Beekeeping tasks this month – March

spring_honeybee

It’s March and spring is here, what should I be doing as a beekeeper this month?

The following list was published by Dr. John A. Skinner (Professor & Apiculture Specialist @ UT) in the Beekeeping in Tennessee publication from UT (PB 1745), and is available at the following URL: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/PB1745.pdf

Seasonal Management: March

• Check brood chambers. If all of the brood is in the upper part of the brood chamber, reverse the upper and lower brood chamber units. Do not split the brood by reversing when brood is present in both boxes. Reversing the chambers will cause the queen to use both units for egg laying. However, expanding the brood nest too early may cause chilled brood if cold weather reappears.

• Check the brood for diseases and mites each time you open the colony. Check the honey stores. Feed all colonies that have less than 15 pounds of honey stores to prevent starvation. Syrup, not candy boards, should be used at this time.

• Super colonies with drawn comb if available. It’s a little early to super with foundation.

• March is a good time to find queens and mark them with paint and a clipped wing since the population of adult bees will be smaller at this time.

 

 

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TN Beekeeping Annual Calendar

Annual Schedule for beekeepers – Of course all dates are approximate, and dependant on weather…

January

The Bees will be clustered during cold weather, but it is common for there to be several days  when the weather is warm enough for the bees to fly and cleanse – although little if any forage is available most years.

A small amt of brood production re-starts around mid January.

If hives are  light – or if it is your regular practice – Dry sugar, sugar candy, or pollen sub can be fed on top bars in almost any decent weather.

Order bees, maintain equipment.

Don’t let your bees starve – this goes for every month of the year.

If you plan to do a pre season varroa treatment you need to plan it now – depending on the specific treatment it may need to be completed long before honey supers go on.

February

Maple pollen and nectar may be available toward the end of the month, but usually bad weather limits foraging opportunities.  The Bees will be clustered during cold weather, but it is common for there to be several days  when the weather is warm enough for the bees to fly and cleanse.  Populations bottom out during February, and start to increase (healthy hives) by the end of the month.  Increasing amounts of brood increases food demand – hives can easily starve even when food is available in the hive if prolonged cold weather sticks them on brood.

Our state experts recommend a pre-season varroa treatment. If you plan to do this then you need to choose and order treatments so that you will have them when needed.   Mite-Away-Quick-Strips – formic acid – is best used in cooler temps and may be a good choice.  Apivar – amitraz – synthetic treatment must be completed at least 2 weeks before honey supers are added.  Please Do Not take this as an endorsement of these products – just information about their timeliness.

 

March

Maple blooms in earnest – with sufficient fair weather honey may be stored, but usually maple nectar is mostly consumed by increasing amounts of brood. Populations increase a lot in March.  By the time Dandelions bloom later in the month is the traditional time to start swarm prevention such as reversing hive bodies or adding honey supers.  Note the date of the main dandelion bloom – fruit trees and swarming usually follow about 3 weeks later.

Complete early mite treatments before adding honey supers as per directions for the particular poison.

Starvation remains an issue during cold snaps.  March and early April may be the time when the most hives do starve.  Fortunately there are usually fair days with upper 50 F temps when thorough inspections can be performed and countermeasures can be taken.  It is warm enough in March to begin feeding syrup – but be careful lest ye aggravate swarming later.

The appearance of drone brood in March signals the beginning of the reproductive season – splitting or queen rearing may begin when drone brood is at the purple eye stage.

April

Beekeeping begins in earnest by April – you should be doing regular inspections to monitor hive conditions.  We are frost free many years by the 15th most years by May 1.

Early blooms such as fruit trees make ample forage available when the weather is fair – but hives can still starve during extended cold or rainy weather, because large amounts of brood can quickly eat through all available stores.  But his becomes increasingly unlikely as April progresses.  Swarms however become increasingly more likely throughout the month.

Wax/comb production ramps up in April.

Our main flow consisting of black locust and tulip poplar may begin later in the month.

Main beekeeping tasks are to keep supers going on, and try to prevent swarming.  You might even try to collect a few swarms.  April is a great time to make splits or begin rearing queens.

If you are a beginner – April or May  is probably when you will get and install your bees – hereafter known as the happiest day of your life.

May

May is normally when our main honey flow happens – If you and your hives aren’t ready to take advantage of it by May 1 you are going to miss it.  Everything blooms in May.   Hive populations will be at or near maximum.

You should be doing inspections, supering, swarm management, making increase – all of the fun, hard work of beekeeping this month.  BTW – do you know how to tell if a hive has swarmed or not?

Beginners – feed 1-1 syrup as long as they will take it, give them a new box when all but 2 frames are drawn out, and do your inspections!

June

By the middle of June the honey flow has usually tapered off quite a lot, and the danger of swarming should be about over if you have done your part so far.  There will still be a few flowers around but the large populations of bees will be working the last of them harder and harder – for ever smaller rewards.  Wax/comb production will decline to very little during June.  And robbing will begin.  Honey will be capped and cured during this month and harvesting may begin.  Try to prevent robbing and be vigilant about queenlessness.  When hives do become queenless you will need to be prepared to introduce a new queen.

Beginners – continue to  feed 1-1 syrup as long as they will take it, give them a new box when all but 2 frames are drawn out, and do your inspections!  If your new hive completely fills two hive bodies with drawn comb, brood and bees – congratulations you can consider splitting them to make more hives!

July

July is time to harvest Honey in TN – it is ready by now if it ever will be, and you need to get it off of hives so that you can treat for Varroa mites.  The market for local honey is quite good in our area with prices as high as $18 per quart in good sales locations – don’t undersell your hard earned honey!  Advertise for free on LSN or on our club website Local Honey page or on other internet local honey sites.

