Wow June was a busy month for me and the bees. The big nectar flow started the second or third week of June. I put some honey suppers on early. Things never really took off though. It was unseasonably hot and we were 2 or 3 inches behind on rainfall. I think that slowed the flow. We finally got some rain and I hope we will see some nectar coming in full boar now. The sweat clover around here is the main nectar provider. The yellow sweat clover is finishing up but the white sweat clover has just started to bloom. I am hopping it will provide some honey.
I got two swarm calls in June and I caught both swarms. I had a swarm move into one of my bait hives and I did a cutout in Dakota City. I ordered some local NUCs and they were delayed due to cold weather so I just got the four of them in place by July 4th. All in all eight new hives. That is a lot of increase in one month! I need a break.
I will keep a close eye on all the new hives and make sure every hive has room to make some honey with what is left of the summer.
New queens from splitting a hive.
Back in the first part of May one of my hives started getting ready to swarm. When I discovered this, they had already started raising queens in special queen cells. Once the bees start this process it is very hard to get them to stop and you usually end up loosing half the bees to a swarm if you are unsuccessful trying to them. Rather than fighting them, I decided to split the hive into three hives. I made sure each had a queen cell or two so they could finish raising a queen. I also started two tiny hives with queen cells as backups in case the others fail to raise a queen successfully. June 3rd I got a chance to look at the new splits and I found four of the five have laying queens. I am pretty happy with those results. This is a photo of one of the new queens.
The spring fruit tree bloom was fairly strong this spring and some of my hives built up fast. It was the first week of May when I discovered one of my hives was filling the open cells of the brood nest with nectar. The more they do this the fewer places the queen has to lay. Eventually they will fill the whole brood nest with nectar, the queen cant lay anywhere. The bees will build swarm cells and the queen will lay in those. About the time the queen cells get capped the original queen and about half the bees will fly away in a swarm. To stay ahead of this you need to make sure they have room in the brood nest when the spring fruit trees stop blooming. If you find the bees are just starting to fill the brood nest with nectar you can add some empty frames or move some empty frames into the broods nest from other areas. If they already have more than half of the brood nest filled with nectar then make sure two frames you add to the brood nest are un-drawn foundation. The bees will start to draw this out and before it is drawn very deep the queen will lay eggs in it. She can lay in partially drawn cells that they could not put nectar in. This can head off the swarm impulse.
Time to get the honey suppers on, if they are not already!
The main nectar flow starts the second or third week of June around here. I think it is already started. I have one honey supper on each hive that is not a new split. I plan to add more in a few days. The main nectar flow does not last long, some times only two weeks. I want to make sure the bees do not run out of room to store that nectar and turn it onto honey.
I can’t believe it is the end of April and I have not had a chance to post yet. Spring gets really busy sometimes. We had some warmer than usual weather early in April and some colder than usual weather late in April. I went through all 4 hives and un-stacked the boxes to get to the bottom boards and clean them off. Over the coarse of winter the bottom board gets pretty dirty. Anything the bees discard falls to the bottom board and they do not have many chances to haul it outside when it is cold all winter. Mostly there are dead bees accumulating on the bottom board. Sometimes moisture will run down the sides of the hive and end up on the bottom board with the dead bees and other debris. It is a really good idea to get rid of all of this as soon as the weather is warm enough to take the hive apart temporarily (mid 60’s and sunny for a day or two). It is a good idea to keep some kind of cover on all the boxes as you work to retain some of the heat. There is brood in the hive at this time of year and if it gets too chilled it will die. So try to work fairly quickly.
While you are lifting boxes off, pay attention to how much they weigh so you know if the bees have enough stores or it you need to start feeding them sugar syrup. My hives had a bit of capped honey left this year and I actually saw fresh nectar in the hives from early blooming fruit trees. So I did not need to feed this spring.
March 19th was 78 degrees. Again, way warmer than normal for us. We have been having spurts of warmer than usual weather, followed by normal weather. It has been cool at night, sometimes below freezing. I think we have had just enough cool weather to keep the bees from trying to raise too much brood. At the same time it has not been so cold that they over taxed themselves keeping the brood warm. I checked the hives today and I found brood at all stages: Eggs, larva and capped pupa. We have been having this on and off unseasonably warm weather for 5 weeks now. It takes honeybees around 3 weeks, 21 days, to go from eggs to emerging new adult bees. So potentially there is already 2 weeks worth of new bees in each hive to help with the brood that is being raised now. Every day the chance of really cold weather gets less and less. So I am not as worried as I was about the bees freezing because there was too much brood they had to try to keep warm in a cold spell.
