February 2019 Beekeeper’s Corner

By Jerry Przybylski, local bees preferred

Brrrr… and where’s my umbrella! And hey… what are those bees doing flying out in the rain??
Bees forage when the temperature is above 50ºF, and other conditions are favorable.  The warm-enough fraction of the day when it’s warm enough is pretty short. Light rain doesn’t stop them. The eucalyptus are still blooming; rich source of nectar and pollen. Acacia. Lavender. Leptospermum. Rosemary. Oxalis, and other weeds. Other fruit trees should start blooming this month.  Colonies will build up, and get crowded if we’re not paying attention.  Crowded colonies decide to swarm.
For bees that like to forage on rainy days, they will appreciate an awning over the landing so they don’t drop down into a puddle.
Pick a nice, sunny, warm day, with still-air to look in the questionable colonies. The slow-starters may have two or three or four frames of bees now. Booming colonies can be several boxes high and full of bees.
A booming colony can probably afford to donate a frame of brood covered with house-bees to a slow-starter.  Moderate smoking of the receiving colony will allow the bees to merge without attacking the resident queen.   Allow the field bees to fly back home before installing the donation into the receiver hive.  Make sure there are enough house bees to keep all that brood warm.  The donation should help the colony catch up… but it’s not a guarantee because sometimes spring failures just happen.
Let’s get Bait-Hives/Swarm-Traps deployed now.  A local expert says the first swarm will emerge March 15 at 11:30am… so be ready.  A bait-hive in the yard, may head-off a to chase through the neighborhood.  It may attract a colony from somewhere else in the neighborhood. Phil Stob’s recipe for configuring bait-hives is great. It was summarized in the ACBA listserv. Check bait hives weekly.  Leave another bait hive behind when taking a new colony home.
With this run of cold weather and rain, it’s still possible for a hive to starve if they don’t have enough honey at a time when they’re in the middle of a major brood expansion.  Lift the back of single-box hives to see if they’re too light. Feed syrup if they need it… When foraging picks up, remove the feeders since there’s plenty of food now.
Be careful with products you treat with… if you treat your bees in spring!! Certain products cannot be used when honey supers are on the hive. Read the product information and follow the guidelines! If it wasn’t for the cold right now, our bees would be foraging like mad to build up population and manufacture honey. We wouldn’t want the honey to get contaminated.
We still have a little time left to procure more bottom-boards, boxes, frames, covers, etc to use in splits later this month, or next month.  Strong colonies have drone pupa and flying drones right now.  They’re anticipating those first queens.  Inspect, repair, and prep equipment stored last fall or vacated this winter.  (If it makes you feel better, a lot of good beekeepers lost more colonies this winter than they considered “typical.”)  If all your colonies failed last winter, set up the vacant hives as swarm-traps.  Do, however, look carefully at the equipment.  If a dead-out hive smells really terrible, determine if it had American Fowl Brood, and if it did, do the right thing so that robber bees don’t carry the infection out to other colonies!! Contact an expert for advice if you need it.
So far this year, no swarm reports have been called into the swarm hotline. They may start rolling in on the first warm, dry days after this cold-spell.  We who are gonna chase swarms need to get the bucket, the box, the telescoping pole, etc. into the car so it’s ready for a swarm from the hotline, or from a call from a neighbor or friend.
Early swarms will find dead-outs to reoccupy, so they’ll move on… unless we get there first. Swarms have been reported to head from the mother hive directly into the bait-hive without bothering to camp out on a tree-branch.  Cross fingers…
Think ahead… Plan ahead…  Review spring notes from last year..