May 2019 Beekeeper’s Corner

By Jerry Przybylski, local bees preferred

The weather is warming up. Good rainfall this year translates to good nectar production.
These are good times for domestic and feral colonies. They’re programmed to build up and swarm.
These are challenging times for beekeepers. Inspect often to keep abreast of progress in the hive.
Brood cells filled with nectar and honey, or abrupt reduction in the ratio of uncapped to capped brood, often tip a colony into swarm mode.  Sometimes they swarm even if they have space.

So… among other things, our bee yards should include a swarm-trap to attract swarms from our hives if the bees outwit us.  We also need to keep our water sources filled.


Recently at the Marin club meeting, guest speaker Rachel Bonoan explained bees preference for “dirty water” over “pure water.” The bees are looking for salts and minerals. Sodium; calcium; magnesium; potassium…
Ant proofing needs to be inspected or renewed or improved. Ant baiting is another control option.
Remove the grass and weeds ants can use as bridges to bypass the barriers so they can attack the hive.

Ponder this… Small Hive Beetle larva drop out of the hive to burrow into the ground in the bee yard to pupate. It’s prudent to recycle everything dropped out of the bottom of the hive into the solar wax melter…

The same kind of shop towel Randy Oliver specifies for his Oxalic Acid Varroa treatment can be used as an SHB trap. A strip of shop towel laid across the box will be fluffed up by the bees. The loops pulled out by the bees snag the legs of SHB. At a penny or two per strip, they’re a cheap treatment and a cheap monitor for SHB.
If the goal is honey production and swarm prevention, then interventions that provide the colony more open space in the brood ball to raise brood. Undrawn plastic foundation, or foundationless frames inserted into the middle of the brood ball gives the bees something to do with the nectar, and becomes more cells for the queen to lay in.  Moving a frame partly filled with honey from the brood box into an empty super will draw the honey processing bees up to work the new space.

If the goal is increasing the number of hives in the yard, then now is the time to engineer splits.
The simplest option is laying down a second bottom board next to the mother hive,
and dividing the resources of the mother hive equally onto the two bottom boards.
The bees will make an emergency queen in the stack that’s queenless.
There are ways to stack the deck in your favor when doing this basic split. Think about it or read about them or discuss them with experienced members of the local bee initiative.

An example is the emergency recovery scenario Serge Labesque described at a recent Mt. Diablo meeting.
He split the hive into two.
Then… when the bees in the queen-less splits started queen cells, he observed when the cells were capped, and which frames those cells were on.
Then he timed his next manipulations for just before the queens emerged (day 14 or 15).
He redistributed each frame with queen cells into a mating nuc (and left a couple of queen cells in the split that produced the cells).
The scenario turned a single hive into six or more hives.
A subtle point is that the mother hive (at the original location) can donate most of its house bees and most of the brood frames to the mating nucs because the foragers will adjust to cope with the brood rearing. (Foragers will be loyal to the mother hive location)
Queen cells produced in this example can also be used to re-queen queen-less hives,  or to re-queen hives with inferior queens. If the frames are wax foundation, cells can be cut from the comb for insertion into hives or mating nucs.
Underperforming hives can donate resources to mating nucs… (and the queen perhaps pinched)
The gotchas…
Each of the mating nucs needs enough HOUSE bees to cover the brood in it.
Each mating nuc needs enough honey and pollen to carry it through until it has its own field bees.
Check the mating nucs after a few hours, and add house bees to the ones that need them.
Remember… the foragers will return to the mother hive location, and the house bees will stay put in the mating nucs.

How to identify house bees…  Shake or brush bees into a bin. In five minutes or so the foragers will fly out of the bin leaving behind the house bees. (Make sure the queen isn’t there among the house bees in the bin) Scoop or pour equal amounts of bees into the mating nucs.
When shaking bees from a frame into the bin, nectar from the cells can spatter on the bees in the bin making them sticky. They’ll clean each other off.

The books tell us that during spring the high rate of brood production outstrips the rate of Varroa reproduction, so Varroa assays should indicate a low infestation rate.
The books assume bees have no capacity to control Varroa reproduction.  That includes the bible of Varroa treatment, https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HBHC-Guide_Varroa_Interactive_7thEdition_June2018.pdf
Feral colonies in bee trees, however, must be coping with Varroa since they survive year-to-year without benefit of treatment!! Swarms we collect from feral survivors should themselves be survivors.
Know where you stand by doing Varroa assays as described in the above document, or the way your mentor taught you to do it.  Be consistent at performing the assay for best reliability (time the steps). Assay every few weeks according to a plan. Look for trends. Abrupt increases in Varroa infestation (increases much greater than Varroa reproduction can account for) are a hint that the hive is robbing from Varroa infested hives. Treat, or don’t treat, strategically. If chemical treatments are not your thing, consider introducing a brood break, or culling drone.