Our newest video from a mid-April Meet The Beekeeper session takes us through the process of opening up an overwintered hive to assess colony strength, queen activity and management options.
A cooler day with no wind is an ideal time to open up the hive. Our bees are seen in the top box, closest to their remaining stores of honey and also to the pollen patties that supplement their feed. Use of the sugar syrup is low in this one case, possibly because they have enough of their own honey in the hive or the colony is weak.
Take out one frame to give yourself room to operate, then work your way into the brood nest. You might see some natural pollen on a frame, and some shiny, watery substance in the cells which is the new year’s honey forming already.
See if you can spot pollen, new honey, capped brood and larvae. Capped brood means there is a laying queen in the hive. In the video these bees are occupied on the cells and not angry. When you see this sense of diligence among the bees, it is another sign there is a queen present.
As you move into the brood frames, they will feel much lighter than those with stored honey. In this particular hive, the colony has dwindled somewhat. There are signs of nosema, but it is not too bad. Adding a package of bees would add workers to boost the queen`s success.
Next we check a hive that shows a lot more activity and noise You can see a distinct difference between the bees - the very old winter bees bees are darker, while new spring bees are lighter. The darker ones will still forage, but are not going to live much longer.
We put in some new frames, and within an hour we can see a frame that is filling with nectar from lower down in the hive. Forager bees bring nectar to house bees waiting for them. During the day the house bees deposit the nectar in the lower box. During the night they move it up to the top box, with each transfer involving four bees. This exercise is part of the dehydration process,
The frames in this hive are very busy already, and when the dandelions bloom the activity level will escalate even more. At this time, around mid-April, the bees are feeding on willows.
This level of activity is a very good example of what a hive should look like right now. And if it does - splitting the hive must be done, or you will lose the bees to a swarm, and then you have lost your honey for the year.
When the bees are building comb in the top box, they are plainly looking for more space. If you knock the colony back by splitting the hive in May and then let the bees build comb in June, the spring flow will come to an end and the bees will not want to swarm. They will stay home and be ready for the main flow to begin in July. If you don’t make a split and add a new queen, the hive will swarm July 1 as soon as the canola flowers.
Making a split in May makes for an easier management practice, in that you don’t need to keep looking for swarm cells that indicate the queen and colony are about to leave. Make the split by the May long weekend, then add more honey boxes by the longest day in June.
You will find this and many more videos on how to assess and manage your hive(s) at hiveworld.ca. Our Meet The Beekeeper nights on the east side of Edmonton are free. Participants should register online, and at the same time sign the online waiver if they are attending for the first time. Bring your own bee suit and gloves, or pick up whatever you need at hiveworld.ca or at our retail store, 5418 - 136 Avenue, Edmonton.
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What should you do if your bees have died? First thing you should do is look at your hive and see if you can detect any moisture, disease or anything else that may have caused your colonies demise. Do your best to take any samples you need, photos and get a second opinion from a fellow beekeeper, mentor or us!