July is robbing season in Mid TN – so take all precautions to avoid setting it off.  It is also SHB and Varroa mite season – so do your inspections, and try to keep your hives strong and healthy.  Plan to complete varroa treatments before August 15 to insure that the fall build up can proceed with healthy bees.  It may be too hot for MAQS – formic acid – to be safely used so consider Apiguard (naturally occuring mitacide) which actually works better when it is hot – but requires more than one treatment, or Apivar – amitraz synthetic – which only requires one but leaves synthetic chemical residue in the hive.  You just have to learn about them and choose your poison.

Brood rearing is usually considerably curtailed during July and August because the normally hot dry conditions result in a dearth of nectar – although pollen may remain plentiful.

Big strong hives may be quite aggressive – wear your veil when in the bee yard.

 

First year beekeepers may need to continue to feed in order to get hives sufficiently built out – especially if you already made splits – but beware of  robbing if you are in the vicinity of any other bee hives.  Be careful not to spill feed and keep entrances as small as possible – refrain from using honey-bee-healthy or other “feeding stimulants” at this time, because they aggravate robbing.   Consider fitting your hives with robber screens.

You may consider moving hives and resources around a bit in order to equalize hive sizes and strengths – this activity can continue until mid fall, but it is best done in moderate steps.

According to Ed Holcomb - Requeen  between July 10 and August 21  if your existing queen has already performed through one or more intensive brood production periods.   It is important that your queen is performing at her peak potential during the fall build up.  Without a strong hive population going into winter it will be impossible to build up sufficiently to exploit the short nectar flow that is available in the south.

Some people believe that Queens which are mated after the summer solstice – Around June 22 – perform especially well during fall build up because of the shorting of the days at that time.  It seems to possibly be true.

August

Other than keeping an eye on things and completing mite treatments by the 15th there isn’t a lot to do this month.   Hive populations fall off.  Robbing continues with any nectar source getting mobbed by out of work foragers.

September

Brood production restarts in early September – usually there are some small but unreliable nectar flows which end by late month even in a good year.

Evaluate all hives early in the month, and combine, shake out or requeen any which are lagging.  Cut your your losses now before you have fed and babied lackluster hives for months only to have them fail over the winter – or fail to be productive in the spring.

Start feeding light hives 2-1 heavy syrup until they put on sufficient weight to overwinter on.

October

Remove any excess frames or supers – reduce hives down to the size that you want them to be for winter.  Continue feeding light hives.  Brood production and hive populations will continue to diminish.

Do your last inspections while the weather is fair – try not to set off robbing when you open hives.  Options are limited if you find any hives that are in trouble.  Killing frost usually happens in late October.

Install mouse guards and configure hives for winter – top ventilation – but don’t accidentally open up a back door for robbers or wax moths.

November

Not much to do this month.  Hopefully you have fed all hives so that they have sufficient stores to last until spring.  Brood rearing and foraging activity will continue through this month – some pollen, but little if any nectar available.  Brood production will pretty much be over by Thanksgiving.

December

December actually usually has quite a lot of fair weather here in the South.  Watch the weather predictions and plan to do a varroa mite treatment on one of those fair weather days.  You can do this last treatment any time after brood is no longer present in the hives – usually by Thanksgiving.  Oxalic acid – either vapor or trickle – can be done almost any time regardless of the temp.  MAQS requires a day warm enough for the bees to fan – preferably 2-3 in a row.  OA vapor doesn’t even require opening the hive.

If you plan to do Mt Camp sugar as an insurance action after you do your mite treatment is the ideal time.

Our Beekeeping Schedule by the major blooms

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Beekeeping Phenology – Important blooms in mid TN

 

  1. Maple - Rapid increase in brood production – Begins in late Feb/early March and lasts several weeks as different varieties bloom at slightly different times.  Weather is often fair enough for inspections during the maple bloom, and hive conditions may indicate that it is time to reverse brood chambers.
  2. Dandelion - time to begin adding supers, reversing brood boxes, and other swarming counter-measures – late March/Early April.  Swarm issue begins about 3 weeks later.
  3. Apple - Start of swarms issuing – Early/Mid April
  4. Poplar, Black Locust - Main nectar flows in mid TN – May
  5. Fireworks - Time to harvest honey – July
  6. Goldenrod - Begin getting colonies ready for winter – September

Dates are approximate and weather dependant – and of course bees don’t read calendars.

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Feeding Honey Bees for Beginners

My first year of beekeeping I was surprised to discover how often I had to feed my new pets.  I shouldn’t have been surprised – like all animals honey bees have to eat.

Unfortunately I had done a lot of reading on the Internet and heard that feeding your bees is bad – unnatural, unhealthy, makes them lazy, and swarmy, can cause them to produce brood at the wrong times, etc, etc…  Anyway if you don’t take too much honey from them then they won’t need to be fed.

Well, that last statement may be truish – in a good year, with an established hive.  But not in most years in Mid TN, and certainly not for first year hives that are not yet established.

But to quote Randy Oliver – who is a very reputable researcher and writer for American Bee Journal and  www.Scientificbeekeeping.com If you want to maintain colonies that are as big (and strong) as Sumo wrestlers, they must continually eat like Sumo wrestlers—either from natural forage, or by supplementation. You can’t wait until the last minute to beef up a contender! “  And I agree with him.

In My Opinion making sure that your bees – or your dog, or your bird, or your kids – have good nutrition year around is fundamental to keeping them healthy and productive.

Yes – natural pollen and honey may be more ideal bee food than sugar and pollen sub, but tell me this would you let your kids starve because fresh produce is out of season and canned beans aren’t ideal?  How about your dog? Not much dog chow available in nature is there?

