It is spring here: periods of sun between bouts of rain. I’ve taken the sunny days to do the spring hive assessment, which requires opening all of my hives (about 80) to check them, remove empty boxes, and give them their spring essential oil supplements (in cane syrup).
I do apologize for the lack of pictures. The sunny days are short, so I’ve not stopped to take many.
FIRST CHECK: ARE THEY ALIVE?
Determine WHY the hive died
This year, the dead-outs I’ve encountered have failed from:
- “Seemda” – you know Seemed A Good Idea At The Time
- Two bee yards that looked great in summer turned out to be way too wet
- The bees couldn’t stay warm and dry
- As they were new yards, each had only 2 hives, so a 4 hive loss
- “I-Thought-They-Could-Do-It” : Nucs that weren’t big enough to be alone
- Enough food, not enough heat – 2 down to that.
- Mid-winter queen supercedure – 2 lost to that
On the positive side: No American Foul Brood (so far)
ACTIVE HIVES : TAKING THEM APART:
As I descend through the hives I check for :
- The amount of honey the bees still have stored.
- Queen presence (in the form of eggs, open brood, or sealed brood)
- Queen viability – looking again at eggs and brood
a) Laying Patterns
b) What is she laying – if there is a preponderance of drones, she’s on her way out. If there is a high percentage of drones, this can be laying workers. BUT if there is a single egg at the bottom by the foundation of the laid cells (“bottom being next to the foundation), then I figure it’s a failing, or badly mated queen.
Side Note : Queen supersedures can happen at any time a queen starts to fail and there is a larva (or larvae) with which the bees can create a queen. However, there are no drones flying in this area until April at the earliest, so any virgin who does manage to find good flying weather, will find few or no drones with which to mate).
4) Laying Workers : A high percentage of drones plus the tell-tell sign of double eggs, and eggs stuck to the sides of the cells.
- Diseases– looking for anything from American Foul Brood to Nosema to Varroa. Any diseased hive is marked. To be dealt with that day or evening.
- Clean the bottom screen.
- Remove any unneeded boxes. I overwinter in 4 to 5 medium boxes (I only use medium – aka western – boxes). The bottom box (where their pollen was in fall) is always empty. Sometimes the next one up is empty. If the remaining boxes have ample laying room for laying, pollen, and nectar, the empties are removed
- Remove older frames that are not in use by bees. All frames over 5 years old leave the hive Brood frames over 3 years old are pulled and, if they still look good, will be stored for use as honey frames later in the year (I know, I know, I should get rid of these too, but so far so good on this system)
REBUILD THE HIVE:
Reorganize Boxes – probably to great annoyance of the bees.
- Replace removed older frames with newer frames (I date all my frames)
- Break up “walls” of honey
I leave a lot of honey on the hives in winter, so I may find hives that are becoming honey bound. I don’t mind this – It’s like when I hike: if I come back from hiking with no food in the pack, I have seriously messed up. I want to come out of the backcountry with extra food. I want the bees to have “extra” honey when spring hits.
3) The boxes are manipulated to:
Keep the brood area together as is, with its pollen where the bees put it.
Move honey next to the brood area (sometimes it’s a few frames away)
Give 2 frames of drawn comb above the brood area with honey near-by
Bring honey from outer edges towards the center.
If this is a strong hive the frames are “checker boarded” : One honey frame, One drawn frame, One honey frame, and on…
- Put in the “dollar store hive top feeder”
- Feed the bees: The above link will give a detailed explanation of what I feed. Basically it’s a cane sugar solution with essential oils (Lemon Grass, Spearmint, Thyme Oil, Tea Tree), and a touch of organic apple cider vinegar. (The link doesn’t have the vinegar, it’s a new addition)
- Place top on hive.
MARK HIVES WITH ISSUES
- Queenless hives are marked
- Hives that are small, but with good queens marked – to go to any queenless hive
- Deand and/or Disease hives are marked.
- If they have an immediate need they are delt with
- If they can wait – a healthy dead-out can wait – “I shall return”
THE BEE PEP-TALK
Give bees a pep-talk “OK girls, you can do it, you know you can. You’re brilliant”
You may doubt my sanity. But I talk to all my animals (and the truck, and the tractor)
IT DOES TAKE TIME
I know this takes time. I can do about 2 hives in 30 to 45 minutes depending on what I encounter. Somehow the problem hives always come right at the end of the day, or just before the massive rain cloud parks itself overhead and lets loose with a torrent of water.
The time is well spent. When the maples flower and the dandelions bloom (some of our first flowers) the bees will be ready for the nectar flow with the resulting increase in their numbers, and not be bothered by me ripping apart their hives.
CLEAN THE REMOVED BOXES
All the pulled boxes still need to be scraped. I am so not looking forward to this, but it must be done.
That’s part of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington. How do you prepare your bees for spring or fall – depending on where you are? I love learning new things, so please share.