By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
What are our bees up to?
It takes several cycles of brood-rearing for a colony to build up the one-deep-box-full population (~20,000) required to take advantage of the spring flowers. Each new generation of bees takes about three weeks. Each generation is about double the previous one. To build up for February flowers, our 3 frames bees had to start building out around Christmas. To succeed, they need protein (pollen) either from stores in frames or from the eucalyptus. Of course, they also need carbohydrate, either from stored honey or the eucalyptus.
When the bees are foraging, are they active, and bringing in pollen? Yes, is good. If lethargic, the hive may merit a look inside even if it’s cold. The next few weeks of below-60ºF temperatures are not favorable for inspecting, or for Varroa assays. If you want to inspect, keep a close eye on the thermometer. Pick a sunny day with no wind. Work quickly.
If the hive has an inner-cover, lift the telescoping lid and look through the oval opening for bees. If the hive is still heavy, like last time, it’s doing OK. If the hive is light, it may need food. If the bees in the light hive are bringing in a pale yellow (eucalyptus) pollen, they’re probably bringing in the nectar they need; frames will have thin honey and nectar. If frames are dry, feed both protein (pollen substitute, or a pollen frame from the freezer) as well as syrup. If uncertain about feeding, do a test feeding of small quantities of patty and syrup. Bees with abundant natural sources will ignore your offerings.
Don’t put it off any longer. Groom the empty boxes and frames. Scrape off the build-up of propolis on the frames and frame rests so that the frames all fit tight again. Paint boxes that need it. Be ready to add them in a couple of weeks when spring flowers and weeds start blooming. Eucalyptus are blooming now. Nice days can bring in a surprising amount of nectar. Honey bound hives will result in poor expansion, and perhaps premature swarming.
Prepare for splitting in February or March. Build some bottom-boards or buy them. Assemble some boxes and frames or buy them. Top covers too. Review splitting instructions in your favorite bee-books. Watch some YouTube videos about splitting. If you’re new to splitting, stick to the simple approaches.
Assess your colonies. From your notes and observations, decide which hive(s) should be propagated. Don’t split your worst hives… in fact, borrow from those hives to improve the success of the splits you’re creating from good hives. You’re just helping mother-nature a little with evolution. You’re strengthening your yard to improve your chances of having bees pull through next winter. Yup… you gotta think ahead. Be proactive rather than reactive.
When to start splitting: Wait until strong hives have drones in them.
Split when you find frames with queen-cells in hives. Bees raise the best queens when they judge that it’s the right time.
Look for eggs and young larva a month after splitting. Know your queen rearing math. Queens emerge 15 or 16 days after the egg is laid, or 12 days from young larva. Queens are capped on day 8 from egg or 4 from larva. Queens can be safely moved on day 14 and 15. They’re mushy and fragile from day 9 to day 13. Handle with great care.
Use the new queens from your good splits to replace the queens from the worst hives. How? Just remove the queen from the weak hive. The next day, do a newspaper-combine with a successful split.
Why split? Split it to keep your yard loaded with young queens. Aim to produce about twice as many queens as you need. Not all will succeed. There is a market for the extra queens. The Local Bee Initiative can help out with that.