So assuming that we agree that you will sometimes need to feed your bees, we are mostly talking about plain old table sugar in one form or another.  Stock up on it, and watch for sales – 4-5 pound bags are often cheap, and simpler than bulk sugar until you have several hives.  But always keep some on hand just in case.

Most of the time you will be mixing sugar and water to make either 1-1 or 2-1 syrup.  Some people use something along the line of 1 1/2 – 1 syrup year round.  Those ratios are by weight, and  just so it would be simple for us they made it so that a pint of water weighs just about one pound.  So if you want to make some 2-1 syrup just mix a 4 pound bag of sugar and 2 pints of very hot water in a gallon jug.  For 1-1 it would be 4 pints of hot water and a 4 pound bag of sugar.  Very simple.  It’s easy to do a little math to scale up to however large a batch you need.

As a general rule you will use 1-1 (light) syrup as needed during most of the beekeeping season because it works well to help the bees produce brood and wax.   Starting sometime in September you will want to change to 2-1 (heavy) syrup because you want the bees to store it away for winter, and heavy syrup contains less water so it is easier for the bees to process before winter.  Starting in December more or less you may want to feed dry sugar or some kind of dry sugar candy as winter feed.

How do you know When to Feed?

Very Simple – Do Your Inspections.  Any hive that does not contain at least 15 pounds of honey and open nectar combined – with good amounts of both should be fed.  Starting in about mid September that number changes to 50 pounds of cured “honey” – and heavy syrup.  Once those goals are met you can stop feeding – until they use some of it up and need to be fed again.  Which you will know because you are going to Do your Inspections.

While you are doing your inspections you need to watch out for backfilling of the brood nest – If you see nectar being stored in the brood nest then stop feeding, and remain watchful.  Allowing backfilling to continue – either because you are feeding, or because of a natural nectar flow – will result in swarming if it goes on for just a few days.   In addition to not feeding you can also give them more empty drawn comb to work with or open the brood nest by inserting a foundationless frame – they will build comb in it and the queen will lay eggs in the new comb.  Both of those activities help to delay swarming.

Fortunately there is usually abundant pollen available in our area almost any time that the bees can forage – so you don’t really need to worry about using pollen substitutes during your first year.  But 1 warning just  in case you decide to experiment – during warm weather pollen sub – especially  in the form of “patties” – usually will be infested with hive beetle larva very quickly.

What kind of feeder to Use?

  • Inverted quart jars or in the fall when I use inverted 2 gallon pails so that I can get the job done much quicker.  Cheap and don’t kill bees. They also put the feed right on top of the  bees where they can get it even in cool weather.  You can either put them on top of the hive if it has a hole in the cover – how I do it – over the hole in the inner cover enclosed in an empty super, or directly on the top bars.  If you use jars don’t let sun shine on them – it will heat the syrup and make it expand out into the hive – cover it with an empty super, coffee can, aluminum foil – anything to keep the direct sun off.
  • Miller feeders are popular – easy to fill and they hold a lot of feed. Expensive and usually drown some bees.  If you leave them on during the season they may be filled with comb.
  • Boardman feeders – not recommended because they can set off robbing.
  • Frame feeders – Require opening the hive to feed, drown some bees – but they put the feed where they can get to it even in cool weather.
  • Ziplock baggies – cheap one use solution – don’t kill bees if done correctly. They don’t hold very much feed, and require opening the hive to change – you can’t refill them.

Suggested Reading:

Randy Oliver on Fat Bees

Mountain camp style feeding – dry sugar

Notes and Tips:

Heavy syrup almost will not freeze – so it is safe to store in the garage over winter – the same is true of honey.

1-1 syrup will ferment or grow funky mold in it very quickly during hot weather if it is not used up.  Adding honey-bee-healthy (or equivalent) or bleach will prevent it.

Never never feed your bees honey that did not come from your own apiary – it is entirely possible that if you do they will contract American Foul Brood – the Black Plague of honey bee diseases.

Also don’t feed your bees brown sugar, raw sugar, molasses, or maple syrup, chocolate, or any other – “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sweet dark substance.

You can however make summer syrup out peppermint candy and other – “that’s nothing but sugar” kind of hard candies, also things like jams and jellies.  These are all mostly sugar or corn syrup – which are OK.

HFCF – high fructose corn syrup – Nutritionally it is fine for bees according to good research.  Hard to get in small quantities anyway.

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Swarm Management for new Beekeepers

New Beekeepers who are successfully over wintering hives for the first time are likely to see their overwintered colonies build up strongly on the early spring nectar flows.

Unfortunately strong overwintered colonies have a natural tendency to reproduce by swarming.

A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the primeswarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen.
Swarming (honey bee) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As you probably know Swarming is something that we beekeepers want to prevent. A swarm can represent hundreds of dollars worth of bees flying away – along with the chances of a good honey crop. Also colonies which swarm often become queenless, and can collapse completely without beekeeper intervention – not always, but too often.

After a swarm issues it will usually hang out like this for a few hours while it decides where to go.  And BTW this is the swarm in the video. At $25-$30 per pound for package bees how much do you think this swarm is worth?

The most important thing a new beekeeper can do to manage swarming and your honey bee colonies is do weekly inspections!  No swarm prevention technique is 100% effective – most aren’t even close to that – but if you do your inspections (* and are prepared to take action when your inspections indicate that it is needed) you will have a much better chance of preventing swarms. And if your colonies do swarm at least you will be able to preventing queenlessness and colony collapse – if you understand what has happened and know what to do.

Most of the techniques which established beekeepers use to manage swarming involve supplying the hive with drawn comb “honey supers”  above the brood nest – not just a little – but enough to store most of the year’s honey crop in. Several boxes full of empty drawn comb for a mature hive.

