Are you staying warm? I hope the bees are! Spring can’t be too far away. Let’s hope it is nothing like last year. I hope your colonies are still alive. Most new beekeepers don’t overwinter their bees successfully for a few years. It is one of the reasons that 80% quit after the second year. Other challenges are declining colonies, absconding bees, pests and predators, and lack of training.
We have two classes still available. Jeff Steenbergen, a Top Bar expert, is teaching a class this Thursday evening, February 27th. On February 25th and 26th, Master Beekeeper Tracy Klein teaches Beginning Beekeeping. There is still room left in both classes, so get signed up on the PSBA website. I’ll be there in the chat to answer all your questions.
Newbees should make sure to log in through Zoom for the monthly meeting early at 6:30pm. Tracy Klein gives you the scoop on what you should be doing this month. The meeting is virtual this month. Check the PSBA website calendar for the link. The speaker will talk about swarms.
If you haven’t ordered bees yet, get on it! Some vendors are already sold out.
You should do a mite wash in May and August. Be sure to order a Varroa EZ check. Bee prepared! Some new beekeepers say, “I don’t want to kill 300 bees.” I say, “300 now or 30,000 later when they die of a mite bomb.”
Make sure you are feeding syrup when daytime temps are over 55. First feeding in spring is 1:1. Don’t fuss over being exact. Bees can’t tell if you have a little more sugar than water. Feed pollen, too. I usually change from winter pollen patties to regular in March when the bees are brooding up. Remember we have dry days and wet days ahead. If your bees can’t get out to forage, they need supplemental feeding. Like us they need protein and carbohydrates.
To be sustainable, in your second year, learn to make splits. These can be a source of extra bees for a weaker hive or an extra queen in case something happens to one of yours. You can always combine by newspaper if you don’t want to take them through the winter.
If you come to a usually gentle hive that is pissy. Why work it? Come back another time. They could be mad about a neighbor using a mower, or a pest previously bothering them.
Bee careful when you start liquid feeding. Spills can start robbing behavior.
Make sure to give bees space to keep them from swarming. I use the 7/10 rule. When 7 of 10 frames are full it is time to add a box. This is also a good time to get some extra equipment. Get it painted and aired out before the bees are introduced. I like to have extra inner covers. If I am working a 3 box hive and I need to get into the second box by putting the top box aside, I like to cover them with an inner cover. It helps hold in their heat and it keeps it dark, just the way they like it. And an extra bottom, top and hive body comes in handy if you catch your own swarm.
Don’t forget to keep a notebook. Jot down date and weather. Write if you see the queen or eggs. (Remember you don’t have to find the queen. If you see eggs, the queen has been there in the last 3 days.) I make notes in the margin to remind me what I need to bring the next time. Write how many frames the bees are on. How many boxes. Describe what you see on the sticky board. Make notes about feeding, so you have a rough idea of how many days it takes the bees to go through it. Make a note of the honey production. You may think you will remember everything, but trust me, when you are deep in the hive thinking of what to do next, you may forget what you just did! I draw pictures that show the boxes and location of each hive. I have 21 years of notebooks. It is always fun to look back. And it will help you decide which queen you want to breed from as you become more experienced.
Bees decline because of habitat loss, pesticides, pests and pathogens, improper management and poor nutrition. What things can YOU control? Don’t be a Beehaver. Be a Beekeeper.
Know what AFB and EFB look like in your brood nest. Check out Randy Oliver’s “Scientific Beekeeping” webpage. He has done so much research for the beekeeping community. His information is exceptional, and he has fantastic pictures. Consider donating a few bucks if you can. It is important to recognize those diseases, because they can spread and destroy your hard work. They need immediate treatment.
Review what went wrong last year and learn from your mistake. Discuss with your neighborhood captain.
Don’t forget to reverse boxes in one of the first spring inspections. During the winter the bees move up. Sometimes the bottom box is totally empty. You can put it on the top, so the queen has more room to move up and lay eggs.
That’s it for this month.
Master Beekeeper, U of Montana
PSBA Vice President, Education Chair, Neighborhood Captain