March ’23 in the Apiary

Still tired from the time change? At least there is something to cheer about-Spring is 2 weeks away! I know I am anxious to see my bees again. And they are anxious to get out to poop and forage. I did see some pollen coming in last week! The week ahead is warmer, so I have hope. Now for you new beekeepers who have ordered packages and nucs, I want to explain what the weather has to do with when you will get them. First, the snow in California is not great for delivering bees. The cold over wintered bees come from all over the US to CA. They are placed on pallets and trucked there. Once graded by the farmer hiring the pollinators (graded means checking to see at least 8 frames of bees, to pay this year’s price), they are placed 4 to a pallet every ¼ mile. Now if it is snowing, they cannot pollinate. Nor can queens mate. So, packages and nucs will be late in most cases. For our local nucs, our weather is much better, but there are still obstacles to overcome.  Did you know that the drones are kicked out of the hives in the fall? The bees have limited food resources, so they eliminate the drones. There may be a few that remain, but not the normal summer numbers. So, here we are back at Spring: the queen senses the better weather and begins to lay drone eggs and worker eggs. It takes 24 days for a drone to emerge, another week for his exoskeleton to harden off enough to fly and then he is ready to go to the DCA (drone congregation area) and mate with queens. BUT, more good weather is needed for a queen to get mated. She doesn’t fly until the weather is in the mid 60’s. So, when someone is wanting to know when they will get bees here is a sample of timing: March 20th the queen starts laying summer drones and worker bees. April 10 the boys start emerging. April 17 they fly to the congregation area to mate with queens. Queens come back and begin laying in a week to 14 days. About May 1, we check laying patterns before releasing the nucs to their new buyers. Normally, the CA nucs are available the first couple of weeks of April. Local come a month later. Both have time, if fed 1:1 syrup to be built up for the Blackberry flow. Packages are ready a bit later, because they do not have any drawn wax to start with.
When you start doing the spring inspection once the weather gets above 55, most likely the bottom boxes are empty of brood and bees, so reverse boxes and put that one above the brood. If there is brood in the bottom box, combine it with the rest of the brood. Do not split brood.
Please make sure to feed summer pollen and syrup to help the colonies build up. In addition, this is the beginning of swarm season, so you need to be prepared. Have extra equipment on hand for housing swarms. Do inspections every 7-9 days to stay ahead of swarm cells hatching. Don’t forget to contact your neighborhood captain for help.
Check for eggs or a queen. Remember you don’t have to find the queen, just eggs. If there are eggs, the queen has been there in the last 3 days.
Make sure to clean off the bottom board. They usually are nasty by the end of Winter!
Check to make sure there is empty space for the queen to lay. Put on another box when 7/10 frames are occupied with honey/pollen and bees.
If the weather changes to rain, rain, rain, the bees may cannibalize eggs. They are protein and are eaten to keep the cluster small enough to keep warm.
Test for Varroa. Treat if necessary.
Equalize one frame at a time. If one hive is bigger than another, you can take a frame of capped brood from the bigger hive and give it to the weaker hive. Capped brood, because it doesn't take feeding, just bees to keep it warm. Replace the frame with an empty put in the center of the cluster for the queen to lay in.
If you want to requeen, do it at the end of May, so the bees have time to accept and adjust to a new queen before the blackberry flow.
If you must find a queen, split the two boxes, so she can’t run between them. She will be easier to find. Then put them back together right after you are successful.
Did you know that colonies who are fed pollen patties from mid-February on achieve two times the population by the time of the blackberry flow, verses those that aren’t fed.
And here is some good news. PSBA is offering one more beginning bee class this weekend. March 18 & 19, from 8:30am-12:30pm. Sign up now!
Don’t forget to come at 6:30pm for the beginner’s lesson, right before our general meeting on March 28th. Tracy Klein does a great job of helping you know the things you should be doing in your apiary. Check the calendar to see if it is a hybrid meeting or just virtual.
 Here comes the sun!
Kathy Cox
Master Beekeeper U of Montana
PSBA VP, Education Chair, Neighborhood Captain Eastside