The last time I checked the hives I noticed one of them had lots and lots of adult small hive beetles in it. They were running around on the same frames as the bees. No doubt they were keeping warm by hanging out right in there with the bees all winter. Small hive beetles are not too big a deal in their adult phase, but the larvae make a mess by eating honey and pollen and causing the honey to ferment. I am not sure when the adults will start laying eggs but I want to get rid of as many adults as I can before that happens. I recently read that the Small Hive Beetle Jail (www.dadant.com/catalog/m01543-baitable-beetle-jail-trap-each) can be baited with honey and pollen. The adults are attracted by the smell and the jail/trap is designed so the bees can’t get in and the beetles feel like it is an escape from the bees. I have some honeycomb that happens to have some cells of pollen in it. I thought I would try this out.
I cut one or two cells of pollen out and put them in the center bait area of each trap along with the wax and honey surrounding the pollen cells. I added these to the outer edges of the beehive boxes, just outside of where the bees are clustered. The beetles look for hiding places away from the bees so this looked like a good spot.
These photos are of the Small Hive Beetle Jails that I removed to make room for the freshly baited ones. These were in the hives all winter. There is food grade cooking oil on each side of the bait area and the beetles basically slip into the oil and can’t get out. Since there are no chemicals in these traps I felt is was safe to leave them in all winter. As you can see they did catch quite a few beetles!
Just over two weeks have passed and I went and looked at the beehives and checked the Beetle Jail traps. There were only 2 or 3 beetles in them! That is out of 10 traps! Maybe the honey and pollen is not as good a bait as I had heard. I will have to re-bait some of the traps with a piece of an apple and compare the results.
The bees were bringing in pollen on February 19th. You can see pollen baskets full on two bees in this photo. That is usually a sign they are raising brood. It may just be because the weather is really warm and the maple trees just started producing pollen, so the bees are loading up early while they have the opportunity. The forecast says we will be cooling off in a few more days. So hopefully they did not start too much new brood.
February 10th was unseasonably warm again. It was just over 55 degrees. I opened up the one hive that had already died and I found it had several frames of honey left. So they did not starve. There were not as many dead bees as I would normally expect to see, so I think the problem was there were not enough bees to survive the cold. They were in there and buzzing in late December, but we had a mild winter up to that time.
The good new is I can use the frames of honey in my other hives to make sure they all have enough to get through to spring. I peeked into the other 4 hives and found that only one of them really needed any honey. This is good news also.
It does not happen too often that you can check your hives in February. And it is not real often they have plenty of honey left this late in the winter. This could be a good beekeeping year.
The next issue to watch is this week of warm weather cumming now. If it is too warm for too long, the bees will start to raise young bees and then when it gets cold again they could exhaust themselves trying to keep the young bees warm.
How are my bees doing? Well January 18th was an exceptionally warm day for the middle of winter in Iowa and it gave me a rare opportunity to see the bees flying for the first time in around two months. It ordinarily needs to be above 50 or 55 degrees and sunny for the bees to be out and flying. This day it was only 45 degrees but the sun was pretty intense and it warmed up the hive boxes enough that some of the hives had bees out flying. It is good for the bees to get a chance to get outside of the hive and take a cleansing flight. They do not ‘go to the bathroom’ inside of the hive. So in the cold months of winter they have to ‘hold it’ until a warm day comes along. Two months is a long time for that, but it’s not uncommon here in the Midwest.
All in all the bees are doing OK. One hive looks like it has died though. Of the 5 I started the winter with it was the smallest. I had fed it sugar syrup in the fall but they just never put enough of it away. I tried to give them a couple of frames of honey in December but the cluster of bees was already at the top of the hive boxes and I could not open the hive without exposing them to too much cold air.
The remaining 4 hives should be OK until spring. They started winter with more honey, but I will need to start lifting each hive soon to judge how much honey they have left.
I took this short video of the bees flying in front of one hive. This is a top bar hive. The sound is mostly a tree service grinding up some tree limbs somewhere in the neighborhood. But some of the buzz is actually the bees!