May 2013 Beekeeping Calendar

May 1, 2013

May Weather Conditions and Day Length in Southwest Michigan:

–          Average Daily Maximum Temperature: 72.3°F

–          Average Daily Minimum Temperature: 48.0°F

–          Average Daily Mean Temperature: 60.1°F

–          No. of Days with Maximum Temp of 32°F or below: 0

–          No. of Days with Minimum Temp of 32°F or below: 0

–          Average Date of Last Frost: May 1

–          Average Monthly Precipitation (Total): 2.95 in.

–          Average No. of Days with Precipitation ≥ 0.10 inch: 7

–          Average Monthly Snowfall: 0.0 in.

–          May 1 Daylight Hours: 14 hrs. 06 min.

–          May 31 Daylight Hours: 15 hrs. 04 min.

 

May checklist:

□ Remove winter wrap, mouse guards, and entrance reducers.

□ Remove slider on screened bottom boards.

□ Continue swarm prevention and control.

□ Divide strong colonies and start nucs.

□ Check brood pattern for disease and swarm cells.

□ Remove medications (Apistan, Checkmite, etc.) before supering.

□ Capture swarms.

□ Treat with powdered sugar for mite control.

□ Install extracting supers and queen excluders.

 

It has been a long, cool, and wet lead-up to spring, but it looks as though the weather is finally moderating and we can get on with our spring activities, albeit a couple weeks later than normal.  Our area of the state received 7 to 8 inches of precipitation last month (our normal is just under 3 inches; I measured 7.64 inches in my rain gauge, and I didn’t even have it up for the first 10 days of the month). I guess the good news is that our drought is over (for now).

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If you thought it has felt cooler than normal, you were right. Temperature-wise, the average temperature (40-45°F) was 2-3°F below normal, due largely to lower daily high temperatures for the month that were 3-4°F below normal for this time of year; daily minimum temperatures were 1-2°F lower than average.

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Weeping willows are now in bloom, and willow pollen is coming into the colonies.  Weeping willows are in bloom. Willows (Salix spp.), including weeping willows, pussy willows, and others, are important early nectar and pollen sources. They thrive in nearly every extreme of climate. Willow honey, which is usually not available as surplus, is light amber in color with fair flavor.

May is the month here in southwest Michigan that the nectar flows get underway in earnest.  The dandelion flow has begun within the last day or so.  Dandelions are often the first major nectar source in spring in many areas of the country. The honey is a deep yellow, has a strong, often bitter taste, and smells like the flowers. Dandelion honey is not typically available as surplus as it is usually all used in early brood rearing and is considered one of the most important spring stimulants for this purpose. Dandelions are also good pollen sources. Dandelion bloom is a good benchmark for installing package bees, making splits, and beginning management for swarm control.

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As the following chart illustrates, next in line are the fruit trees.  The chart presents approximate bloom times for “normal” years.  As you can see, we are currently 2 to 3 weeks behind the usual bloom times, but if the weather stays reasonably warm from here on out, later blooming plants will bloom closer to a typical schedule.  The first real opportunity for surplus honey comes later in the month with the black locust and clover blooms.  Prior to these, most of the honey produced is normally used in brood rearing.

 

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April 2013 Beekeeping Calendar

April 1, 2013

April Weather Conditions and Day Length in Southwest Michigan:

–          Average Daily Maximum Temperature: 60.3°F

–          Average Daily Minimum Temperature: 37.6°F

–          Average Daily Mean Temperature: 48.9°F

–          No. of Days with Maximum Temp of 32°F or below: 0

–          No. of Days with Minimum Temp of 32°F or below: 10

–          Average Monthly Precipitation (Total): 3.43 in.

–          Average No. of Days with Precipitation ≥ 0.10 inch: 8

–          Average Monthly Snowfall: 1.8 in.

–          April 1 Daylight Hours: 12 hrs. 45 min.

–          April 30 Daylight Hours: 14 hrs. 04 min.

 

April checklist:

□ Continue feeding (stimulative).

□ Prepare hives for new bees.

□ Install package bees.

□ At dandelion bloom, reverse brood boxes and flip inner covers

□ Perform disease inspection.

□ Replace queens and equalize colony strength as necessary.

□ Super for early honey flow.

□ Begin forming nuclei from strong colonies.

