By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
Brrr… It’s cold out there… but remember, in temperate climates, this is spring weather. Check the weather forecasts. Do a quick inspection when you get a warm, dry day, and again every week or so during spring. Colonies should be showing signs of rebuilding their population for the spring flow. Later you will be looking for signs of swarm preparation.
The below 50’s temperatures, and rainy weather keep our bees in the hive. To raise brood the bees will draw down their stores of honey faster than they did last month. There are more bees and more larva to feed. The new larvas need protein that will come from fresh pollen, stored pollen, or your pollen supplement. Check your notes. The colonies that didn’t have pollen stored will benefit from a pollen supplement. Try them out on a small amount to start with. If they like/need it, keep feeding it at least until the end of the month.
IF YOU HAVE NO BEES… What to do…
Last year the first swarm report was on Jan 18. Where do swarms go? They reoccupy dead-outs from last fall, and empty beekeeper equipment. You can make your equipment more attractive to a swarm by making it more like a bee tree. Tom Sealey says scouts favor the volume of a deep box (40 liters), with an entrance one to two inches wide. A frame of brood comb will give it the right smell.
Improve your chances by asking friends to host a swarm-trap in their yard for you. For attracting swarms, a migratory bottom board may be a better choice than a screen bottom board.
Package bees are another option for restarting your apiary… but you won’t get them until after the almond pollination is over. Put your order in ASAP or risk discovering that all sources are sold out. Then there is the philosophical question of whether “imported” bees interfere with the evolution of the local genetic pool. We have survivor bees living in bee-trees and structures in our county.
The third option is to purchase a “nuc” of bees from a local supplier. Ask around. Get recommendations from fellow members. Do appreciate that every queen has her own unique genetics, and the bee breeder has limited control of the outcome. Not all swarms or packages or nucs will make it through to next spring…even in the yard of an expert beekeeper.
Reading assignment: Research swarm management, or queen rearing, so you have the knowledge and equipment you need in February, March and April to manage a hive chock-full of bees with swarm cells on three or four frames. A crisis and an opportunity!