By Jerry Przybylski, local bees preferred
Spring is here, bringing with it the nectar flow, the explosive expansion, and the potential for swarming.
Do have a swarm-trap/bait-hive in the yard to attract a swarm your hive may generate… or perhaps a swarm from the neighborhood.
Do provide a water source that won’t run dry until the rains start again in the fall. Wine corks floating in the water dish can save bees from drowning.
Colonies produce queen cells (swarm cells) when the queen runs out of room to lay eggs. This can happen when the bees start filling brood cells with nectar. Another signal is when the ratio of open brood to capped brood drops to 10% or less. To blunt the swarming urge we can manage space in the brood area, and provide sufficient space in honey supers for the incoming nectar. A one-day larva fed as a queen will be capped in 5 days. The mother queen and half the population may leave a few days later. Weekly inspections help keep track of progress. (Bi-weekly inspections can miss everything) If capped swarm cells are found, and the mother queen is still there, do an artificial-swarm to avoid losing the bees as a swarm. Relocate the queen and some resources to a hive across the yard or to another yard.
Want more bees? Try splitting or some other flavor of queen rearing. Read books and perhaps check out some YouTube videos. Adapt for our climate. Talk to friends. Ask people in the Local Bee Initiative. Discovering capped queen cells is a crisis and an opportunity. Think about what you would do if discovering queen cells. (Remember that colonies often make cups. The crisis is cups with larva or capped cells)
Join the Swarm-List to get into the swarm chasing game. Watch some videos; tag along with more experienced bee wranglers to see how it’s done (safely) before taking a call yourself… or if you make a claim, ask for backup.
You may attract neighborhood bees to your yard with a well-placed bait-hive. Phil Stob’s PowerPoint is a great source of bait-hive tips; find it on the ACBA website (members-only section).
Panic! Panic!! What if the bees swarm while taking vacation?
Well… split the colony just before going on vacation. Divide the resources of the colony into two hives.
Give the bees in the brood box(es) some extra room to expand into (perhaps a foundationless frame). Provide some space for honey.
The queenless stack will try to make a queen. If the queen emerges and mates, you have a second colony for the duration of the nectar flow. Extra colonies are insurance against winter losses.
If the queenless box fails to produce a queen there are two options… Save it by providing a frame with young larva so they can try again to produce a queen. Otherwise simplify by just recombining it with the mother hive.
Whatever the outcome, your neighbor probably won’t have to call to ask if you want that swarm from your hive that landed in his/her yard. (Of course, that swarm might be from someone else’s hive, or perhaps feral; you can hope they’re scouting your swarm trap)
Assay your Varroa rates from time to time during spring and summer. Every couple of weeks is reasonable in spring. More often is wise in late summer and fall when robbing is a problem. It’s a little messier doing a sugar-roll in spring, though, because when shaking bees into a plastic bin, droplets of nectar come out too… and coat the bees, and bin… Sticky everywhere.
Keep records of Varroa counts per hive. If the infestation rate holds steady from week to week without treatments, the conclusion is that your bees are expressing Varroa mitigation traits. (traits like grooming, ankle-biting, hygienic, and perhaps some as yet undescribed ones)
Some beeks believe in hard thresholds for treatment. Try holding off the treatment until you’ve done three or more assays; look for a trend. A consistent upward trend suggests intervention. Options are chemical treatment, or drone culling, or forcing a brood-break, or even queen replacement.
Propagate colonies with consistently low Varroa infestation. Those bees are doing the right things!
The Local Bee Initiative can help with advice, best practices, encouragement.
Fantastic colonies are good candidates for queen rearing by grafting, which the Queen Breeding Project is doing in Sunol. New, well-mated queens are good for beeks, and good for bee survival in the coming winter.
Watch the entrances. It’s enjoyable and relaxing. Their activity tells you things too. When inspecting, smell the aroma. Can you recognize the nectar source? If a hive has that nasty acrid smell, do investigate.