□ Begin swarm control.

 

Spring is off to a slow start here in southwest Michigan, but it has started.  Average temperature values for March, including average temperature, average high temperature, and average low temperature, were all below normal for our area by as much as 7-8°F.

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At the same time temperatures were down, total precipitation was also down 1.2-1.4 inches, putting our area.  While the proportion of the state considered “abnormally dry” by NOAA has shrunk by a little more than 50% in the last 3 months, our area remains stuck in the 15% of the state still considered “abnormally dry” or “moderate drought.”  It remains to be seen what effect all of this will have on the upcoming nectar flows.  For now, bloom times will somewhat delayed until the weather finally moderates.

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It appears that it’s been a rough winter on the bees in our region.  I am in the middle of conducting a survey for our local bee club, and based on the survey respondents so far, winter losses have been in the 60% range.  My apiary is right in there…I lost 4 of the 6 colonies that I went into the winter with.  I’m hoping to breed some queens from my surviving colonies and perpetuate whatever the qualities are that allowed these colonies to survive while so many others didn’t.

Yesterday I began feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to my two surviving colonies.  Both colonies still have candy on the candy boards I put on last December, but I wanted to try to get the stimulative effect of syrup.  It will be important to continue syrup feeding at this point until the weather moderates and natural nectar sources are readily available.  At the present time, red maples are open, as well as some spring bulbs, and pollen is coming in (when it is warm enough for the bees to fly).  The fruit bloom and dandelion bloom will be the first significant nectar flow, but that is still several weeks (at least) away.

Scale Hive and Growing Degree Days

March 22, 2013

I’m doing two things a little differently this year to try to fine tune my management, particularly as it relates to honey production.  First, I am using a hive scale this year, and second, I am paying closer attention to Growing Degree Days (GDD).

The hive scale should provide me real-time information with respect to the activity within the colony.  Right now, the weight of the colony on the scale has been in steady decline since the beginning of the year as the bees consume winter stores.  This is to be expected.  Soon (hopefully), natural sources of nectar and pollen will be available to the bees and the steady decline should turn around to steady weight increase as food stores are replenished and the population within the colony expands.  In his book, Honey Bee Democracy, Thomas Seeley states “I can predict with fair reliability when I will find my first swarm by noting when my hive of bees mounted on platform scales finally ends its six-month-long free-fall in weight and begins to bulk up again on fresh nectar and pollen.”  His accompanying illustration shows swarms occurring approximately 4 to 6 weeks after his scale hive begins to put on weight.  Thus, when my scale hive begins to gain rather than lose weight, that will be a signal to me that it’s time to pay close attention to my swarm prevention measures.  Fewer swarms equals more surplus honey.

By paying closer to GDD, I hope to be able to anticipate nectar flows and thereby have surplus supers in place at the very beginning of a flow, rather than reacting to a flow after it is already underway and potentially missing out on part of it.  A GDD is a measure of warmth on a particular day, representing the amount of heat above a threshold value for the day.  It is readily calculated from the high and low temperature of any given day.  The threshold temperature varies depending on the plant, but 50F is a good average temperature to use for most of the plants that are of concern to beekeepers.  The GDD for any given day is calculated by adding the minimum and maximum temperatures for the day, dividing by 2, and subtracting the threshold temperature.  The equation looks like this: [(high temperature + low temperature)/2] – 50 = GDD.  There are a couple of additional tweaks.  If the maximum temperature doesn’t get above the threshold temperature, the GDD value for the day is 0.  If the minimum temperature doesn’t get above the threshold temperature, use the threshold temperature as the minimum temperature in the calculation.  And finally, if the maximum temperature exceeds 86F, use 86 as the maximum temperature.

The GDD value is cumulative; simply add each daily GDD to get the cumulative value.  Different plants require a different cumulative number of GDD to bloom, and the number is pretty constant for each species.  Most sources seem to count GDD from March 1, however for tender plants, counting GDD from the date of last frost might be more a more accurate predictor of when to expect blooms.  So for example, knowing that dandelions require about 140 GDD to bloom, by keeping track of the cumulative GDD you should be able to predict within a few days when to expect dandelion bloom in your area.  And by being able to predict when to expect any given bloom, I should be able to have surplus supers on in advance of the major honey flows.  I’ll be able to anticipate honey flows (accurately) rather than react to them after the fact.

