The sun finally broke out, temperatures went into the low 50F’s so I finally got out to the hives to check them for honey stores, a bit of hive manipulation, and to put in their essential oil patties.
The sun was somewhat expected – we normally get a few weeks of sunny weather in February. Temperatures in the 50F’s at this time of year are completely new to this area – but as we all know with the weather: Expect the Unexpected. I figure the weather will probably shift back to wet and dismal in March and possibly April, so the February sun is a good time to check the hives.
At this writing, I’ve not gone through all my hives, but I’ve covered all but one of the up river yards. These are in the low mountains that lie along the Nooksack River northwest of Mt. Baker. (You’ll find the photos after the to-do lists).
Bee Hive Check / Manipulation Sequence:
1) Check hive for honey – if low hand out some honey, either in frames or on newspaper
2) Check bees’ condition
3) Clean bottom boards
4) Open up the hive (Move boxes and frames around without breaking up brood and pollen)
- Brood box(es) to bottom of stack
- Empty Bottom box (filled by the bees with pollen during the year) moved up and frames mixed with honey frames to keep bees from being honey bound
5) Remove any empty frames that are older than 5 years and replace with newer frames
6) Put in Essential Oil patty
7) If deadout, figure out why.
8) Load up and head for next yard (loading up: not the fun part)
9) Off-load the truck (really not the fun part)
Bee Hive Check: What I’m Looking For
So simple, in concept. But it takes time. I like to examine the hives to look at:
1) Which phenotypes have come through the winter (tends to be the darkest)
2) What the honey and pollen consumption has been
3) What, if any, pollen and nectar are coming in
4) Numbers of over wintered daughters and drones (if present)
5) Queen performance (to select breeder queens and assess last year’s queens):
Amount of brood laid
Brood patterns, including egg to sealed brood ration (I don’t count, I just estimate)
6) Diseases or pests or general problems
Bee Hive Check In Pictures
My bee yards vary in locations from flat lands near the Nooksack River to rolling ridges. This one has an honorary “bee dog” – totally fearless of bees. I’ve never had a dog bring me sticks to play fetch with bees flying.
The first examination is just looking down.
Two views have been coming up this year:
Lots of happy bees
I do leave a lot of honey on hives (about 70 pounds for the strong “adult” hives), because there won’t be any strong nectar flow in my up river areas for another two months. So I like to see the honey.
The downside is that they can get honey bound.
A nice late winter sight
Bees top to bottom
Opening Up The Bee Hives
Which means time to move boxes and frames around.
Waiting for reassembly
The brood and pollen frames move as a group.
While the stack of boxes are separated, this is the magic moment to clean up
Clean the Bottom Screens
The bees were last tidied up in September during harvest. A lot of bees have been born, worked, and died in that time. Most are on the bottom – it’s too cold to go cleaning up the hive in winter, so they fall to the bottom.
All Cleaned Up
All my hives are on open bottom screens year round. This helps keep the hive dry as the decomposing bodies “leak” down though the screen. I have not found any detrimental effects of having the screens open all year (although I did bite finger nails the first time I tried this).
The bees, of course, are momentarily confused. “Hey, when we left there was a hive behind this ‘door’.”
Where’s the Hive?
But confusion passes as the brood box is set on the screen.
Bee Hive Manipulation
The entire brood box, usually with pollen, moves into a new, lower, position in the stack.
If stores are low, honey frames are added on either side of the area (usually positions 1,2, 9 and 10)
Thoughout the process I’m always being aware that the queen can be anywhere – easy does it.
Usually, there’s a second brood box, which is placed on top of the first. The “sealed brood” box gets position number two, because as they emerge, they will leave room for more eggs.
Bees on Brood
This tends to leave me with two boxes: one empty and one of honey. I over winter in 4 boxes (3 on nucs) the winter bottom box is filled with pollen, so by February only empty frames are left.
These are interspersed with the combs of honey
Bees on Honey
The combined open comb and solid frames of honey are placed in the third box – if the hive is large enough to need a fourth box it is added – with frames of honey interspersed with the open comb.
Rebuilt and Ready for Spring
Then I’m done…and move on to do it again at the next yard.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. How are your bees looking coming into spring or heading into fall (that old hemisphere thing). Having seen and heard from beekeepers back east, my hopes are that your bees are happily weathering these days in tight clusters.
It has been mentioned that I should end with where you can find us in the “real world”. I am at Seattle’s Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday these days (some days away for festivals) and Ian, aka the husband, can be found at Seattle’s Fremont Sunday Market on Sundays. Come by and visit if you’re in the area.