May is here! The grass has turned green and many trees are in flower. Both overwintered hives and new packages are bringing in loads of pollen.
May is the time of explosive population growth for healthy hives. It’s not uncommon for strong hives to have up to eight frames of brood. Since one side of a deep frame has several thousand cells this equates to about 30,000 new worker bees in development. These new bees will arrive just in time for the June honey flow.
If you are averse to a little extra work do not put your honey supers on until the later part of the month. Before then you should be inspecting your hives on a regular basis. Unfortunately, for both new package and over-wintered hives, the queens have a nasty habit of dying or being superceded at this time of year. The hive is not always successful in re-queening themselves. Regular inspections allow the beekeeper to take corrective action before the hive dwindles and thus precludes the chances for a honey harvest.
During an inspection you will see hives that are bursting at the seams with bees and those that are lagging behind. You can do some equalizing between hives to help the weaker ones. Moving a frame of capped and soon to emerge brood will give a needed boost to the weak hive. The weak hives still have time to develop healthy populations in time for the honey flow. However, also make sure the queen in the weak hive is present and laying.
In this area mid-May is the time beekeepers usually do splits of the hives that are bursting at the seams. Just like weak hives, extremely strong hives also need to be inspected. Local beekeepers are reporting that their strong hives already have capped swarm cells hanging on the bottom of frames. That means swarming is imminent. You might as well make a split because half of your hive is going to leave in the swarm. One half of the split should get the queen. The other half gets the swarm cells. The split half with the queen has the time to recover its population in time for the honey flow. The split half with the swarm cells will lag behind several weeks and could be penalized when it comes to making honey. If you want to eliminate this delay you can remove the swarm cells and drop in a purchased queen.
Also note that at this time of year spur of the moment queen availability is spotty. Northern queen producers are just starting the queen rearing cycle. Southern and western queen suppliers are still working to fulfill their commitments for packages and previously ordered queens. Not all suppliers will give a positive response to your request to buy a queen. If you want to install a new queen in your split make sure you have a queen on order beforehand.
Every hive has varroa mites regardless of whether you can see them. Although spring is a good time to knock them down it is already too late to use some of the harsher chemical treatments, because of possible honey contamination. The following three treatments are compatible with honey; formic acid (ie MAQS), oxalic acid, and Hopguard. These can be used from now through the end of honey harvest.