Some GDD data is available on the internet (Wikipedia has a pretty good discussion with GDD requirements for a number of species of interest to beekeepers).  Those species for which GDD requirements are not available will require some record keeping, tracking GDD values and noting when those species bloom locally.  Since the GDD requirement for any given species is relatively constant from year to year, I should only have to collect the information once to be able to predict bloom time with a fair degree of accuracy in subsequent years.

Common name Latin name Number of growing degree days baseline 10 °C
Witch-hazel Hamamelis spp. begins flowering at <1 GDD
Red maple Acer rubrum begins flowering at 1-27 GDD
Forsythia Forsythia spp. begin flowering at 1-27 GDD
Sugar maple Acer saccharum begin flowering at 1-27 GDD
Norway maple Acer platanoides begins flowering at 30-50 GDD
White ash Fraxinus americana begins flowering at 30-50 GDD
Crabapple Malus spp. begins flowering at 50-80 GDD
Common Broom Cytisus scoparius begins flowering at 50-80 GDD
Horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum begin flowering at 80-110 GDD
Common lilac Syringa vulgaris begin flowering at 80-110 GDD
Beach plum Prunus maritima full bloom at 80-110 GDD
Black locust Robinia pseudoacacia begins flowering at 140-160 GDD
Catalpa Catalpa speciosa begins flowering at 250-330 GDD
Privet Ligustrum spp. begins flowering at 330-400 GDD
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis begins flowering at 330-400 GDD
Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria begins flowering at 400-450 GDD
Sumac Rhus typhina begins flowering at 450-500 GDD
Butterfly bush Buddleia davidii begins flowering at 550-650 GDD
Corn (maize) Zea mays 2700 GDD to crop maturity
Dry beans Phaseolus vulgaris 1100-1300 GDD to maturity depending on cultivar and soil conditions
Sugar Beet Beta vulgaris 130 GDD to emergence and 1400-1500 GDD to maturity
Barley Hordeum vulgare 125-162 GDD to emergence and 1290-1540 GDD to maturity
Wheat (Hard Red) Triticum aestivum 143-178 GDD to emergence and 1550-1680 GDD to maturity
Oats Avena sativa 1500-1750 GDD to maturity
European Corn Borer Ostrinia nubilalis 207 – Emergence of first spring moths

Reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing-degree_day

March 2013 Beekeeping Calendar

March 8, 2013

March Weather Conditions and Day Length in Southwest Michigan:

–          Average Daily Maximum Temperature: 45.3°F

–          Average Daily Minimum Temperature: 26.6°F

–          Average Daily Mean Temperature: 35.9°F

–          No. of Days with Maximum Temp of 32°F or below: 3

–          No. of Days with Minimum Temp of 32°F or below: 24

–          Average Monthly Precipitation (Total): 2.26 in.

–          Average No. of Days with Precipitation ≥ 0.10 inch: 7

–          Average Monthly Snowfall: 9.0 in.

–          March 1 Daylight Hours: 11 hrs. 17 min.

–          March 31 Daylight Hours: 12 hrs. 43 min.

–          Vernal Equinox this month

March checklist:

□ It is critical to check hive stores and feed if necessary. This is the month when honey bee colonies are most likely to die of starvation.  Feed sugar syrup (1:1 sugar:water by either weight or volume) or add dry granulated sugar on inner cover.  Remember, once you start feeding, you should not stop until they are bringing in plenty of food on their own.

□ Clean hive entrances and bee yard.

□ Close up and remove dead colonies.

□ If using, drug feeding for foulbrood (Terramycin or Tylosin) and/or nosema (Fumidil-B) prevention.

□ If using, insert Apistan or Checkmite-Plus now for removal by nectar flow.

□ Begin stimulative feeding with 1:1 sugar syrup and pollen substitute.

□ Final check for clean and repaired equipment for the coming season.

It’s been a tough winter in my apiary.  Of the six colonies that I went into the winter with, four have died.  I haven’t done complete postmortems yet, but a cursory exam shows plenty of stores and a very small cluster in each.  The colonies all appeared strong in October.  At the moment I’m thinking CCD.  When I have the opportunity to make a more detailed examination I’ll see if my preliminary diagnosis holds up.

