees that are their landmarks. Following that they may have watched a bee dance and take the distance and direction from that flight to take their first flight to forage for nectar. The oldest foragers are the ones who bring back pollen.
(NEXT TIME: Reversing boxes, looking for swarm cells, feeding above 55 degrees, and more)
PSBA Education Chair