Amanda's Beekeeping Notes April 2022

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

Here we are at last in what seems to me to be the busiest month in the bee season. The colonies are expanding exponentially and if the weather is good even giving them extra space on a weekly basis seems to be too long an interval.

Last year I was able to give a quick check at the end of February so knew what I had to do in March. This year because of weather, my first quick check was 17/18th March and some were filling their boxes and one had an egg in a queen cup, so be warned if you have not had a chance to check yet. Having said that, I do hope your colonies are this active. I have had reports of multiple losses as well has booming ones like mine. If they died it is important to investigate, note symptoms and try to determine why they failed; varroa, starvation, virus, are common causes.

I thought it would be a simple matter of giving them one of their own, drawn, individually numbered supers to add after the first inspection, but because of the warm weather discovered that in just 5 days their brood coverage/frame use had increase 30% and what was ‘needs super soon’ had become ‘stuffed full, brace comb and nectar in every available space’! To add to my woes, whereas I usually freeze my supers as soon as I have extracted and then scrape surplus propolis and wax off the edges and runners before storage; I had so many that it took a couple of weeks to get through freezing them all for 5-6 days in my small deepfreeze and wax moth had had time to cause a bit of damage before being frozen to death.  As I had been busy at that time I thought I would have plenty of time over winter to scrape and clean the boxes and frames. But I forgot! So the frames which went on half the colonies yesterday were transferred first to my remaining clean sterilized supers and I was cleaning boxes until late last night for the rest.

I hope I have given them space in time; this is an important aspect of swarm prevention. Congestion is a factor in swarming and it is very important they don’t feel congested at this time, either in terms of brood area (restricted brood will also prevent the colony reaching its full honey-gathering potential later) but also in terms of nectar-processing and honey storage area. They need a lot of comb area to process nectar and if there is not enough space they will put it in the brood area  (restricting brood) and between boxes.  When I looked yesterday in some colonies I was able to move an empty drawn comb from the edge of the box to between the edge of the brood area and the frame of fresh pollen they usually have on the outside of the brood which can act as a barrier to laying. This will immediately reduce the congestion and give space for the queen to expand egg laying into. I rarely ‘spread the brood’ area itself, as this needs experience otherwise it can be detrimental to the bees. Not something beginners should attempt. I also put a super of drawn comb between the boxes with brood and the super they are already filling with nectar, so they have the option of filling it with brood or nectar as they see fit. I suspect they will opt for more brood area or a bit of both. Drawn comb is best for the first super to go on, even a few drawn empty comb in the middle is better than all foundation, if it is available. If all foundation then leave the queen excluder out until they have started work on it. I use starter strips of my own made foundation but still put a full drawn comb or full foundation in the middle to help them go up.

Most of them seem to have up to a full (shallow) frame of sealed drone brood, although I have not seen any adult drone yet (as at 25th March). Drones takes much longer to produce and mature than queens ~5 weeks compared with half that for queens, so are a good indicator that the colony is in a condition to swarm if it decides to.

I managed to remove 1 or 2 boxes of old dark comb, one or two old pollen-clogged frames, and some surplus stores from each colony on 17th . My second inspection revealed that a super on one with half filled frames of winter stores which I had earmarked for removal had already been filled up with open nectar so I cannot remove it now, but will mark that super to be left for winter stores rather than extraction in the summer. They do move around nectar and honey, but they are unlikely to break into capped stores now with so much fresh nectar coming in so it should not contaminate the honey crop, but it will be inconvenient having to lift a heavy super at each inspection from this early in the year. I should have acted immediately in view of the lengthy high pressure forecast.

They seemed to be enjoying all my sweet violets

Other swarm prevention actions include keeping an eye on queen cups and whether they have eggs or larvae. Eggs come and go without automatically resulting in swarm preparation. I found one queen cup with an egg on 17th March, on the bottom bars of their upper box but this was most likely to be supersedure, and I did not see it at the following inspection.

There are other strategies to keep on top of events rather than just reacting. These include keeping comprehensive notes, so I know which colonies have a queen cup or most drone for example and therefore need to be monitored more closely, than for example, my two smaller nucs.  Also revise your chosen swarm control method now and get the equipment ready as you may only have a few hours notice when/if it finally happens. I have put up two bait hives in case. They can get a lot done in the week following an inspection. Longer than 7 days and there is a risk their preparations are too advanced, even if you have clipped queens (which does make it so much easier). I have a ‘to-do’ list to keep on top. At the next inspection, now I have them under control (!), I must try to find the queens and ensure they are still the old clipped ones and not supersedures which can still fly. They may need their mark renewing as it often wears off.  I still need to clean my smoker which was so coked up it would not stay alight. I have already inspected the brood for health looking for perforated cappings, patchiness, baldbrood or dead larvae. One frame in one colony had a tiny bit of baldbrood suggestive of varroa, and one colony had slightly more patchy brood than I like and will need watching. A possible reason was that not all the cells had eggs in so either the workers are removing unviable eggs from a dodgy queen (she is only 2021), or maybe she is just an untidy layer. I also need to prepare another super for each colony ready for the next inspection.

In January I nearly culled a colony because it was the worst performing in terms of temperament, honey crop and poor housekeeping, but surprised by the quantity of worker brood decided to wait until I could compare it with the others. They were still the most touchy, had a couple of long dead DWV drone on the floor and in addition they were running all over the comb and leaving the brood unprotected. I have too many colonies and these were still the worst so finally decided to do it. As the brood seemed pretty healthy I removed the fat slow queen (she was not a runner) and the frames of brood and merged the clean frames with nectar, pollen and bees on top of the adjacent nucleus (well it was a nucleus last summer, now on two shallows). I did not feel so bad just killing one bee (and the brood)!

Merging the now queenless and broodless angry running colony on top of the adjacent one


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