The first time around the hives in the spring always takes a while, but it’s worth taking my time. This is the opportunity to look at each hive and see what happened to it over the winter, and what its prospects might be in the new year.
First, a bit of background: I use no miticides and no antibiotics in my hives. I use only western (aka medium) boxes – I can’t lift deeps. My bees overwinter in a stack of 3 to 4 westerns.
And a video: no sound on this one, I’m at the library and they so frown on doing voice over here. It starts with boxes that have been checked and moved to one side, pans to a bottom board that will soon be cleaned of the winter’s dead bees, then to the 3rd box waiting to be put back on, and ends on a view of the yard in mid-spring transition:
What I do at the Brookfield Farm bee yards, all of which are near Maple Falls, Washington
A) I remove their “hats” (cut rectangles of asphalt roofing) and “rain coats” (asphalt house wrap).
B) I put the hive cover upside down on the ground and set an extra hive cover upside down near it.
C) I remove their interior square of insulation.
D) Then I check the hives.
1) Are there bees? Do I see them, or hear them? If “no” then it’s a dead out and I move on. Dead outs can be assessed after the other bees are checked. This lets me work living bees in the sun, and often in the dry (I do this between rain showers).
2) If there are bees in the top box, I check to see if the center 3 or 4 combs are empty. Empty is good, it will give space as this box will soon become the bottom box.
3) How much honey do they have left. Ususally quite a lot. But if they are low, I give them some extra frames on either side of the center 3 combs.
4) I put the top box on one of the upturned tops.
5) Check the center box. Bees? Good. Again, are the center 3 or 4 combs empty? Often I find that the queen has laid these up already. Again – I make sure they’ve got honey
6) I set the center box on the extra upturned hive top.
7) Bottom box: the frames in this are usually completely empty. There may be bees in this box, maybe not.
8) I set this on top of what was the center box.
9) I clean the bottom screen (I don’t use a bottom board, just a bottom screen)
10) Rebuild the hive: Winter “top” becomes the bottom. Winter “middle” becomes the 2nd box. Winter “top” becomes the new top box – if there are enough bees to warrant this. Some of my bees are just building up, and have ample room. Others may need to be supered next week.
11) Sift a cup or so of powdered sugar over the top bars of the top hive and brush it down between the bars. (if you search powdered sugar on this blog, you’ll find a posting from last year that speaks to powdered sugar in more detail).
12) Set a feeder with ½ gallon of syrup plus essentials oils on the top bars.
13) Put the top back on.
14) Thank them and tell them they did good. Yes they’re bees. Perhaps this is more an acknowledgement that they are in charge of their hive, and I’m just a caretaker.
You might be wondering where I get those extra frames of honey:
There are often solid frames of honey at the end frame positions in the top box. These can be shifted to bring the honey closer to the the bees.
Also, if a hive has failed due to queen loss, there’s lots of honey left. For some reason, usually least one hive in each yard dies due to queen failure (I do not requeen in the fall). Queen loss can be spotted by the presence of clumps of drone brood, and, if the bees are still alive, laying workers.
They’re done now. So I can go back to building frames and begin to paint boxes. At least the sun is shining here at Brookfield Farm, in Maple Falls Washington.