In reviewing the things we need to be considering at this time of year, I wanted to remind everyone that with this unseasonably wet spring we are having, swarms are most likely to issue after a few days of continual rain because the bees have been more crowded into the hive instead of foraging, and also with the addition of new brood hatching. Swarms usually issue between 9 am and 3 PM on days suitable for flight. When the weather clears a little, I would encourage everyone to get into their brood areas and check to see if swarming has occurred. If the bees are showing intent to swarm, you can refer back to the April issue to help with ideas on how to deal with the swarming instinct, hopefully preserv- ing a large portion of your bees for honey production.
Seasonal management for May and June continues to deal with swarm control, and su- pering for honey. We should also be thinking ahead to how we plan to remove the honey once capped, and also to consider what types of treatment for parasites or disease we plan to use if needed. I will review medications a little closer to time of their use, but this month will discuss a little about supering for our new beekeepers.
The best thing for our new beekeepers is that we have had a great spring (except for the rain!) and quite a good honey flow already. The locust had a good long bloom period, as well as the wild cherry, and now clover, blackberries and other nectar sources are coming on strong. It will take a day or two for the nectar to dry a little to be appealing to the bees, but once they lock onto a nectar source it’s fun to watch the flight patterns originating from the bee yard. If you watch the direction they take after their orientation flight, you can then get into your car and drive in the approxi- mate direction the bees took to try to identify some of their floral sources.
With a strong honey flow on, if your nucs have drawn out all the brood foundation and your queen is laying well, it’s time to super. Place the super of foundation over the brood area so the bees can start coming up into the super. After you see some drawing of comb started in your honey super, you can go back and place a queen excluder between the honey super and brood box. This will keep the queen from traveling up to the super to lay. There has been an ongoing argument about whether or not to use queen excluders. Many beekeepers feel that excluders significantly slow down nectar depositing in the supers. But other beekeepers don’t want brood mixed in their honey supers, because of the staining of the comb that occurs from brood rearing, so they use excluders all the time. One suggestion would be to try supering without an excluder to try to get the comb drawn a little quicker, plus some nectar filling in a few frames, then if the queen has moved up, find her, gently move her back down to the brood area, and put the excluder on. The bees will hatch out in 21 days, and the bees will fill the hatched area with honey afterward. It will not harm the flavor of the honey out back into the stained comb! If drone are hatched above the excluder, remember that they will die because they cannot pass back through the excluder to get down to the brood area where they are cared for by the nurse bees.
It is time to add another super when the honey super on a colony is one-half to two-thirds filled (6-7 frames). You can either top super or bottom super. To bottom super, raise the partially filled super and place the empty super on top of the brood chamber. Place the partially filled super on top of the empty super. The advantage of this technique is that there is always open space directly above the brood chamber. Bees tend to try and fill the open space. Once open space is filled with honey, honey production will decrease or the colony may swarm. By keeping the space open di- rectly above the brood chamber you trick the bees into thinking they have space they need to fill. Another advantage is that bees do not have to travel over filled frames, thus dragging dirt over the comb. The big disadvantage of under- supering is having to lift filled supers. This is not so bad with 1-2 supers, but with 3 or more it can be labor intensive. The next option is to top super. This means placing an empty super directly on top of the partially filled super. You can offset each super by about three-eighths of an inch to allow the bees another entry and exit. If you have stacked many supers of drawn comb on the hives. Supers of cut comb honey foundation should be added on top of the first honey super, which is on top of the brood chamber, to reduce the amount of pollen in the cut comb honey. Once the super is capped, it should be moved up to prevent traveling stains across the capped honey. Traveling stains can effect judging at honey shows, and can effect the price you get for your cut comb if heavily stained.
For more established beekeepers who have some drawn comb, and want to increase their drawn comb supply with- out significantly reducing their honey production, you may place one frame of foundation in the center of each super. The bees like to work in the center of the supers, and will draw out foundation and use it for honey storage. If you re place the center frame in 9 supers, you will increase the number of honey supers by at least one for each 9 you use this procedure with. I have also put whole supers of foundation above drawn comb, and as the drawn comb is filled, have inter- changed drawn comb in the lower super with foundation from the upper super, in an alternate pattern. This gets the bees up into the foundation as well as working the drawn comb, and is referred to as checker boarding. This type of practice is also effective in the brood chamber to help alleviate overcrowding and congestion of the brood chamber. Frames in the brood area that have been filled with honey can be removed and stored by freezing for feeding back to the bees at a later date. The foundation that replaces it gives the bees more room, and once drawn hopefully gets used for brood rearing rather than honey storage again!
There are many opinions out there for how to super, whether or not to use queen excluders, and so on. I suggest you talk with beekeepers in our club and see what works best for them, then try those practices in your own bee yard. Also ask questions at the meetings during our seasonal management portion of the meeting, and if you have found a technique that works well or you, please share with the group. We are always eager to hear of new techniques to increase or production, or to decrease swarming. I look forward to seeing everyone at the meeting and hearing how things are going in your bee yards!