Unfortunately new frames of undrawn foundation will not work to prevent swarming, and most new beekeepers have little if any extra drawn comb to give their first overwintered hives. So swarm management options for new beekeepers are much more limited.

So, if you are a second year beekeeper in this situation I am going to recommend that you plan to split your hives to prevent them from swarming. There are other things that can be done to manage swarming, but to avoid confusion I’m not going to talk about them at this time, if you are interested in other alternatives you can find them in the footnotes.

The reasons that I am recommending splitting instead of some other swarm management scheme for second year beekeepers are:

  1.  Splitting and making increase will build your skills as a beekeeper.
  2.  “Extra” hives give you the resources that you need to recover from the inevitable mishaps.
  3.  Bee hives die – like anything else. You need to have enough hives to still have a viable apiary even after normal losses – at least 2 ½.
  4.  I have observed that new beekeepers that make increase seem to be more likely to stick with it than those who don’t.
  5. Splitting is almost a “do it once and forget it” swarm management technique – most others are not.
  6.  More hives = More fun! Up to a point.
  7. More colonies will build more comb so that you won’t have this same problem again next year.

You might have read or heard established beekeepers say that you should only split a strong double deep hive – which is true if you want both splits to be production colonies right away. Splitting a strong double deep sized colony results in two hives which are still strong enough to make a honey crop if you have drawn comb to give them. If you can’t give them drawn comb it would still be possible – or likely – that both halves could still swarm.

Splitting for swarm prevention is different from splitting to increase honey production in that it requires the resulting hives be small/weak enough to keep them in establishment mode rather than reproductive/swarm mode – at least  for a while.

The resulting split hives will still build up and draw comb, and may even produce some excess honey – it is certainly more likely than if they swarm and fly away.

 What If you don’t Want More Hives?

If you don’t have at least 2 1/2 hives then you need to increase to at least that number.  Having one hive of bees is a lot like having one chicken – it might be fun to watch and play with, and it might even give you a little something to eat for breakfast sometimes, but it isn’t very sustainable.  If one thing goes wrong you will be out of business.

Splitting your first spring does Not require that you buy a lot of extra equipment.  By the time your 2 1/2 hives are fully developed you will need to have at least 9-13 medium boxes full of frames and foundation plus tops and bottoms for 3 hives.  The only extra things that you need to split during your second year are some extra tops and bottoms, and those can be as simple as flat pieces of plywood if you need to keep it really simple and economical.

Even if you don’t want more hives I still recommend splitting during your first spring with overwintered hives.  If at the end of the season you have more hives than you want to keep then you can combine them back together – and you will then have a lot of the comb that you need. But most new beekeepers really need to make increase. Bee hives die like any other organism, and the only way for you to maintain the number of hives that you actually want is to make increase every year to make up for the ones that die. Or you can buy bees every year.

Producing some extra hives during the spring and summer will allow you to have more options when it comes time to cull/combine under performing (or aggressive)  hives in the fall – you really can’t do that without extra hives.  “Taking your losses in the Fall” like this will help you to minimize fall expenses (feed, mite treatments, etc,) cut down on winter losses by eliminating weak colonies, and will allow you to improve your stocks.

A bit about Splitting

Broadly speaking splitting comes in 2 flavors -

  1. Queen Rite – When you furnish the split with a caged queen - which is all ready laying. This method is probably at least 90% successful and both hives start growing immediately.  Queenright splits don’t really have to be particularly strong when you make them.
  2. The other option is to allow the new hive to make a queen for itself. The success rate for making a queen is probably in the 60-75% range and it will be about a month before the new queen starts producing much new brood, and weeks longer before new adult bees emerge .  A split which is going to make a queen for itself needs to be quite strong and contain plenty of nurse bees – and lots of nutrition in the form of both pollen and nectar/honey.  Note: I am not trying to discourage you from splitting and making a new queen – I do it all the time – just laying out the facts.

Note the difference between strong and big:  When beekeepers say a hive is “strong” we mean that it has a dense population of bees – a small hive can be strong, and a big hive can be weak.

A strong hive of honey bees with a dense population.

This is an example of a very “strong” hive.  Your hives don’t need to be this strong for you to split them, but you get the idea. Photo by Lauri Miller

I don’t really want to go too far into the details of how to split hives at this time because it is outside of the scope of this article –  Other than to point out that if you want to make queen rite splits in April you will need to make advanced arrangements to get those queens.

When to Split?

When is a hive strong enough to split – This is going to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but if the hive setup is getting crowded with bees, there are about 6 frames of brood, OR the available comb is getting filled up with eggs, brood and stores it is probably strong enough to split.  If you notice backfilling of brood comb – it is time to split – swarming is probably next on the agenda.

honey bee brood nest backfilled with nectar

Under certain conditions nectar will be stored in brood cells as soon as the new bees emerge from it. In the spring this is usually a sign and cause of swarming/swarm prep. In a fall flow it is part of the normal way that a hive prepares for winter. This particular picture was taken in the fall.

Earliest possible split with a purchased Queen – You can make a queenright split as soon as you have a hive which is big enough to make two viable hives – and when you can get a queen to use. As mentioned queenright splits don’t have to be all that strong initially.  Usually by the time you can get a spring queen from the southeast region your healthy hives will be alright to split. Queens usually become commonly available around mid-late March or a month later for local queens. As with everything else agriculturally related it depends on the weather. Be aware though that the demand for queens gets very high during early spring and they can be hard to get when you want them. So order early if possible.

Earliest possible time to split and Make a Queen – When you see capped drone brood in your hives – and when your hives are strong enough to split.

