Spring Management in Bay Area City Beekeeping
Working To Maintain Politically Correct Bees In The City
Making the Most From Too Much of a Good Thing
Presented to the San Francisco Beekeepers Association
Where are we now - end of July?
Spring Build Up - (what happened up to this point ... )
- Spring seems over, dirth has begun in some areas.
- Strong brood buildup has throttled back.
- Swarming urge has eased, but will still occur along with supercedure.
- Building comb out on foundation could cease at any time, use strong hives to continue building out comb.
- Colonies that have swarmed have had populations crash and with population drop have joined the ranks of modest hives.
- Honey is being capped over in stronger hives and ready to harvest.
- Very strong hives have supers stacked high but now need to finish them off.
- Extracted supers can go back on where needed
- Varoaa mites are now visible and are showing up in number.
- Watch for occasional Foul Brood and deal with it in a serious manner.
Splits - (using Nuc boxes as your handiest tool)
- Did you leave enough honey for your bees to make it through the winter?
- Is the weather hitting the bees hard? Cold snap freezes back eucalyptus in December, January, February. Was May overly cold so bees couldn't fly?
- Bees don't consume much of their honey during winter, but it disappears quickly when they use it to feed brood during buildup. They can use all the honey stores within the first few weeks of buildup in the Spring. Make sure that your bees don't starve and be ready to feed them if their stores get low. If bees are cranky in early Spring, they could be starving.
- All queen excluders should be out, initial super should be added to provide room for brood expansion. Allow the queen to roam and lay wherever she pleases.
- Rotate boxes if Queen has filled the top box with brood and lower box is empty. By the time she fills the lower box, the upper box will begin hatching out. Remove some frames if upper chamber is packed with honey. Replace with frames with new foundation so worker bees are "exercising" their wax glands. The presence of Foundation implies lots of work to do - no prosperity yet.
- If the hive is strong and seems like it will be a booming hive, add an empty super of all foundation just above the brood chamber so that bees can draw out the comb and then let the queen lay in it. Repeat to keep the hive consumed and busy; rotate brood up to ease "sense" of crowded brood chamber. As bees hatch, they will move down to perform house functions.
- Always have plenty of room for the queen to lay during Spring buildup.
- IN THE CITY: Once Spring buildup has begun, check hives once a week, or at least every ten days to catch Queen Cells and deal with them properly. If Queen Cells appear in number, you will need to change the psychology of the hive and eliminate their sense of accomplished well-being. Eliminating just the frames with Swarm Cells may not be enough to make them feel insecure. Make a strong Nuc or two and replace those frames with foundation. If you aren't expanding, eliminate nasty old comb and replace the comb with new sheets of foundation.
- Look at every frame -- swarm cells can be hidden in non-logical places throughout a hive. Missing just one will be enough to have them terrorizing your neighborhood.
- In May, June or July, if you haven't gone through a moderately strong hive completely during the past two weeks, you can expect a swarm to be ready to launch at any time. Elimination of Queen Cells, by relocation or destruction, is what you can do to postpone swarming. Attentive management will be required to control and alter their insistence on swarming. By late July, they will be past Spring and into the routine of production, but expect that they can and will swarm at any time.
- Following a major laying in the spring, some older queens will fail due to exhaustion. Regular inspection of hives will identify a mysterious shortage of brood, larvae and eggs -- suspect that the queen is failing. By checking again in a week, such a suspicion can be confirmed, the queen caged and removed or killed and the colony can be returned to prosperity by adding a singe-box hive started from a swarm cell.
- By returning Queen Excluder to the hives in late June or early July, you can start to control where you will find the queen in hives stacked as high as the beekeeper. Early after placing the Excluder, be sure to go through each of the honey frames to be sure that the queen didn't lay in them and then being at a distance from the brood chamber, bees will often produce "Emergency Queen Cells" which can cause havoc by having a second queen in your hive.
- On a regular basis in regular colonies, if an emergency queen has been produced, they will often tolerate her just long enough for her to lay a day or two of eggs, at which point they will lavish a few of those larvae with lots of Royal Jelly, produce a terrific number of new queens and "Superceed" the temporary emergency queen within a month.
Making Nucs from Queen Cells
- Good way to increase hive numbers.
- Hedge against losses.
- Create Nucs for Failed Queen, Swarm Out, Mite Losses, Bad Queen.
