2019 has definitely been a different and difficult year for beekeeping. Extreme winter low temperatures. Then spring turned out to be cooler and wetter than normal. But in June the weather has warmed up and the amount of rain declined a little allowing the hives to strengthen.
New hives established with package bees are still struggling to fully develop. Several of my hives established with package bees on May 1st are just now putting a splash of nectar in their honey supers. The cooler weather of May and June slowed brood development probably by restricting the amount of the brood nest area the bees were able to cover and maintain warmth.
Nectar from clover and alfalfa has been readily available in June. Overwintered hives have had no trouble filling from 2 to 4 supers providing they didn’t swarm. A friend with a hive on a scale reported a 5 pound weight gain in one day. If we can only see more days like that. This nectar will continue to be available until mid to late July when rainfall usually declines and growth of these plants slows.
Of course, the strong overwintered hives were following their natural instinct and decided to reproduce; ie. swarm. I think I had from 6 to 8 hives swarm. Luckily, I was able to catch 4 of these swarms. Two of them successfully reestablished themselves. One I had to requeen when the virgin queen did not return from her mating flight. The fourth, a smaller after-swarm, was combined with another hives when its queen did not begin laying after two weeks. Swarms can be headed by either the old queen or a virgin queen. The old queen begins laying within a few days. A virgin queen needs roughly 2 weeks to get mated and between laying. The other swarms got away into the wild. I only saw one bee check out one of my two swarm traps. All of the overwintered hives that swarmed were already putting honey into the honey supers. After swarming this activity stopped for roughly four to five weeks while the hives slowly rebuilt their populations. I hope the honey flow is still going when they regain their strength.
In June I applied a 50% strength formic acid mite treatment; the only treatment permitted while honey supers are on the hive.
With the warm up in June I was finally get to get a little success in raising queens. But since it takes roughly 30 days to raise and mate queens, mated queens are just now becoming available.
What’s ahead for July?
1) Continue to monitor that your hives are queenright.
2) If the honey flow remains strong you can expect swarming to continue although historically it tapers off after the summer solstice.
3) Monitor your honey supers.
a. Add supers when the current super is 75% filled.
b. Bottom supering is reported to encourage the bees to gather more nectar.
c. Bees tend to not fill the outer frames. To make more efficient use of your equipment, when the center frames are filled then rotate the outer frames into the center of the super.
4) By late July the queen will begin reducing egg laying. Phoretic mite levels will spike up when this happens. By monitoring phoretic mite levels you can determine which hives are controlling mites and which are not. It is recommended that hives with higher mite levels should have their queens replaced with mite resistant queens.
5) Make a rough estimate of your coming honey harvest. Do you have sufficient jars and labels?
6) If your mite control method can be used with the honey supers in place you can consider a full strength mite treatment the last week of July. Remember that most mite treatments have high temperature limitations and finding an appropriate weather window can be difficult. High temperatures increase the outgassing rates of formic acid treatments and could cause harm to the bees.