Seasonal management, April 2009: Busy in the beeyard

By Stacey Adair

Well, here we go again.

I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, thinking about April and May seasonal management, the thermometer is sitting at 35 degrees, and I now have about 1/2 inch of snow on my deck.. One of my bee buddies has 2 new nucs, and he sent me an email last night saying he had winterized them for the next 2 evenings, giving them wind protection, etc. Good idea. Keep those baby colonies warm! I have only heard of one swarm report to date, I’m sure there have been more, but I don’t believe the bees have built to capacity yet. But maybe that is in my bee yard only.

In regards to seasonal management, the same routines apply year after year, so I am going to reprint last April’s article for our new beekeepers, with a few edits. I apologize to those of you who will think it repetitive, but I welcome your additional input at the meeting on Monday night when Anthony presents our seasonal management.

This time of year can be quite hectic in the bee yard, so here are a few things to remember. Any free time you might have, try to make sure you have plenty of equipment ready ,including extra hive bodies for swarm retrieval, and plenty of honey supers ready to go when that honey flow hits. Two things which go hand in hand in the spring are build up and congestion. Congestion leads to swarming, and swarming leads to lost honey production. It is a fine line between having very strong colonies to produce honey with, and too strong a colony without enough room, which leads to swarming.

If you have very strong colonies, especially early like this, give them room. Even if the honey flow hasn’t started, the bees will go into the supers, relieving some of the congestion in the brood area. They will explore old comb and do repairs from the previous year’s extracting, or you might even be able to get them to start drawing out some foundation. Just give them room. If you have plenty of room on the colonies, but you still see signs of intent to swarm (queen cells) then you must make a decision at that time if you are going to try to control the swarm situation. By that I mean making a split, or artificial swarming. The benefit of this method is that you usually keep all the bees, even if in 2 different hives. Natural swarming can sometimes mean your neighbor finds your bees and keeps them!! Make the split from the strong hive, giving 3-5 frames of brood out of each hive body to the split, along with 3-4 queen cells. Leave the queen with the parent colony and remove all remain- ing queen cells. Drop drawn comb or foundation down into the brood area where frames were removed to make the split. Equalize the colonies by shaking extra bees into the split. Feed the split and let it make a queen. You may leave the split in the bee yard, or you can relocate it to another property. I usually leave it in the same apiary.

Go back into the parent colony in a few days to check for more swarm cells. If none are found it may mean that you have given them enough room to prevent swarming. Maybe. Also go into the split colony and check to see if a queen has hatched. You may not see her if she is out on a mating flight, so close them back up and check back in a week to 10 days to see if there are any eggs. Another method of swarm control is one that John Gee has done, which is putting an entire box of foundation or drawn comb in between the hive bodies (splitting the brood area into two halves). He says he does not cut out queen cells, and has had good luck with this technique. It does produce a very strong colony, so you must keep plenty of honey supers on it.
Another issue this time of year is supering for honey. There are as many suggestions on how to super as there are beekeepers, so research, experiment different techniques within your bee yard, and see what works best for you. If you are fortunate enough to have lots of drawn comb, stack it up!! Many of our seasoned beekeepers will put 4 supers on at a time. If you do have multiple supers on, Odra Turner has a little trick he uses where he staggers the boxes so the bees have entrances into the honey supers above the brood. This saves them a lot of travel time from the bottom of the hive, and it does work well! If you have to start with foundation, put 1 box on at a time, and as the comb is drawn out on most of the frames, put a new box on. You can also alternate drawn comb and foundation within a super to help increase your drawn comb at the end of the season.

Another suggestion if you would like to make comb honey is to put a couple of frames of wireless foundation in the centers of the honey supers. The bees tend to work the middles of the supers first, and will usually draw them out evenly for your comb honey production. It would be a good idea however to move the frames to the outer edges as the bees begin to cap it to prevent travel stains. There are also special supers for comb honey production where the honey is made into circle or square forms so that cutting comb out of regular frames is not needed at the end of production.

Joe Tarwater will be discussing different supering techniques at the meeting on Monday.

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