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What to expect in the bee yard in May – by a Master Beekeeper

Edited and updated for April 2020 --- Based on comments from Tony Hogg’s Breakfast with the Beekeeper – April 28, 2018

Blooming now: Privet, some tupelo, high bush gallberry, blackberry, black gum, tulip poplar, dandelion, sparkleberry.

Tip of the Month: Never stack weak bees on weak bees. A strong hive stacked on a weak may work, depending on the reason the hive is weak.

Why would your hive be weak?

If it swarmed and the new queen does not get mated, she will lay drones, not workers. Then, if that is the only problem but you cannot re-queen it, stack it. Once the hive is strong, split it at a later date.

This time of year there may not be a lot of drones in the area. For good genetics, you want your queen to mate with other bees. Drone production is directly related to pollen availability. Depending on your location (rural vs urban), by the end of April, there may not be a lot of pollen available. As a result drone production may fall off. If you are adding a queen-right nuc to a queenless hive, mix sugar water and a little vanilla to spray when adding the new frames. The scent disguises the queen pheromones and makes acceptance easier.

Figure out what your goal is: if a hive is queenless at this point in the flow you will not raise significant honey this season because you have lost population. Consider eliminating the hive by spreading the resources (brood, pollen, beebread, honey frames) among your other hives if the hive that’s queenless isn’t strong. You can also take a frame with nurse bees and brood and shake the bees into another hive. Nurse bees are always accepted.

A crowded hive is a happy hive. If the nuc is not building out well in the 10-frame hive, or if a 10-frame hive is weak, put those girls into a nuc again and let them get strong.

Watch the trees in your area. Can you find a “drone hangout?” Remember the location and put a swarm trap (nuc box) in the tree. Swarms can weigh up to 10 pounds.

Swarming - even in the summer

Re-queening helps suppress swarms. A new queen probably will not swarm. A 2-year old queen will most likely swarm. A great queen this year may run out of sperm for next year. Raise queens off of her if her genetics are good but be prepared to replace her next year.

Here is a swarm prevention strategy (no guarantee):

  • In a nuc box, shake bees out of other hives to create a box of nurse bees

  • Pull a frame each of nectar and eggs and larvae and add to the nuc

  • Add drawn comb or foundation to fill out the nuc

  • Put the old queen in the box. If bees are building queen cells and not yet capped, the old, skinny queen will be hard to find.

  • Leave capped brood in the old hive. Capped brood will keep it strong and help to suppress swarm pressure

  • Shake the bees from old hive, into the new box or into a sheet or board, allowing them to walk into where the queen is. This helps them think they swarmed. If the queen cell (s) are capped, the bees have most likely already swarmed, most likely.

The later in the year, the harder it is to re-queen. If you need to re-queen, to help acceptance, use a wire push-in cage over brood and honey to cover queen, after 4-5 days she will be accepted. Sometimes you will have mother daughter queens in same hive as their scent is similar. If you purchase a queen be sure to leave her in her cage for several days but check that she has been released. Always feed when introducing a new queen.

Comb Build Up and Comb Management

Feed a nuc to encourage population build up. It takes lots of young bees to build comb.

Honeycomb attracts pests and especially brood comb. Rotate your comb over a period of 3 years. Write the date/season on the frame or use the same color used to mark queens.

Do not drop an empty foundation in middle of brood nest, work it in slowly from the outside.

Controlling for Pests in May

Treat hives during honey flow only with approved product to avoid contamination.

Varroa mites will hitch-hike to your hive. This is the initial stressor that opens the door to other pests. Check for mites before and after treatment to see if it was effective.

Small hive beetles (SHB) will find your hive within hours. SHB poop in the nectar causes it to ferment. Use beetle traps where possible.

Vaporized Oxalic acid works but is dangerous. Bees do not really get resistant as with other treatments. It work because it burns the legs off the mites. Use a full-face respirator so vapor will not settle on your eyes. Oxalic acid/glycerin in strips per Argentina study works well.

Oxalic dribble method can have good results. Formic acid is good within humidity and temperature range (below 50% humidity and low temps).

The best honey is your own honey Don't pull honey early. Let it get capped. You can rent the club’s extractor and refractometer to check that the honey is “dry” enough – 14% is good. Just because you don’t have a full super to extract doesn’t mean you can’t take a frame and “crush and strain” for your first year!

Spring came early in 2020 and some folks in Northeast Leon County were reporting capped honey in supers by mid-April.

We're looking for others with a story to tell. Email ABA at Melanie will be touch to help you shape your idea and get it in the next e-newsletter. You know other beeks want to hear what you have to say - she'll help you tell the story.

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