Beekeeper’s Corner, February 2018

By Gerald Przybylski

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

For many of us, the next two months of beekeeping will be exciting.

Prepare ‘stored’ equipment so it will be ready when needed.
* Scrape the propolis from the frame end bars, and the frame shelf in the boxes. (Save the scrapings)

* Repair equipment, or replace equipment that’s over-the-hill… Frames, boxes, even bottom boards that rotted out due to standing water from condensation in the hive.

Equipment not fit for the hive makes attractive swarm-traps because swarms like the smell of old wood.

* Paint the outside of boxes if they need it. (NEVER apply paint inside) Use light color paint. Dark colors are only OK if the hive will be in the shade. Dark painted boxes will get too hot in the sun in mid summer!

Use a good primer on new wood. The quality of the outer paint isn’t so important because they get messed up anyway, and need repainting relatively often.

* Is the hive-stand still stable and strong enough to support a couple of hundred pounds of hive(s)? If not, fix or replace.

*Paint the inside of boxes with propolis varnish as a preservative, and for the better health of the bees. Make the varnish from your propolis scrapings.

When all but two or three of the gaps between frames in a box are full of bees, and most of the frames in the hive have some honey or brood in them, it’s time to add another box, or to harvest capped frames and extract them.

Swarm Management

Be aware of the open/capped brood balance!! About twice as many pupa cells as larva cells is typical (not counting eggs). If larvae are hard to find, the bees may be planning to swarm because the larva pheromones are out of balance.

When brood frames have new nectar in cells between pupa cells, the queen has no cells to lay eggs in, so the colony may be planning to swarm.

You may be able to tamp down the swarming-urge by inserting a foundationless frame or two between brood frames. (Always alternate drawn with foundationless frames when inserting more than one) The extra space in the brood ball is a signal that expansion isn’t finished. The drawing out of the comb gives the bees something to do with the nectar in the brood ball.

Swapping the two brood boxes may help, but be aware that split the brood ball is risky.

After seeing nectar in the brood ball, check often for queen cells. (Queen cups with larva and royal jelly, or capped queen cells.) Once the bees decide to make a queen from a day-one larva, the queen cell can be capped in four days, and the queen emerge 8 days after capping.

The swarm usually leaves soon after the queen cell is capped.
So it may be prudent to check for queen cells weekly.

Integrate swarm management with splitting. Splits are less inclined to swarm. Split when conditions are good enough! Best queens are produced when food is abundant, weather is good for mating, and the drone-congregation-areas are loaded with drones.
Integrate bee management and vacation plans. If worried about swarming, split hives before going out of town for a couple of weeks.

Free Bees — Don’t let ’em get away.

Be prepared to collect your own swarms!!! Set up a swarm-trap/bait-hive in the yard.

One deep… Small entrance… Solid bottom board… One frame of dark brood comb for lure… Lots of empty space inside… Out of direct sun. 6 to 12 feet off the ground if convenient, but not necessary… Facing south if convenient.

Set up a water source now!

Keep the water source filled with water for the bees all through summer until it rains again in the fall. In many jurisdictions this is a requirement in the city and county codes.

If beekeeping frustrates you because you lose your one-and-only hive every year, then scale up to two to four hives. When one gets in trouble, you can borrow resources from another. When one dies out you have another. The other way to look at the problem is to expect and plan for winter losses based on historic loss rates of 20 to 40% of colonies. 33% loss is one of three hives! Having colonies fail is part of beekeeping. We learn by figuring out why.
Besides… splitting suppresses swarming.

If you can only keep one hive, try to recruit a beekeeping buddy. Borrowing a frame of brood from your buddy, or vice-versa, may save a colony.