When is the BEST time to split? The timing is much less critical if you are furnishing a queen, but if your new hives will have to make a queen then one of  the best times to start is about April 15 – 2 weeks before the main flow (typically) starts.  However the other conditions for splitting still apply no matter what the calendar says.  If during an inspection you see signs of swarming developing in your hives – congestion, backfilling, cell building – then go ahead no matter what the date is.  April 15 may be too late to head off swarming – so be prepared with both equipment and a plan.

The reasons that mid April is a good time to split and let them make a queen:

  1. By the time your queen will be ready to mate around May 1st the weather is usually settled and mild.
  2. The temperatures are usually fairly moderate by April 15th so the hives are not under stress from either heat or cold.
  3. Plenty of natural food is available – good queens need to be well fed as larva, and there is no substitute for abundant natural forage.
  4. Plenty of drones for new queens to mate with.
  5. Good nectar flows result in higher success rates.
  6. It is the normal time that bees would be producing queens if it was up to them.

When is the last chance to split to prevent swarming?

When you find queen cells during an inspection. In our area it is not all that unusual for strong hives to swarm in March if the weather is mild but the main swarm season is in April – May.  If you don’t do your inspections they may swarm and you will never even know.

However Once a hive has “decided to swarm” it can be much more difficult to prevent it from happening. So the earlier you plan to split the better your chances of preventing a swarm. Of course you have to balance that with your judgment of when the hive is strong enough to split. If you aren’t inspecting your hives then you won’t know if they are getting in shape to swarm or not – so you really do need to do inspections during swarm season.

Bearding during swarm season – when it isn’t hot – can be a sign that a swarm is eminent. This is like seeing a car in a driveway with the trunk open and suitcases sitting next to it.

What to look for to gauge swarm prep

  • Production of drone brood signals the beginning of the reproduction season.  Drones are expensive in hive resources, and reproduction is their only purpose. Drone brood is not a sign that a hive is about to swarm however.
  • You may notice at some point that there is suddenly a Lot of capped brood. A week later you will notice a surge in population as that brood emerges. Watch closely at this time for nectar being stored in recently emerged brood comb. Swarm prep is probably about to begin – this is a good sign that it is time to split.
  • High population – congestion in the brood area. Even if you add a box of foundation the bees may refuse to use it – leaving the populated part of the hive crowded.  Moving a frame or two of brood up into the super of foundation will often help lure the bees into using the space – but not always.
  • Lots of adult drones
  • Backfilling – nectar being stored in the brood area – this is a sign that the hive is beginning – or about to begin – swarm prep.
  • Queen cells – If you find cells you need to take action immediately – that same day if at all possible. Queen cells develop in only 10-12 days.  It is difficult to tell if a capped queen cell is ready to emerge immediately or in a week. But when the swarm cells do emerge the hive will swarm.
  • Bearding – if there are a lot of bees hanging on the outside of the hive during swarm season (and it isn’t hot) the hive may be only hours or a few days from issuing a swarm.
  • If you know that you are planning to split then in my opinion you should go ahead and do it around April 15 even if you haven’t seen any signs of swarm prep – as long as the hive is strong enough.

Something Worth mentioning – Don’t use a queen excluder to keep the queen out of honey supers until you have ample drawn comb to fully outfit the hive – maybe not even then.  In other words don’t put a box of bare foundation above a queen excluder unless you are sure you know what you are doing – the bees won’t usually go through it to  get to bare foundation – and it can contribute to swarming.  I’m not saying don’t ever use a queen excluder, just don’t use it like that.

You Can Split AND Make a Honey crop

If one really had their heart set on making some honey their second spring – if the weather co-operates, and you have more than one strong overwintered hive – with a bit of luck – you could split all of your hives and still make some honey. For example:

  1. You have at least 2 strong hives.
  2. Make queenright splits as early as you can get queens – say early April.
  3. Keep all of the hives side by side on one long hive stand.
  4. April weather can be unsettled and prevent your bees from foraging so supply supplemental feeding to keep them growing as fast as possible.
  5. Push all of the hives together on the hive stand until they are almost touching.
  6. Around the last week of April choose one hive to be your honey producer.
  7. Take a frame of capped brood and clinging bees from each of the other nucs and give it to the honey hive. More than one if they can afford it. Don’t accidentally move a queen!
  8. On May 1st (or the beginning of the main nectar flow – when locust or poplar blooms for most of us) Move all but the designated honey hive to a new stand location – they can stay in the same yard, but you want to move them at least 15-20 feet.  Slide the honey hive to the middle of the old stand. This will cause almost all of the foragers from all of the hives to orient on the honey hive – making it very strong.
  9. Stop feeding the honey hive.
  10. Because the nectar flow is on the other hives will be fine – they will start orienting new foragers right away – but keep feeding them for at least a few days.
  11. Consolidate most of the frames from the other hives which are either empty comb, partially filled, or contain mostly open nectar – if there are any – into a honey super and give it to the honey hive.
  12. Once the honey hive starts storing nectar in the honey super give it another super of foundation.
  13. Keep the honey hive from swarming by whatever means you choose. Plan to work hard to stay on top of it until the nectar flow is over around the middle of June.  It might be a challenge to prevent this hive from swarming, but even if it does you could still get some honey, and anyway you still have 3 more hives chugging along.
  14. If all goes well and it is a good year you should make a decent amount of honey off of the one strong hive because one strong colony will far out produce the combined yield of 4 smallish ones.
  15. In the meantime the other 3 hives should build up nicely on the main flow, and swarming shouldn’t be hard to prevent – but still do your inspections and be ready to take action if you see signs of swarming in them.
  16. After you harvest honey you will probably want to redistribute resources to equalize all hives as much as possible.

So, the point is that you need to decide soon what you plan to do so that you can arrange to have what you need ready when the time comes for action. Go ahead and arrange for those queens and woodenware and study up on splitting – Spring will be here before you know it.