March 1 marks the beginning of meteorological spring in southwest Michigan.  Meteorological winter is defined as the three coldest months of the year (December, January, and February) while meteorological summer as the three warmest months (June, July, and August).  Meteorological spring and fall are the intervening months.

tmeandev-90daystmaxdev-90daystmindev-90daysThe winter just past was a bit warmer than normal.  Average daily temperature was 2 to 3F warmer than average, with elevated average minimum and maximum temperatures.

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Winter started out without much snow cover, but my mid-January that changed.  Precipitation for the three months comprising winter was  2 to 3 inches above average.  This is good news considering the drought conditions that existed here last summer. Every little bit helps, but we are still on the cusp of drought.

By this time you should have peeked under your hive covers to see if your colonies are still alive.  If the bees have survived, and if they are right up under the inner cover, emergency feeding is in order.  Although natural pollen sources will be available within the next week or two, with nectar sources close behind, the unpredictability of spring weather means that the bees may not always be able to take advantage of them.  Start feeding now and continue until the weather stabilizes.

My scale hive continues to lose weight, which is actually a good thing.  It means the bees are still alive and eating.  The cluster in the scale hive is relatively small.  Since I started keeping records in mid January, the hive has lost about 2 pounds per week.  A larger colony can be expected to lose twice that or more.  I’m looking forward to reversing the losing trend in the coming weeks.

Last fall I had six 5-frame nucs (medium frames) that I never quite got around to. I just ran out of time taking care of stuff.  I decided to just let the nucs die out over the winter, clean out the boxes, and restock them in the spring.  In January we had a couple of warm days and I decided it was a good time to clean out the by now dead colonies.  I was pleasantly surprised to find three of the nucs still alive.  So I put some bee candy on each of them and hoped for the best.  I finally got to check them again yesterday, and one of the three was still alive!  It’s one tough colony! I put some more candy on the top bars (the candy placed there in January was almost completely consumed) and closed them back up.  So unless things change in the near future, I’ll be starting the coming beekeeping season with three colonies.  I don’t know if you can draw any conclusions from my small sample size, but two of the three surviving colonies are headed up by Carniolan queens.  Looks like I’ll be raising some Carniolan queens (or Carniolan crosses) this year.

February 2013 Beekeeping Calendar

February 3, 2013

February Weather Conditions and Day Length in Southwest Michigan:

–          Average Daily Maximum Temperature: 34.7°F

–          Average Daily Minimum Temperature: 18.2°F

–          Average Daily Mean Temperature: 26.4°F

–          No. of Days with Maximum Temp of 32°F or below: 11

–          No. of Days with Minimum Temp of 32°F or below: 27

–          Average Monthly Precipitation (Total): 1.50 in.

–          Average No. of Days with Precipitation ≥ 0.10 inch: 5

–          Average Monthly Snowfall: 12.0 in.

–          February 1 Daylight Hours: 10 hrs. 0 min.

–          February 28 Daylight Hours: 11 hrs. 11 min.

 

February checklist:

□ Order package bees for late April or May delivery.  As a rule of thumb, in our area, Earth Day (April 22) is a good target date for installing packages.

□ Clean hive entrances and bee yard.

□ Heft hives for stores.

□ Remove covers and check hive status.  (It’s okay to briefly remove the top cover and inner cover to inspect, but do not remove frames and do not disturb the cluster.  By looking under the covers, you’ll be able to tell where the winter cluster of bees is located within the hive. Once you have completed your inspection, close the hive back up.)

□ Close up and remove dead colonies.

□ Begin emergency feeding if necessary; feed candy or granulated sugar.  Remember, winter is only half over on Groundhog Day (February 2).

□ Clean, paint, repair, and/or assemble equipment.

□ Attend Kalamazoo Bee Club’s annual Bee School.

□ Read a beekeeping book or magazine.

January Musings

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to try to be more consistent in making posts on this blog.  We’ll see…someone once told me the best way to make God laugh is to make plans.

January 1 is a good day to go out and peek under the cover of your colonies and see if they are still alive.  Out of the six colonies that I prepared for winter, two have already been lost.  I actually found one colony dead (Colony 4) on December 23 when I put candy boards on all my colonies.  I found Colony 1 dead today when I lifted the outer covers to peek inside.   I haven’t done a thorough post-mortem yet, but both seem to have very small clusters.  When I get a chance I’ll do a more thorough examination and see if I can find any clues as to why they died.

