For beekeepers who have just put in a package of bees there are a number of things to look for. When the package is received a three pound package has roughly 10,000 bees and a mate queen. While the new hive is getting going an observant beekeeper will note that the bee population is slowly declining. This occurs because of the relatively short life span of summer bees; something on the order of six weeks. To counter this the new queen and hive will start raising replacement bees. It takes twenty-one days from the laying of the egg to the emergence of the new worker bee. For this entire period the hive population is slowly declining as the bees reach the end of their useful life. After about one month the amount of new emerging bees will begin to outpace the loss of the old package bees and the hive population will begin to increase.
If the new package is put on undrawn foundation the new hive must expend a great deal of food and energy to drawn out the foundation and make cells for the raising of brood. It is said that it takes 6 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. The sugar water fed the new hive is not as nutritious as honey so it takes more sugar water than honey to provide the bees with resources to make the new wax. Keep feeding the new hive sugar water until they have drawn out about 80% of the comb in both brood boxes.
The key to a new hive’s success is the queen. Remember to do an inspection of the hive every two weeks to ensure the queen is laying eggs. You don’t need to see the queen, but must see eggs and developing brood at every inspection. Once you see the eggs and developing brood you can stop the inspection. This will lessen the chance of inadvertently injuring the queen. At the two week point there should be multiple frames of developing and capped brood.
Overwintered hives should be booming right now. They should have 8 to 12 frames of brood in various stage of development. If they are lagging behind a frame or two of capped brood can be added from another hive after brushing off the attached bees.
Make sure you have installed honey supers. The hive needs this space for the expanding population and as a place to store the incoming nectar. If insufficient storage space is available the bees will store the nectar in the brood chamber. This will slow population expansion and could also trigger the urge to swarm. The honey flow has started. I have one hive that has already filled a medium super. I don’t where they are finding the nectar, but there it is!
Every two weeks a good beekeeper is verifying his hive is queenright.
Now is also the time to do a split if you are interested in increasing your number of colonies. You can tailor your split to suit your objective. For example if you do a four way split you will end up with four new hives, but you will also be sacrificing the potential of harvesting any honey this year. A two way split (50/50) would be similar to starting two new packages and has the potential of generating surplus honey. Another option of a two way split is a 75/25 split. One hive is almost full strength while the second hive would be similar in strength to a new package
The other option when doing a split is whether or not to provide a new queen. Remember your overwintered hive has shown it was winter hardy. Maybe you want to keep those genetics. In that case let the hive raise their own queen. It takes roughly one month before the replacement queen will begin raising laying. The success rate of this is roughly 70-80%. This one month brood break is also considered a varroa mite control strategy. If you don’t want your hive to be queenless for that long; plan ahead and order queens.