- Help Avoid Urge To Swarm
- Start with swarm cell frame, add a frame of brood with nurse bees, a frame with honey and pollen. Shake additional nurse bees from brood frames to have all brood supported and kept warm. Have a frame of drawn comb which the new queen can lay in.
- Strong hives can be divided into two, three or four new hive boxes depending on hive strength. Purchased Queens or Queen cells can be added to each box if available. If earlier than queens can be purchased, a walk-away split can be produced by making sure that each split box has fresh eggs, frames of brood complete with nurse bees that can feed Royal Jelly to produce the queen cells. Adequate nurse bees should be added to each box -- only make the number of split boxes that you have honey, pollen, brood and nurse bees enough to support.
Provide Plenty of Room
- Always have a Nuc box in your car, needed more often than a swarm box.
- Can cut out and carry Queen Cell in your pocket - place in another hive with no queen, or weak queen.
- Pull swarm cell frame, add a frame of brood with nurse bees, a frame with honey and pollen. Shake additional nurse bees from brood frames to have all brood supported and kept warm. Have a frame of drawn comb which the new queen can lay in. They will build up slowly. Eventually transfer to full deep box, or , you could add a second nuc box layer to buy time until you have equipment built. Once the single deep box is nearing fullness, add a super which the bees start to draw and let the queen lay in the super. With population up, add a second super or deep box. Optionally, the single full box can be added to a weak colony using the newspaper method. Finding and killing the weak queen prior to adding the fresh colony guarantees to proper queen survives.
"They Look OK From Here" Policy is actually
- Add extra supers before they are needed.
- Once bees get cramped, very hard to eliminate swarming urge.
- If the brood chamber is packed with honey, pull some solid honey frames or pull honey/pollen frames for splits or package bee startup.
"Don't Know/Can't Tell - They'll Survive" Daydream
Unobserved Queen loses and the importance of Marking Queens
- All colonies fly, even if there are only 10 bees left.
- All Hell can break loose anytime, but you can't tell from the outside.
- In the country, checking once a month is fine. In a city setting, a strong colony can make a new queen and fly the coop in about ten days from your last check.
- Swarm causes you to loose half the bees, good queen, honey production, good will with the public, ability to keep your hive in the city, ability of all bees to stay in the city. Public panics, authorities called, local crowds gather, person who called pays $75 for removal, everyone's life impacted, everyone remembers. If you plan to reimburse your neighbors for the cost of your swarm-outs, it might motivate one to control swarming. (If one had four hives and they all swarmed, that would be $300 of additional bee cost. The hobby wouldn't be so cheap anymore.)
- Controlling swarms allows you to keep strong hives intact without loosing half the bees, maintain the productive laying of a good genetic queen (good layer, productive honey gathering, nice disposition, disease resistance, good housekeeping, good overwintering breed), keep strong hive from turning into a backwater hive, strong honey production instead of break even or money hole, swarm cells or splits produce increased numbers of good genetic-based hives.
Newfangled Nuc Methods
- Many "bee havers" are of the opinion that their bees never swarm and that their queens are never superceded, remaining the same queen for years. In truth, it is very rare that a queen makes it through a second year and quite often, a queen doesn't make it through a first full year. Without marking the queen, identification of a specific queen is uncertain and a queen observed now may not be the same queen you will see in one month.
- Queens are replaced by the bees if she is a poor layer, weak in pheromones or is getting old. She will be replaced almost immediately if she was a weak emergency queen and isn't strong and powerful in all ways. Often they will accept a new queen just long enough to produce a number of new, well taken care of queen cells.
- By marking the queens and adhering to the international standard of color coding, one can tell in which year the queen was purchased or hatched from stock. An off color can be used when getting started for those bees of unknown age - at least you know that you don't know.
- With age readily visible, brood slowdowns can immediately be attributed to age and appropriate queen replacement strategies enacted without delay. Waiting too long to identify a problem can result in devastating loses of brood and therefore worker populations at critical honey production periods. A booming hive can quickly turn into a languishing disregarded hive.
See: Yearly Overview for in-depth details ...
- Plastic adjustable divider boards do not seem to provide an adequate boundary for pheromones from differing queens. After a time, only one queen remained in each configured box.
- Hives that have been used for a queen bank tend not to ever accept an individual queen again, often killing them off on a regular basis. The frames need to be shaken in front of powerful "Queen Right" hives and the frames disbursed among many hives.
- Attempting to raise several queens in one large deep brood box with the plastic divider boards created unaccepting hives -- the multi-queen rule seemed to bear out.