I can’t really blame the weather for my colony losses at this point.  The average high temperature in our area for the last 30 days (40 – 45°F) was 5 to 6 degrees above average.  The average low temperature (25 to 30°F) was 6 to 7 degrees above average, while the overall average daily temperature (35 to 40°F) was 5 to 6 degrees above average.  The average precipitation for the last 30 days has been pretty close to normal for this time of year.

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tmean-30daystmeandev-30daysprcp-30daysprcpdev-30daysThus far it has not been a very cold winter.  That’s generally good for the bees, but beekeepers in our area will have to keep an eye on winter stores.  Warmer temperatures in the hive can mean greater activity and therefore greater consumption of winter stores.  Now is a good time to heft your hives to get a sense of how stores are holding up.  While it is generally an imprecise way of assessing stores, you can gain some insight, especially if you have more than one colony.  With multiple colonies for comparison, marked differences in weight are more apparent.  If stores are questionable, consider emergency feeding.

New in my apiary this winter is a scale hive.  I purchased a used platform scale and have one colony positioned on the scale.  A small overhead canopy minimizes accumulation of snow and ice on the hive which would confound weight readings.

2013-01-01 14.03.50Since beginning my record keeping on December 16, this colony has lost a total of 4 pounds, or about 0.25 pounds per day.  This amount of weight loss may be a little lower than one would expect for a couple of reasons.  First, I believe my scale colony has a relatively small winter cluster which would keep consumption rate low.  And second, bees are metabolically least active, and therefore honey consumption is lowest, around 40 to 45°F, which you may recall was the average daily high temperature for the past 30 days.  As a result, the weather may have served to limit honey consumption by the bees.

January 2013 Beekeeping Calendar

December 23, 2012

January Weather Conditions and Day Length in Southwest Michigan:

–          Average Daily Maximum Temperature: 30.9°F

–          Average Daily Minimum Temperature: 16.5°F

–          Average Daily Mean Temperature: 23.7°F

–          No. of Days with Maximum Temp of 32°F or below: 16

–          No. of Days with Minimum Temp of 32°F or below: 29

–          Average Monthly Precipitation (Total): 1.90 in.

–          Average No. of Days with Precipitation ≥ 0.10 inch: 6

–          Average Monthly Snowfall: 18.5 in.

–          January 1 Daylight Hours: 9 hrs. 10 min.

–          January 31 Daylight Hours: 9 hrs. 58 min.

 

January Checklist:

□ Check apiary for vandalism, hive covers blown off, etc.

□ Keep entrances clear of ice and snow.

□ Heft hives for stores.

□ Begin emergency feeding if necessary; feed candy or granulated sugar.

□ Clean, paint, repair, and/or assemble equipment.

□ Order packages, nucs, and queens.

□ Sign up for Kalamazoo Bee Club’s annual Bee School.

□ Read a beekeeping book or magazine.

Beekeeping Calendar – April 2012

April 4, 2012

 

What’s the Weather Like?

It’s April.  This may seem obvious unless you are gauging the season by the weather, in which case you might guess that it was June.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month you know March was anything but average weather-wise.  As was true of February, all of the average temperature indices in March were above normal for our area: mean daily low temperatures for the month were up by 14 to 15°F, mean daily high temperatures were up by 15 to 16°F, and overall mean daily temperatures were up by 14 to 15°F.   In addition to being a warmer month than normal, March was also a wetter than average month with total precipitation 0.5 to 0.75 inches greater than the historical average for our area of southwest Michigan.

But let’s turn to April.  Average daytime high temperature in this area of southwestMichiganfor the month of April is 60°F while the average nighttime low of 38°F is above freezing for the first time since November.  The mean daily temperature is 49°F.  We can expect the high temperature every day this month will be above freezing (at this point, we shouldn’t have to worry about days not breaking the 32°F barrier until November), but we’ll have to wait a little longer for completely frost-free days.  We should anticipate the daily low temperature dipping below freezing about 10 days this month.  The mean precipitation (liquid equivalent) for April is 3.6 inches with only about 3 inches of snow this month.  On average we will see 8 days with at least 0.1 inches of rain in April, and two of those days we can expect a half an inch or more.  Day length continues to increase; we have gained about three and three-quarters hours of daylight since the winter solstice, and by the end of April, we will have gained about 5 hours!