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Footnotes

Be prepared – when you discover that a hive is about to swarm it is too late to order or assemble wooden ware to make splits – or to catch a swarm that has already issued. Beekeepers need to have supers, nucs or hive setups – or at the very least cardboard or plasticell nucs – along with frames assembled with foundation ready to use by March. Ready means ready to use – not ready to assemble.

Other ways to prevent swarming that don’t require extra drawn comb

Opening the Brood nest

  • Open the brood nest by inserting a foundationless frame between two full frames of brood – depending on the strength of the hive you may insert multiple foundationless frames in this fashion – each flanked by two full frames of brood.
  •  Judgement must be exercised not to over do this manipulation- there need to be enough bees to both cover the brood, and to fill the spaces you create by opening the brood nest.  Overdoing it can result in brood being abandoned and  chilled.
  • If done correctly the bees will build nice straight comb in just a few days – which is almost certain to be filled with eggs as soon as it is built.
  • You Must use foundationless frames – foundation will not work.  This may result in drone brood in many hives – which may or may not be a bad thing depending upon how you look at it. In any event drone comb can be used in honey supers.
  • Opening the brood nest will probably need to be repeated several times during the swarm season.

Opening the Sides of the brood nest

  • Several weeks before swarm season, move each outside frame up directly above the Brood nest.
  • Insert a new Foundationless frame with a starter strip on each outside edge of the Brood nest – a frame with foundation will not work!
  • Check them in 2-3 weeks and repeat if frames are drawn.
  • This is a variation of opening the brood nest and works by the same  mechanisms, but opening the sides eliminates some of the risk of setting back the hive and chilling brood that can happen with excessive opening of the brood nest.

Demaree method

In the Demaree method of swarm control frames of  brood are moved to the top of the hive above a queen excluder while making sure that the queen remains below.  Once the brood in the top of the hive has hatched the process can be repeated.  Sometimes (often) queen cells will be built in the top box – which can be destroyed or used to establish a new hive.  When done correctly such a hive should not swarm, and will produce a honey crop AND draw out new comb.  There are many variations of the Demarree method.  Supposedly it fools the hive into thinking it has already swarmed.

Queen cell removal

  • You can prevent a hive from swarming by removing every single queen cell – every 7-10 days during the swarm season.
  • In order to make it work you have to inspect every single frame which could have a queen cell every 7-10 days.
  • If you miss a single cell they will swarm, if you skip an inspection they are almost sure to swarm.
  • This method requires dedication, thoroughness, and a lot of work.
  • Did I mention that you can never miss a single cell?

Removing the queen – this is basically the same thing as splitting the hive. If you remove the queen from a hive which is already preparing to swarm it is likely to swarm anyway – so you need to check for and remove excessive swarm cells at the same time that you remove the queen for this to work.

Internet resources
Simple Queen Introduction
How to tell if a hive has swarmed and what to do if it has 

To Split or not to Split – how to decide

  • No matter what – even if you don’t really plan to split – prepare yourself with wooden ware for splitting and supering – in advance – No later than by March 15 in our area.
  • Do inspections faithfully throughout the season to stay on top of hive conditions and gain experience.
  • Do you want/need new hives?
  • If you want/need more hives then split strong hives on or before April 15 or as soon as you see a queen cell or other signs of eminent swarming.
  • If you discover that either you can’t or Don’t keep up with weekly inspections then you need to accept this flaw in your personality and split no later than April 15 to prevent swarming – even if you don’t really want more hives. Nothing else will even come close to preventing swarming if you can’t do regular inspections – splitting can. You can combine hives later to get back down to your desired hive count.
  • If no more colonies are desired then try one of the other options.
  • If you discover queen cells split.
  • If fall arrives and you have more colonies than you want combine.

Contributors
I posted a thread starter on beesource forums on the subject of swarm management for beginners to get input from other beekeepers and I would like to thank the following people for their participating in this discussion and their contributions to this subject:

 

Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal, Short Course, Swarms | 2 Comments

How to Tell if a Hive has Already Swarmed

Honey bee colony populations can increase so rapidly just before swarming that it may not be apparent that a hive has swarmed just by population or entrance activity – although usually both are reduced somewhat. Upon inspection of such a hive you will usually find queen cells along the bottoms of combs (swarm cells) – probably opened where the queen(s) have emerged. There will not usually be a lot of brood in the hive right at the time of swarming because the queen typically runs out – or nearly out – of room to lay eggs in during the run up to swarming. You may find several recently emerged brood cells – which may be filled with nectar. But the main sign of a hive which has recently swarmed are opened swarm cells.

So, what if anything do you do? If there are a lot of unopened swarm cells scattered through the hive you should remove most of them from the hive one way or another. A hive which contains many widely scattered swarm cells is likely to issue multiple virgin swarms which can seriously deplete the hive population.

You can destroy most of them leaving only a few on one or two adjacent frames – so that the first virgin to emerge will kill the remaining ones.

Or you can make up mating nucs with some of them by putting a frame with a queen cell and a frame of stores along with all of the clinging bees into a nucleus hive – good insurance in case another hive becomes queenless. Shake in enough extra bees to cover the frames, and of course fill the box up with frames of comb or foundation.

Either way, don’t leave a big strong hive full of unopened swarm cells.

Once you have taken care of that – if it was called for – be sure to inspect the hive every week to monitor it’s condition and ensure that it is not going to become or remain queenless.  If at any time you don’t see eggs or very young larva in the hive then give it a frame of young open brood and eggs from another hive.  If on your next inspection there are queen cells on that frame then the hive is queenless.  You can either let them make a queen from the cells they have started or you can go ahead and give them a queen if you have one.

