For some of you springtime has begun. Here in Northwest Georgia, it is just around the corner (we hope!). The maples are turning red and their blossoms are beginning to open. I’ve noticed my bees on a sunny day bringing in three different colors of pollen. I love to see this!!
Here are a few reminders of what to do in spring. First of all, are your bees still alive? Place your ear against the side of the hive (stay away from the entrance with your face) and tap on the side, then listen for the buzz of the cluster. If you hear it, that is a good sign. On a sunny day with little or no wind and above 55 or so, you can crack the hive and get a glance at the cluster. Hopefully it is as large as a grapefruit. However, if you suspect the bees aren’t there, go ahead and look through the supers. If your bees are gone, of course you will be discouraged. But you aren’t alone. Take this time to clean up/scrape clean your equipment and protect your drawn combs. These are very important to have in good condition when installing a package.
Once the days have warmed up considerably it’s time for your first real inspection. Choose your day wisely: the temperature needs to be above 65 with little or no wind. Obviously sunlight is a big plus. And consider what the temperature will be that night. If it’s going to be below 50 degrees, don’t open the hive -- it’s not worth the risk. Just wait for warmer temps.
After choosing a good day, make your inspection brief. In addition to the normal goals: checking for honey and pollen stores, queen’s condition, egg/brood pattern, one of your goals needs to be to place the brood nest back in the bottom brood box. Bees have the tendency to work upwards. Play on this instinct. If running two brood boxes, which is my favorite method, the bees will most likely be in the top box. Carefully place the brood frames in the center of the lower box exactly as they were in the higher box: same order from left to right as well as the frames turned the same direction they were. Once the brood is in the bottom you may place remaining honey frames in the next super. If you have no honey to place above the brood nest, you may close up the hive and prepare for spring feeding. At this point you will treat your hive in the same manner you did with your first year package. Add next brood chamber or super when seven out of 10 frames have been filled by the bees. Continue this process throughout the year.
Giving your bees room to work and draw wax is probably the most important swarm prevention technique. During spring buildup, visit your hives weekly and keep a lookout for queen cells. If you see queen cells your bees WILL be swarming in a matter of days. Decisive action is needed to prevent losing two-thirds of your bees to a tall tree or a neighbor’s empty beehive. Removing the queen cells will NOT prevent the swarming instinct. They will simply make more immediately.
Here’s what has worked for me. Get a super of new frames with new foundation ready and a spray bottle of sugar water with Pigeon Mountain BrandTM Feeding Stimulant. Next, you must remove all queen cells. Look closely at each frame. Swarm cells are usually (not always) along the bottom of the frames. Queen cells are very different from any other cells in the hive. A queen cell is a normal cell that is built out and down with wax. They look much like a peanut that is still in the shell. Do an internet search for queen cell images if you are in doubt of what to look for.
After removing queen cells, find the frame where the queen resides. Carefully place this frame in a safe place while you finish your chores. Now get ready to implement the checkerboard technique. You will be alternating each drawn frame with a frame of new foundation. Spray the new foundation down with some sugar water/Feeding Supplement mixture. One frame at a time, spray the bees with the sugar water mix. Shake the bees off the frame into the bottom box and place the frame in the desired position. Frames of honey will be placed on the outsides of the box, brood in toward the center.
Don’t forget about the queen. Don’t shake the frame she is on, simply place it in the box as one of the brood frames. Remember to be very careful not to smash or roll her when placing her frame.
An example of what the frames in the bottom box will be: Honey, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Pollen, Empty.
The second box: Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Honey.
These layouts are not a hard and fast rule. Your layout will vary based on the frames you have available to work with in your hive. I hope this conveys the general idea. The sugar water with Feeding Stimulant encourages the bees to start drawing out the new foundation. Checkerboarding the frames encourages the bees to draw out the empty frames quickly to get the brood nest back to normal. Spraying the bees encourages them to gorge themselves on the sugar water (the same thing they instinctively do when swarming). Shaking the bees is thought to mimic the swarming itself. Finally, having new foundation gives the bees somewhere to put the wax their bodies are producing.
I have found this technique to work well for me. This usually works like a charm. I love to find a swarm of bees and add them to my apiary. I hate to see a swarm of my bees 40 feet up a pine tree and out of my reach. Maybe this will help you keep your bees in your boxes.