What Are The Bees Doing?

With the warming temperatures and increased day length, the queen’s egg laying continues to increase, and the brood area continues to grow within the colony.  Drones make their unequivocal appearance this month.  Food consumption increases as the population increases, but this month there are plenty of natural sources of nectar and pollen, and the field bees can be seen returning to the colony with pollen baskets loaded with pollen in shades of red, yellow, and orange.

 What’s Blooming?

Because of our unusually warm early spring weather, many of the nectar and pollen sources that normally become abundant this month have already been available for several weeks.  Although the weather has moderated a bit lately (there are frost warnings posted for tonight in our area), the spring bloom continues way ahead of schedule.  In a “normal” year, the early sources that became available in March (the maples and willows) continuing blooming into April.  These early sources are joined during April in our area by the blooms that yield the first significant nectar flows.  By the end of the month the major fruit blooms will be in full swing, including cherries (first the sweet and then the tart), apples, peaches, plums, and pears.  Sassafras and serviceberry bloom this month, as do dandelions, mustard, and yellow rocket.  It is only under intensive management systems that surplus crops of honey are garnered from these April nectar flows, so you may not see apple blossom honey in your local store.  But even in the absence of surpluses, this spring nectar flow is vitally important to the colonies as they build in strength and numbers leading up to the major summer nectar flows.

What Is The Beekeeper (Me) Doing?

April usually represents the first month where the weather is warm enough to allow a thorough inspection of the bees.  I recommend a thorough inspection of each colony a minimum of twice per year; once in the Spring to assess the colony status in preparation for the summer honey flow, and again in the Fall to assist in making your Winter management decisions.  Normally, one shouldn’t disturb the cluster when the temperature is below 55°F (it’s okay to lift the cover to add syrup or pollen patties when it’s below 55°F, but you shouldn’t remove frames or you risk chilling the brood), and the closer to 70°F before pulling frames out the better.  Basic early spring management includes checking on the health of each colony, cleaning bottom boards, medicating (if you are using medications), and reversing supers.  This is also the time of year to think about making splits and requeening colonies.

When you finally get the chance to do that first thorough inspection, don’t forget to take the most important tool: a notebook and pencil.  Every time you inspect your hives, take some notes.  It can be nothing more than some lined paper, or you can use a checklist like the one found in a number of the catalogs from the major bee suppliers.  Or do as I did and develop a checklist of your own that reflects the way you work with your bees.  Regardless of what you use, be sure to take notes.  They are an invaluable tool for preventing you from overlooking something during your inspections, and for planning your subsequent management activities.

When you visit your hives, take a moment or two before opening your colony to observe the activity at the colony entrance.  Is there pollen coming into the colony?  If there is, you can be reasonably certain there is brood being fed, and by extension that your queen is laying.  Do the bees come and go with purpose, or do they hang around the entrance and appear nervous?  Are there any chalkbrood mummies on the landing board?  If you have more than one colony, is the activity comparable between all the colonies or do some colonies have noticeably reduced activity compared to others?  All of these observations can give you clues regarding the general health status of your colonies before you ever lift an outer cover.

Once you open your colonies, one of the most important components for checking on the health of the colony is evaluating your queens.  Can you find the queen?  It’s not necessary to actually find the queen as long as you see evidence of the queen in the form of eggs and brood (though because of the relatively small population within the colony during this time of year, this is often the easiest time to spot the queen).  Is it the queen you supplied?  This is one of the reasons for using marked queens; you can tell immediately if the queen you are looking at is one you supplied or if it is one the bees provided as a result of swarming or supersedure.  Is there a good, solid brood pattern with only occasional skipped cells?  A spotty brood pattern can be an indication of a failing queen or the presence of brood disease.  If you can estimate the proportions of eggs, unsealed brood and sealed brood, you should ideally find approximately a 1:2:4 ratio.  This is because it takes 3 days for the eggs to hatch, 6 days as unsealed larvae, and 12 days as sealed brood prior to emergence as adult bees.  Since eggs may be difficult to see, another ratio one can use is unsealed to sealed brood which should approximate a 3:4 ratio (almost equal amounts).  A significant alteration in this ratio suggests there is a problem that should be investigated.  A greater proportion of sealed brood suggests egg laying has been interrupted for some reason (old, injured, or lost queen; swarming; etc.) while a greater proportion of unsealed brood suggests loss of sealed brood for some reason (chilling, disease, a new queen resulting from supersedure or swarming, etc.).

