Beekeeper’s Corner April 2018

By Gerald Przybylski

Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.


Rain, rain go-away! 
… No! wait!! Rain, rain come back! We have roughly half the rainfall we should by this time of year, and need more.

The cold rainy days keep our bees from foraging. The rain dilutes the nectar in the flowers. The bees have a harder time curing honey when the temperature is low and humidity high. On the other hand, honey production isn’t their primary goal this time of year.

The coming week of good weather, and abundant forage will give our bees a chance bring in food.

That’s more food to raise brood with.  That super added a month ago with the hope of honey production might now just be full of brood!

What’s your goal?
Honey production?

Managing for honey production is managing to suppress swarming. If you’re new to this game, study up on “checker boarding.”  Not only can we open up space to the honey supers, we can open up space in the brood area by adding an undrawn or foundationless frame. Empty space in the brood area maintains the expansion signal in the hive.  High levels of (open) brood pheromones suppress swarming too.  When all the brood are capped, and no larva can be found, the colony will have swarming on its collective mind.

When inspecting, read the signals, and manipulate hive when needed.

Increasing colonies? …making up for winter losses?

This is the time of year when our colonies should build up population with the objective of producing a swarm.
The simple approach for “splitting” that we’ve read about in the beginner books is more or less like this:

Suppose a hive has two boxes of brood, and want to “split” it.
1. Leave one brood box with the mother hive, and put one brood box on a bottom board adjacent to the mother hive.
2. Divide the stores between the two hives…
You’re done!

The queen-less hive will produce at least one emergency queen cell from an egg or young larva. That queen may, however, be good, or average, or dismal…
The mother queen will continue laying in the other hive. (She may be superseded later in the year)

If queen quality is important, invest effort in doing the following:

Four days after splitting the hives, look for queen cells. The queen-less hives will probably have several, some capped, and some not capped. The uncapped queen cells were started from eggs or Day-1 larva, and should absolutely be left alone. The capped queen cells were started from Day-2 or Day-3 larva. Queens from “older larva” are reported to be inferior to queens from first-day larva or eggs. (Queen breeders who graft always use ½ day or day-1 larva) If there are  capped and uncapped queen cells, damage the capped ones. If all queen cells are capped, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

(reread this part so you’re absolutely sure you know what you want to do and why)

If we want to increase our colonies, we can work with the bees swarming process.

We let a terrific colony get crowded so it produces swarm cells on its own.   As Judy Casale explained in February, the bees make the best queens when it’s their idea (swarming), not ours (“splitting”).

Colonies make swarm queens when the weather is right, and food is abundant. The selected larva are fed VERY well.

Rather than simply splitting (preemptively) as the books and YouTube videos explain, wait until the hive has capped swarm cells, and then make divisions.  The key is to be patient.  Inspect often.  Wait for the bees to decide when the time is right.

Swarm cells can often be seen poking below the frames.  We can check by removing frames, or by tipping a brood box up 30 degrees and peaking at the bottom of frames.

The queen leaves with the swarm soon after the queen cells are capped, so vigilance is essential to exploit the right timing.

Each frame in the hive with swarm cells can be relocated to a mating-nuc (or a full size box with a follower board to confine the bees). Add two frames of food (uncapped honey is best)(NO granulated honey). Add another brood frame, and a drawn frame if available. Add enough house bees to cover the brood. Remember… the field bees will return to the mother hive.

Relocate the queen of the mother hive into a nuc set up like the other mating nucs are. She is your insurance.

Leave a frame with swarm cells in the mother hive to emerge, mate and take it over.
If there aren’t enough bees in the mother hive to make up all these mating nucs, and there’s a bedraggled or inferior or ill tempered hive in the yard, there’s no shame in dividing up the bedraggled hive to fill up all the mating nucs (without its queen, of course).

If you believe in treating your bees with Oxalic acid dribble, project ahead to mark the dates on your calendar when all the capped brood in the mating nucs will have emerged and  before any new larva are capped.

Mating success is rarely 100%.  A month after creating the mating nucs,  the frames in the failed (queen-less) nucs can be redistributed to the successful splits.
Inferior, queen-less or angry hives can be re-queened with a frame with a queen cell.
If the swarm cells can be cut out in tact (impossible with plastic foundation) they can be used to re-queen hives too.

Check your water source and bait hive every couple of days.
PHOTO: Guilhem de Cooman