If you let them make a queen then you need to continue to monitor the hive to make sure that it doesn’t start to get weak – if it does you need to reduce it’s volume by removing frames or giving frames of stores to other hives.  If it does not have a laying queen by a month after you discover it is queenless the hive will be in danger of being over run by hive beetles, wax moths, robber bees – and ultimately collapsing.  But that won’t happen if you do your inspections and take timely action to remedy queenlessness.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Short Course, Swarms | 1 Comment

Really Simple Queen Introduction

Queen introduction is fraught with anxiety – A good queen honey bee is pretty expensive as bugs go and of course you don’t want to take any chances with it. I think I’ve tried most of the common tips – push in cages, making the hive queenless for some period of time, etc. But here is the thing – what really works best for me is a standard candy release. Whether you are making a split, fixing a queenless hive, replacing an old queen or drone layer, installing a package, or dealing with a laying worker hive – this simple method works the same for all. It’s almost fool proof if you follow the simple rules.

Honey bee queen cages.

When you buy a queen honey bee she will usually come in a cage like one of these. All of them have some kind of “candy release” mechanism where the bees free the queen by eating through a candy plug. The plastic JZBZs cage on the right should have candy in the tube. The small wooden cage should come with a separate plastic candy tube that you replace the stopper with. The larger wooden cage will be filled with candy in the top round cavity. The yellow plastic cage has a similar cavity in it which should be filled with candy. All of them have a plug of some kind that you remove to expose the candy to the hive bees.  If you receive a caged queen that is missing the candy you can either make some “queen candy” by mixing a drop of corn syrup with powdered sugar to a dough like consistency – or you can use marshmallows.  However soft marshmallows may allow the queen to be introduced too quickly so consider leaving the plug in place for 2-3 days (inside of the new hive) before removing it to initiate the release.  The hive will take care of the queen through the mesh, and her presence will prevent them from starting cells – at least for a few days.

#1 – You need to be 100% sure that the hive is queenless, and the only way to really do that is to remove the old queen yourself when you introduce the new one. If you only THINK the hive is queenless you are likely to waste that $30 bug. If you are adding a queen to a hive that seems to have gone queenless then put a frame of open brood in it when you order your queen – if there are not queen cells on it when your queen arrives in a few days then you have a queen somewhere, and you will need to do something else with your store bought queen – such as use her to start a small nuc. Probably the most common cause of failure is that the hive isn’t really queenless.

#2 – Don’t make holes in the candy or do anything else to speed up the process – The candy release is a tried and true way to delay release just long enough to get good acceptance. If the queen has been banked, caged or spent a long time in shipping – or if the candy is really soft – you can delay the release a little longer by putting a layer of masking tape over the candy hole.

#3 – Hang the cage between two frames of brood if at all possible even if you have to steal the brood (along with clinging nurse bees) from another hive – brood attracts nurse bees which will do the best job of caring for your new queen. Orient the cage so that in case the candy melts it won’t run down on your queen and kill her, and so that dead attendants won’t clog the entrance – in other words with the candy tube to the side. Make sure that nurse bees outside of the queen cage can get access to feed the queen through the mesh.  You might want to remove a frame from the hive box to make room for the queen cage.  I usually just stick the cage into the comb, but you might find it helpful to have some scraps of wire handy to secure the cage where you want it.

#4 – Once you have installed the caged queen leave the hive alone for at least a week – and when you do inspect that first time don’t go nuts looking for the queen, just look for eggs, remove the empty cage and show yourself out. If the queen or hive has been stressed during the process leave them alone for even longer before inspecting. You want the queen to be laying at nearly full speed before you interrupt things.

#5 – Don’t make the hive queenless until you have your new queen in hand and are ready to introduce her - the hive will know almost immediately that they are queenless. If they are hostile to the new caged queen it is probably because they are not really queenless. Also if you make the hive queenless in advance they will often start queen cells which can gum up the process. A queenless hive which contains brood of the appropriate age will often start cells in less than 24 hours – almost immediately in some cases. If you didn’t remove the old queen right before introducing the new one (or if you have any reason to suspect the presence of cells) – inspect for and remove queen cells at the time of introduction.

#6 – You will have the best results in a strong, healthy, happy hive.

#7 – If you are replacing a healthy queen you should seriously consider moving her along with a frame of brood (and clinging bees of course) and a frame of stores to a nucleus hive until you are 100% sure that you have been successful. Whenever you do have queens that you are ready to dispatch you might want to pickle them in a $.99 bottle of plain vodka – it makes a great swarm lure or conversation starting cocktail.

The quickest way to get a new queen laying is the way that doesn’t get her killed – haste makes waste. Over time I finally came to this rather obvious realization, and started following these rules myself with nearly 100% subsequent success. Some caveats – If you are changing races of bees such as by trying to introduce a Russian queen into a hive of Italians or Carnis (or vice-versa) then seek advice from someone who has experience with that process. You can however cross queen Italians and Carnis without problems using the simple method outlined here.

If your new queen has been banked for a long time or has been highly stressed by shipping then you might want to let the hive get used to her for a few days before uncapping the candy. A truly queenless hive will take care of a single caged queen for a long time without any problems.

Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Short Course | 3 Comments

Beekeeping tasks this month – February

IMG_1239

It’s February – spring is on the horizon, but not here quite yet, what should I be doing as a beekeeper this month?

The following list was published by Dr. John A. Skinner (Professor & Apiculture Specialist @ UT) in the Beekeeping in Tennessee publication from UT (PB 1745), and is available at the following URL: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/PB1745.pdf

Seasonal Management: February

• Open colonies on a warm day (if available) and check for laying queen, brood and diseases.

• Check amount of honey stores. The hive can be lifted from the rear to estimate stores. On cool, but not cold days, the top can be removed to see the adult cluster size.