Use this first inspection opportunity to clean off your bottom boards.  Dead bees on the bottom board are to be expected after a long winter of confinement, and two or three cups of dead bees are not unusual following a long, cold winter.  Cleaning the dead bees off the bottom board opens up the lower entrance of the colony, increases ventilation, and removes potential pathogens from the colony.

Menthol and/or grease patties for tracheal mites, Terramycin extender patties for American foulbrood, Fumadil-B for nosema, and Apistan or CheckMite+ for varroa mites may be indicated for disease and parasite control.  When using any medications, be sure they are removed sufficiently far in advance of putting on extracting supers to avoid contaminating honey for human consumption; extracting supers can be put on immediately after removing Apistan strips; CheckMite+ strips require a 14 day treatment-free period before putting extracting supers on; and Terramycin should be removed at least six weeks before putting on extracting supers.

Reversing or rotating hive bodies improves the brood distribution within the colony and aids in swarm control later in the season.  As winter progresses, the queen tends to move up through the hive, and is apparently very reluctant to move down.  As a result, as brood production increases, the area in which the queen is laying quickly becomes filled and the queen, being disinclined to moving down through the hive, runs out of places to lay eggs.  This can be one of the stimuli for swarming.  It is a very simple matter to switch the positions of the upper and lower hive bodies (if you hive your bees in two supers), thus putting a relatively empty super above the queen for her to move into and continue laying.  If you winter colonies in three supers (like I do), you can perform a partial reversal initially, which involves switching the positions of the upper two supers, followed by a complete reversal (switching the positions of the upper and lower supers) two or three weeks later.  Reversals can be repeated every three or four weeks to continue to encourage the queen to utilize the entire brood nest for egg laying.  It’s important to note that the initial reversal should only be done when the bulk of the bees and brood occupy only the top super.  Reversing when the brood nest straddles two brood boxes splits the brood nest into two noncontiguous portions that the bees will have difficulty keeping warm.  This can set back the spring buildup of your colony.

April is a good time to make splits and requeen colonies.  Splits can be made to increase colony numbers, produce nucleus colonies for personal use or sale, or as an aid in swarm control.  There are a myriad of methods for making splits, but the basic process is you remove frames of brood and bees from one colony, place them in an empty colony, and introduce a new queen.  This split is referred to as a nucleus colony if it is maintained as a small colony, usually on 4 or 5 frames, or as an increase colony if it is placed into a standard size hive body and built up to be a full size colony.  Because you reduce the population of the parent colony when you remove frames of brood and bees, you reduce the propensity for swarming for that colony.  The timing of making splits is limited by the availability of queens if purchasing queens for your splits, or the availability of natural populations of drones (for mating purposes) if letting the bees raise their own queens.  A good rule of thumb in a normal year is to wait at least until the dandelions and fruit trees are in bloom before making splits or requeening.  Considering how early everything is blooming this year, an alternate rule of thumb in our area is to wait until Earth Day (April 22) to minimize the number of exceptionally cold nights a small nucleus colony may experience.

This year I plan on raising a few more queens than last year.  My original plan called for me to begin the process around Earth Day, but since there is drone brood in most of my colonies I am going to move my schedule up a week.  As a result, I hope to have the first batch of mated, laying queens by May 26.  I say “first batch” because I hope to raise two or three rounds of queens.  I have received calls already concerning the availability of my queens, so I plan to increase the production a bit to accommodate the demand and still leave queens for my own use.

Last year, after my initial attempts with the Nicot system met with something less than success, I was taught the cell punch method and I am now a convert.  I will be using the cell punch method this year, and will combine it with the use of a Cloake board.  Once I get started, I’ll post all the details in future blogs.

