May in the Apiary


This is quite possibly the busiest time of beekeeping! What are you doing? Are you checking for swarm cells on the bottom of the frames in the second brood box? Are you making splits if you find Queen cells on multiple frames? Are you making splits without swarm cells to replace hives lost over winter? Splits make you a sustainable beekeeper. Did you know when the hive swarms that it is the old queen who leaves with half the hive? This is why beekeepers replace the queens in the fall. A second year queen is most likely to swarm. You can prevent swarming by giving space. This is not simply putting on another box but making space in all the boxes.

Get in your hive every 7-9 days. Look for Queen cups. If they contain an egg, this is a Queen cell. Make sure you have extra equipment in case you catch a swarm.

Are you feeding so those young 5-15 day old bees will draw out wax? They are also the ones who make Royal Jelly to feed the queen. Pollen foraging can be reduced if it is rainy, so a pollen patty will assure that the bees have both carbohydrates and protein.

Don’t forget to clean your hive tool to avoid spreading diseases. Just put it in the fire in your smoke for 3-5 minutes. Don’t forget to clean your suit. If you are stung through the suit, the bee puts a pheromone on it to tell other bees to “sting here!”

Beekeepers either use too little smoke or too much. Light a smoker! Then you can smoke yourself if you get stung. Smoke one puff at the entrance and at the upper entrance if you have one. Lift the top and smoke a puff. Then wait a minute. The bees think the is a forest fire and they need to eat up nectar or honey to take their groceries with them. They need a minute to get the message and move down to the honey. They will not ping you if you give them a minute.

How to light a smoker and keep it lit can be the hardest thing for beekeepers! This is how I do it. Strip one inch sections of newspapers. (This makes lots of edges to catch fire.) Shake them and put them in the smoker. Turn the smoker on its side and light it. Puff, puff, puff. Next, set it upright and tear up paper egg cartons. Puff, puff, puff. Then roll up cardboard to the depth of the smoker and gently insert it. Puff, puff, puff, puff until a flame is visible. Puff every once in a while during inspection to keep the flame alive. If you don’t need it, remember to use your hive tool to press the cardboard down and add another cardboard roll when the first one is almost gone.

Keep a log. You think you will remember, but if you get flustered, you will forget. Write the date, weather and what you did in the hive. I have letters and numbers for the names of mine. It is nice to have a record of what you did right or wrong. If you can see eggs, you don’t need to find the queen. Make notes about their syrup and pollen, brood pattern, how many frames they cover. I use a notebook and write what I should do the next time, what equipment I will use in the margins. It helps write a to-do list for the next inspection.

Enjoy the nice warm weather. We will talk again next month.

Bee Kind,

Kathy Cox

Master Beekeeper U of Montana

PSBA VP, Education Chair, Neighborhood Captain, Instructor



Text: 206-465-1464