• Feed all colonies with less than 15 pounds of honey with a candy board to prevent starvation. Watch for incoming pollen on warm days. In February, brood rearing increases as the days become longer and pollen is produced by early flowering plants.

• Feed syrup and pollen substitute, if early, increased brood rearing is desired. Note: early, increased brood rearing increases risks of starvation in spring with sudden, prolonged cold snaps. During cold spells, the colony will cluster over the brood, keeping it warm. The colony will be unwilling to move to frames of stored honey. Also, feeding strong colonies in February will result in an early swarm season for your bees.

• Unite weak or queenless colonies with another colony (bees should cover five or more frames, but smaller colonies can often survive and build up in time to make some honey). Also, queens may not be apparently laying much at this time.

• Select the best of the two queens before uniting the two colonies. Remove one of the two queens before uniting. Use the newspaper method.

• February is the breeding season for skunks. They may be more active during this time. Skunks may scratch at hive entrances and eat the bees that come out to check.

• Order spring bees in this month or earlier if the supplier accepts earlier orders. Suppliers often sell out in March.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal | 1 Comment

Emergency Feeding – Don’t let your Bees Starve!

Mountain Camp Sugar Feeding

dry sugar emergency feed for honey bees

To ensure your bees don’t starve over the winter you can very simply pour plain sugar onto a sheet of paper towel or newspaper  laid directly on the top bars of the hive. leave room for the bees to get around – that’s just about all there is to it.

If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your bees might be low on food – or even if they have food but the cluster might not be able to get to it.   You can insure that your bees don’t starve by “mountain camp” feeding.  It is very easy, doesn’t require any special equipment, and doesn’t require digging around in the hive – you can even do it when it is pretty cold.  There is no reason to let your bees starve.

If you don’t wet the sugar a bit the bees will often carry it out of the hive as if it were refuse – or when they eat through the paper it will trickle down into the hive and make a mess.  Using a spray bottle of plain water wet down the paper, add a layer of sugar about 1/2 – 1″ thick, wet it down, continue adding sugar in layers and wetting them until you have added all the sugar you want to apply.  If you are worried about adding so much moisture to the hive – don’t the sugar will quickly absorb all of it as it hardens up.  It will not hurt anything.  4-5 pounds of sugar  is not too much to use.  Be sure to leave space for the bees to go around the paper.  Add an empty super or a feed shim to make room for everything.  An empty super may seem too roomy, but it works fine – I have been doing this for 5 years now, and a medium super does the job with no problems.

this honey bee hive has eaten almost all of the mountain camp sugar.

This hive needs more sugar.

bees out of sugar

Now even a complete novice can tell that this hive will starve without immediate action. No guessing, very simple judgement, and a good excuse to go out and visit your bees on a winter day.

It will now be easy to tell just by peaking under the cover if your bees have used up the sugar yet.  If you feed like this and the cluster is at the top of the hive – which they often are by now – they Will Not Starve unless you let them.

A common spring occurrence is that colonies will have a good amount of open brood in them during a late cold snap.  The hive will cluster on the brood to keep it warm, and the bees and open brood will consume all of the food stores withing reach of the cluster.  Within just a few days of cold weather under these conditions a hive can starve to death with honey stored less than 3 inches from the cluster.  If the cluster is at the top, and you apply mt camp sugar this will not happen unless you let them run out of sugar.

An additional benefit of feeding like this is that the sugar absorbs moisture and helps to prevent condensation from dripping on the bees and freezing them.

maountain camp honey bee emergency feed with pollen sub candy.

As the bees consume the sugar feed you can replenish it with bee candy – I start feeding pollen sub candy in mid January.  As you can see in this picture the bees often hollow out the sugar from the bottom as they eat it.

As the food is used up you can either add a layer of paper on top of the old feed and just give them more granulated sugar or you can give them chunks of home made bee candy.

By the time you are ready to remove any remaining feed the sugar will be set up into a solid chunk that can easily be removed.  You can make syrup out of the scraps and nothing goes to waste.

There are two drawbacks to this system that I know of:  Sometimes during long spells of bad weather or if the bees have nosema a few of them may defecate on top of the sugar feed – they normally would not do that inside of the hive unless conditions were really bad.  This can’t be a good thing as far as hygiene goes, but I have never lost a hive due to nosema as far as I can tell despite routinely using mt camp sugar feed. On the other hand the signs of nosema are very clearly apparent when you see them on top of the white sugar, and that could give you the notice that you need to take timely action if you plan to treat for such things.

The other drawback to feeding like this is that you can’t add supers until you remove the feed – you can actually, but it won’t do much good if the weather turns cold and there is a box of empty comb between the emergency feed and the cluster of bees.  Of course you don’t need to add supers until there is nectar coming in anyway, but I thought I should mention that it can cause a conflict in certain weather/hive conditions.

I always feed like this in the winter, because I think that the benefits outweigh any downsides that there may be, however this does not mean that you can or should rob excessive honey, or fail to feed syrup in the fall if they need it.  But if your hives are light this will save your bacon.

Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal | 4 Comments

Time to Renew your TBA Membership

The time for most of us to renew our membership in the TN Beekeepers Association – TBA – is here.

In order to participate in the TBA hive grant program our club is required to have at least 6 members who are also TBA members in good standing – so please complete the TBA Membership Form and sign up at the next meeting!

If you are a new beekeeper and want to participate in the TBA hive grant drawing for a free hive setup and starter kit – then you must also sign up as a paid member of the TBS.

Membership in the TBA is only $10 per year and helps to support and promote beekeeping and beekeepers in TN.  Your TBA membership also gets you a discount on many beekeeping events and conferences which are held in TN.

Please print out the TBA membership form and either mail it in (along with your check) or bring it with you to our next meeting on Feb 6.

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