March 2019 Beekeeper’s Corner

By Gerald Przybylski

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

Burrr… still…
The first week of February was kind of “normal,” but the last three weeks were 5 to 10ºF below normal. The cold set back the flowers and to some extent the bees too.   So, some of last month’s Beekeeper’s Corner still applies.
Charles Carlson found a long-term forecast that predicts more cold weather for the first half of March…

Weather slowed the bees down, but hasn’t stopped them. We heard reports last month of drones being booted out of the hive, and lately that the drones are doing fine! We’ve also read reports of actual queen cells in hives and a first swarm in an ACBA member’s yard.
The swarm hotline has, however, been quiet. A lot depends on each of our microclimates.
Hive strength ranges from slow (perhaps troubled) to energetic.
Pick a warm day with little wind to take a look particularly at the slow or troubled colonies. Make sure the queen has comb to lay eggs in, and that they have some capped honey. If the colony has more than one pollen frame per brood box, remove the extra(s) and reorganize the hive. Bees prefer fresh pollen anyway, and the queen does need the empty cells to expand the colony with.  A strong hive can donate a frame of brood and house-bees to a weak hive to get it back on track. The strong hive will have plenty of time to recover. Considering weather predictions, slowing down the strong hive may be a good thing.
The next “good weather” will kick off swarm preparation in stronger hives and trigger swarms from booming colonies (both in our yards and the feral colonies).  Before we know it we’ll be chasing swarms again… or having them move into our bait-hives.

If the small hive has bees between every frame it is due, perhaps overdue, for adding a second brood box.
We should take a whiff just to make sure the smell is sweet and floral.
(AFB smells kind of like dirty gym clothes and aspirin, and needs to be dealt with immediately. If you don’t know what to do for American Foul Brood, contact an expert right away. Club officers for instance…)
If doing a quick inspection, pull out a frame on the edge of the brood ball. If it has plenty of nectar in it, and perhaps some pollen, things are good.
Indicators of likely swarming are:
o Greater than 90% pupa to larva ratio indicating the queen ran out of room to lay eggs. The balance of brood pheromone is upset, nurse bees are idle, and that can trigger swarm-cell building. The nurse bees will make plenty of royal jelly for the queen cells.
o Back-filling of brood frames with nectar impacts egg laying as the colony ran out of room to store and process nectar.

What’s your strategy this spring?
o For honey production, introduce open space into the brood ball from time to time to tamp down the swarming instinct. Keep adding honey supers, and harvesting capped frames from time to time. When adding a super, put some partly honey-filled frames in it to encourage the bees to use it.
o For production of more colonies or queens… let the hive get crowded so it gets into swarm-mode.  Check often because a queen cell can be capped 4 or 5 days after the bees start it, and the primary swarm emitted soon after. When the bees start working queen cells, “artificially swarm the hive” by moving the queen, some brood frames WITHOUT QUEEN CELLS, some food frames and plenty of house bees into a nuc box or into empty equipment.  Other frames with queen cells can be moved to a mating nucs, along with house bees and food frames.  Leave one frame with queen cells in the mother hive.  Most of the house bees in the mother hive can be donated to the splits because field bees can revert to take care of any brood.  By the time the queen mates, emerged bees will be ready to feed larva.
Why produce more colonies or queens?
o Young queens usually survive the next winter better than older queens.
o Extra queens and colonies are a potential source of bee income. (Return On Investment)
o Extra colonies this summer are a hedge against possible losses next winter.
o Greater total honey production.
o This experiment in queen production will teach us a lot about beekeeping.
Keep in mind that 80% success mating queens is considered good. Keep a lid on expectations…
o Another generation moves evolution forward.
We should all have our bait-hive set up in the yard by now. For tips on how to set them up, look at the February newsletter for the synopsis of the January program on swarm catching (Andre) and bait-hive preparation (Phil).  There are a couple of Amazon books on setting up bait-hives, and at least one title is in the ACBA library.

Exciting times are coming.
Anyone intending to chase swarms should set the email refresh interval on their cell phone to minimum, and enable alerts. Also, keep the swarm catching kit in the car for a quick response. Early swarms won’t stay put for long because there are so many dead-outs to reoccupy.
Proactive members of the Local Bee Initiative will, we hope, produce some colonies this spring.
To participate in the LBI, sign up on the Data Entry Form
Availability of queens and splits will be indicated in the LBI spreadsheet generated by the Data Entry Form,
Between swarms, swarm-traps, and the LBI, we might have enough local bees without buying out-of-area
genetics.  (In-area is from the Sacramento River to Livermore to Milpitas to Richmond…)

The Local Bee Initiative invites participants who commit to raising, buying, selling, trading local colonies and queens. The LBI ONLY insists that the bees be of local origin, and that members state whether they do treat for Varroa, or do not treat for Varroa.  i.e. both Treatment and Non-Treatment beekeepers are welcome.

To join the LBI, contact Phil Stob, or Genie Scott, or Jerry Przybylski