One additional thing I am going to try this year is a 2-queen colony.  I will use a Cloake board to combine one of my overwintered nucs with one of my standard colonies to produce a 2-queen colony, with the two queens co-existing, separated by a queen excluder.  The primary advantage is supposed to be larger honey crops than with two single colonies, since the bees’ honey production increases in efficiency with increasing population.  There is a potential for a really BIG colony (and a risk of really big swarms!) so for this year I am going to limit myself to a single colony managed this way until I get a feel for the pros and cons.  As with the queen rearing adventures, watch the blog for details of the 2-queen system once I get things underway.

As has been true in previous months, there is still a backlog of bee journals to read and file.  I will continue to get equipment ready for the coming spring season, painting and culling as necessary.  I purchased 150 new frames this spring, so there are still lots of frames to assemble, as well as other equipment to get out of storage and prepare for use.  These activities are never ending.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.  Suggestions for topics you would like to see discussed are likewise encouraged.

Refs.

http://www.almanac.com/

http://climate.geo.msu.edu/

http://www.backyardbeekeepers.com/to-do.html

 

What’s Blooming?

April 4, 2012

Within the past several days I have spotted an increasing number of patches of yellow rocket along the roadsides in my area.  Barbarea vulgaris, also called as Bittercress, Herb Barbara, Rocketcress, Yellow Rocketcress, Winter Rocket, and Wound Rocket, is a biennial herb native to Europe.  It’s hard to miss this plant in the middle of spring. The bright and abundant yellow flowers dominate the roadsides and waste places. It is yet another one of the aggressive, introduced members of the Brassicaceae, which also includes mustards and cabbages.  The name Brassicaceae is derived from the genus Brassica.  Cruciferae is an older name, meaning “cross-bearing”, because the four petals of their flowers are reminiscent of a cross.  Despite the attractive flowering masses on these plants, they may be more important nectar and pollen sources to native pollinators than to honey bees.

Yellow Rocket

Sassafras has also been in bloom for several days now.  Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a small tree with aromatic bark and clusters of pale yellow flowers.  The tiny flowers are five-petaled and dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees. The most characteristic feature of sassafras is leaves of three different shapes on the same tree: one lobed, two lobed, and three lobed.  The flowers secrete nectar freely and are visited by bees, but any nectar collected is used in brood rearing.

Sassafras

The apple trees in my yard began blooming today (almost a full month ahead of when I posted last year), just in time for a frost warning tonight.  Apple trees (Malus domestica) are an important source of spring honey and good pollen source in most of the northern and central states, andMichigan is no exception.  The honey is used for spring buildup, but when the weather is bad, bees barely make a living from apple blossoms.  However, where the colonies are strong and the weather favorable, a small surplus is occasionally stored.  The honey is light golden with a delicious flavor.  Apples are completely dependent on insects for pollination, and when the weather is too cold and wet for bees to fly, the apple crop as well as the bees suffer.  Bees working apple blossoms will have pollen loads that are pale yellow to white in color.

Apple

References:

Goltz, L. R.  Honey Plants.  Gleanings in Bee Culture,Medina,OH.  1977

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollen_source

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassafras

http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Barbarea_vulgaris_page.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarea_vulgaris

 

What’s Blooming?

March 24, 2012

Spring bloom-a-palooza continues at its accelerated rate.  The cherry orchard up the road from my house is coming into bloom, and the way things have been going will be in full bloom by tomorrow, two weeks ahead of 2010 which at the time was considered an early spring.   Cultivated cherries (Prunus spp.) bloom early in the spring when the weather is often so poor bees have difficulty flying.  Sour cherries are self-fruitful, but most sweet cherry varieties require cross pollination to set fruit.  Very little surplus honey is ever stored from cherry trees, with most of the honey used in brood rearing.  Cherry blossoms are very good pollen sources, and bees working cherries have dark yellow pollen loads.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a large shrub or small tree native to eastern North America fromSouthern Ontario,Canada south to northernFlorida,United States.  Here in southwestMichigan we are at the northern edge of the redbud’s range.  The flowers of the redbud are showy, light to dark magenta pink in color, on bare stems before the leaves, sometimes on the trunk itself. The flowers are pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees such as bumble bees and carpenter bees; short-tongued bees, like honey bees, cannot easily reach the nectaries and so redbud may not be very attractive to honey bees.  Honey produced from redbud is light colored and well flavored, but most of it is used in brood rearing.

References:

Goltz, L. R.  Honey Plants.  Gleanings in Bee Culture,Medina,OH.  1977

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollen_source