May in the Apiary 2016

On your MARK, get SET….GO!

If there is one month that engenders all the ups, downs, four alarm surprises, and ‘Wha???’ moments, May is going to be it.  The brood nest has been ramping up production since February, mostly doing so unnoticed, in anticipation of the nectar flow.

For the beekeeper, a numerous healthy bee population and an early spring can mean

1- an actual honey harvest this year OR

2- a disappointing succession of swarming mis-adventures.

Here are a few tips to ‘be prepared’ for the month of May:

1- Have spare frames at the ready, ones with drawn comb are best.  Have your honey super and a swarm box at the ready for the predictable and the unpredictable.

2- If your queen’s brood pattern is shot-gun or weak, requeening is advisable.

3- If you have not treated for mites, you can do a mite count and treat if you decide to do so.  At this time of year you can use: MAQS, Hopguard 2, Thymol based treatments, and Apivar.  All are approved during a honey flow except Apivar.

4- Most hives will not need feeding at this time, as natural nectar is available.  If you get a nuc or package however, feed generously to stimulate wax and comb building.

5- Keep ample space ahead of the need. When do you add on frames?  Rule of thumb is that when 7 or 8 frames are mostly filled up (honey, brood, pollen, whatever) add on another box (hive body or honey super according to the situation).  Don’t add on a super if your 2nd hive body is only half full.  The girls may not pull out the super later (one of those scratch your head and wonder things of beekeeping).  Timing is important for the best results.

6- If your colony does swarm - your honey goes with it.  It is far better to ‘manage’ your hive (I use the term oh, so loosely!) as opposed to reacting to it.  Meaning: Know your queens condition (brood pattern, age) and colony condition, so that you can keep the colony populous, but not crowded.  Provide space BEFORE the hive reaches its limits.  This feat is not unlike balancing an egg on one’s nose, in my opinion anyway.  How to do this?  Know your hive.  Keep records.  If swarm cells are seen, you must go in seven days later, and look for them again. If you have many hives, this can surely be a most tedious process (I find it best to befriend an obsessive-compulsive beekeeper and set them to work hee hee).  Remember, swarm cells are not just on the bottom of the frames, but can be just about anywhere.  Be thorough, move gently.  Don’t stay too long if you can avoid it.

A word about culling out queen cells: Before you go eliminating queen cells, make sure YOU have a queen yourself (another ‘been there, done that’ insight here, folks).  If you have already had a swarm exodus, the old queen may be gone, leaving behind the swarm cells to requeen the hive.  If you wipe them all out, under that circumstance, your hive will be in deep….errr, ‘stuff’.  How will you get it queenright with no eggs now to be forthcoming?  Exactly (I heard some of you mumbling understanding).

SO: If you suspect your hive may be, or is about to be in swarm mode and you want to address the extra queen cells you see…

1st: You can look for an opened, hatched-out queen cell (chewed at the bottom) indicating the hive has already swarmed.  There may not BE a queen running around at that point.

2nd: Before culling cells, verify that you have a queen.  Either you have seen her, or more realistically, you are seeing fresh EGGS.

If you are confident you are queenright, you may remove the swarm cells.  Remember: Often, bees depart the hive at the CAPPING of the swarm cells not necessarily at the cell’s hatching. 

May is CRAZY fun.  A lot of work.  Enjoy your time with the girls! 

Wishing all of you beekeepers of C.O. sweet success and may all your swarms be no more than three feet off the ground!

File:Beekeper collecting swarm.jpg

Thanks to Kim Rivera for writing these notes!!

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