April in the Apiary 2018

April is always considered one of the busiest months of the year for us beekeepers.  And with the wild “spring” weather swings we have experienced here in Central Oregon, this April will be an especially critical time in the life of our bees. Due to the warm spells earlier this spring many beekeepers reported heavy colony activity. Bees were out in force doing much needed cleansing flights and bringing in some tree pollen and nectar. On the surface that seems like a good thing.  But early foraging requires the colony to use up valuable food stores that may be needed later if the weather should change.  And change it did.  The recent cold snaps have forced our bees back into their clusters with the possibility that they may have used up most of their food stores.

It would be a crying shame to get our bees through the winter only to see them starve before adequate forage begins to bloom.  So right now a key priority for the beekeeper’s first official inspection is to check to ensure their bees have adequate food stores available to them.  It is recommended a minimum of two to three full frames of honey be located adjacent to the cluster.  If not, extra honey frames can be added taken from other colonies that can afford the loss or frames you have stored for just such an emergency.  If honey is not available then sugar syrup placed in a top feeder over the cluster is a good alternative. One should also check to see that there is sufficient pollen stores available to support brood production.  If not a good pollen supplement may be placed adjacent to the top feeder for that purpose.

Another key priority is to ensure the colony is building a strong population up. Check for eggs and a good brood pattern to determine if the colony is queenright and she is healthy.  If not, put in an order pronto for a new queen.  You want to have a strong buildup of your bee population to ensure a good honey crop later in the year.  Feeding syrup along with pollen if needed can help stimulate brood production. Reversing boxes, moving the top box to the bottom board and placing the bottom box on top, encourages brood production as bees do not like empty space above them. However, caution must be taken to ensure the entire cluster (and therefore brood) is located in the top box and not split between it and the bottom box.  Splitting the cluster would make it very difficult for the colony to maintain the proper temperature to care for the brood. 

While fostering brood production to increase the colony’s population is important it does present a dilemma for the beekeeper.  A vigorously large colony may decide home is getting a bit too crowded and begin swarm behavior.  In fact, some have already reported finding their colonies busting with bees, capped drone brood and queen swarm cells forming on the bottom of the frames of their hives. So swarm control is the third priority for April.  To hopefully prevent swarming one must open their hives, search for swarm cells and remove them.  This task must be repeated every 7-10 days as a colony intent on swarming may begin building new swarm cells the minute you go back into the house for lunch.

Other techniques that can be employed to prevent swarming include adding boxes to provide more space, splitting the hive, moving capped brood frames to a weaker colony, or creating an artificial swarm.  None of these techniques are foolproof.  Despite all your efforts your colony may indeed swarm.  Hopefully you will be home the day they do decide to leave and the cluster will land in a convenient spot for you to capture it.  One last ditch technique is to place a swarm bait box(s) in or near your apiary that may entice the swarm to adopt it as their new home.  A converted Langstroth deep box filled with drawn comb frames and a little lemongrass oil or Swarm Commander works well for this task.

Whew! So now you see why April is such a busy time for us beekeepers.  So stay vigilant to your bees needs this month to ensure you have a healthy and happy apiary going into the summer.

Big thanks to Clyde Dildine for writing this month's notes!!

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