APRIL in the Apiary

I think it may really be Spring! A few leftover cold wet days are still out there, but for the most part, the apiary is happening! When the weather is warm, the queen lays drone eggs. Four weeks later the drones are fertile and ready to go. However, just because they are ready, the queens aren’t. To take off to the DCA, drone congregation area where drones wait to mate with queens, the weather has to be just right. And that means close to 70-degree daytime temperatures. So don’t think of doing splits too early or you may get a drone laying queen (she never got to go on a mating flight because of cold and wet weather. Or she only gets out for one flight instead of 3 and is poorly mated.) When that happens, she will be superseded, because she will lose her strong queen pheromone and run out of sperm. This can happen especially with California nucs. It is nice in the almond orchards where most of the nucs are made, however, the weather can be changeable, and the queen may not get to fly to get a full spermatheca.
It often takes more time to prepare than to inspect. Get the syrup, pollen patties, your log notebook and equipment you might need. Light your smoker. Even if you don’t smoke the bees, it is good to have it lit to smoke yourself if the bees are bugging you or you get stung. Smoking yourself masks the alarm pheromone on you when you are stung. Plan to spend at least an hour in your apiary with a couple of hives. The challenge here is the bees are building up rapidly and may be preparing to swarm. Get in the hive and check the bottom of the second box for swarm cells. First year queens don’t usually swarm. The bees starve the old queen down to flying weight and push her out a few days before the virgins are born. Since she is experienced, she takes her bees with her. The scout bees find a temporary spot to congregate, until they locate the new spot to set up house. They can stay at the temporary place for 2 hours or 2 weeks. That makes room for the new queen to take over and proliferate the species. The old queen takes about half the hive, so it is important to know what to do to keep your bees. Splitting is a good thing to know how to do. You should take a class in your second year to be prepared.
One thing to know about swarms-the bees have gorged on honey and can’t easily bend their abdomens. That makes it hard for them to sting. Besides, they are more interested in following the scouts. But why do they swarm? Their natural instinct is to find more space and better forage. Some bee races are more swarmy than others. Make sure they have the big opening in the entrance reducer. Being crowded when they come back from foraging or when they are doing orientation flights will make them want to swarm. Google ORIENTATION FLIGHTS so you know what they look like. New beeks often think it is swarming. Make sure the bees have work to do in ALL the boxes. Just putting on a new box is not enough. Give them a frame without foundation in the bottom box.
If you are in your second year, try to give up the gloves. You can’t feel the bees, and many are killed during an inspection. Try medical gloves. You might still get stung, but not as often. It is said that 150 are killed during an inspection. Let’s hope it is not a queen!
It is important with our crazy weather to feed the hives without interruption so that they draw out wax. I feed 2 parts sugar to 1 part water up until May and then switch to 2 parts water and 1 part sugar. This is especially important when the bees have days of rain in between good weather, because if they don’t have nectar, the 5–15-day old house bees will stop producing wax and not start up again.
While waiting for your bees, why not buy some bee plants for the garden? Bees love spring bulbs. Also, primrose, cornflower, sunflowers, yarrow, hyssop, purple cornflower, black eyed susan, lilacs, lavendar, mint, snapdragons, basil, borage, oregano and rosemary. Make sure to plant for spring, summer and fall blooms. Bees need nectar (carbs) and protein (pollen), just like us. Our wet weather impacts bees accessing these sources. Rain washes away pollen and sunny weather dries up the nectaries.
Until next month, bee happy, bee kind and bee busy with bees,
Kathy Cox
Master Beekeeper U of Montana
Website: Facebook.com/seattlehoneybees
Email: KCox@pugetsoundbees
TEXT: 206-465-1464