May has drawn to a close. Comparing with previous years it seems that this May has been cooler and wetter. My best guess is that this has slowed hive development by roughly two weeks. With temperatures routinely getting down into the low 40’s almost every night the bees have been going into cluster to maintain warmth. This has slowed buildup of the hive population because the size of the brood nest is restricted. Only in the strongest overwintered hives has buildup been normal.
In my apiary there was one swarm, which I was able to catch. A second hive probably swarmed based on evidence of queen cells, both capped and emerged, and a falloff in bee population. I was also able to prevent swarming off a third hive by removing a frame containing capped queen cells and also removing three additional frames of capped brood. This hive had 12 frames of capped brood cells! All removed frames were used to strengthen other hives. These actions weakened the hive enough to stifle its urge to swarm. Three weeks later they are still in place and have not swarmed.
Some of the overwintered hives have been storing honey in the honey supers. The strongest hives has placed honey in 7 of 9 frames of its first honey super. (Note: I run 9 frames in my 10 frame supers. This makes decapping easier without reducing honey volume.) None has been capped to date. This is even before the main honey flow, which is yet to begin. The cooler weather has delayed appearance of clover, alfalfa, and black locust blossoms. The only source I am seeing right now is honeysuckle blooming.
Three overwintered hives have gone queenless in May. So far, I have been able to recover the situation on one of the three; by installing a queen. I am still working to rescue the second and third hive. One rejected an added queen. I am trying transferring in frames of eggs and brood to the third.
My queen rearing efforts have gone poorly this spring. I haven’t been raising enough queens to even satisfy my own needs. I don’t understand the exact reason, but I think the cold nights, which cause the bees to cluster, results in the queen cells being abandoned each night and becoming too cold. Hopefully June will provide better weather and better success in this effort.
What’s ahead for June?
1) Build up of nucs and new package hives will continue. Verify they are queenright and add honey supers when the population in the second brood chamber builds to roughly seven or eight frames of bees.
2) The potential for swarming will continue. Monitor hives for swarm cells, monitor trees near your apiary for hanging swarms, and have swarm traps in the area to catch any swarms that get away.
3) Keep a close watch on your honey supers. Make sure to add additional supers when the top super becomes about ¾ full. If you don’t add another super, the bees may backfill the brood nest with honey and thus weaken the hive. NOTE: Just because the top honey super is full of bees does not mean they are putting in honey in that super. These bees may just be getting away from a congested brood nest.
4) Some beekeepers periodically rearrange the frames in the honey supers. The bees tend to fill the center frames first and may totally ignore the outer frames. If you see this happening rearrange the empty frames to the center position. Some beekeepers swear this actually stimulates the bees into gathering more honey.
5) In mid-JuneI will be performing a 50% strength treatment with formic acid to control mite buildup by using one pad of FormicPro. (NOTE: Each packet of FormicPro contains 2 pads.) This will be done to all hives. The formic acid pad gets installed between the two brood chamber boxes.
6) Performing mite counts is also recommended. Mite counts performed by the alcohol wash method appear to give more accurate results, but at the cost of the lives of 300 bees.
7) Each time you open a hive it’s a good idea to verify the hive is queenright.