I hesitated a few seconds before I added “and Answers” to the title of this blog. Beekeeping is often more art than science. What I prescribe may be different from other beekeepers’ answer.
The lack of black-and-white answers is a maddening thing (and one of the many maddening things) about beekeeping. It is inherent in beekeeping as there are so many variables behind a colony’s progress.
Sorting through those variables is half the fun. The other half of the fun is when you make a fairly educated guess, and it works. (I think that’s happened to me once or twice now in 8 seasons. )
Here are some recent questions (and my answers):
Q. How often can I get in the hive? And how often should I get in?
A. Every time you open the hive you disturb them, so that causes a setback of some sort. Estimates range from a few hours to a few days. So, don’t go in the hive without a purpose. For newbees, that purpose can be as simple as “you want to see what’s going on so you can learn how to best manage bees.”
That being said, unless there is a problem (like no evidence of a queen (EoQ)) or an issue (having to pull drone comb used in IPM for example), I think once a week is sufficient, and once every 10 days to two weeks better IF you know that the colony is queenright.
What would you be looking for?
- Abnormal things (mold, a mouse nest, etc.)
- As always, EoQ
- If they have too much room, or not enough
Remember, pull a frame from the outer portions first, and work frame-by-frame toward the brood nest (where most of the bees are hanging out, typically in the center.) And never pull a frame faster than a bee can walk; you don’t want to roll the queen.
Daily is too much, btw. Had a newbee doing that, and I understand why—bees are just so interesting! However, that’s quite disruptive to them.
Q: Do I keep feeding?
A: If they’re still taking it, I would. But, recent rains have renewed things. If they are building up nicely (lots of worker bees and lots of capped worker brood), they hopefully have a workforce and stores to weather any rainy spells.
Q. When do I enlarge the entrance?
A. Again, a function of how many bees. If you got your package a month ago, the population is about as small as it should ever be. It probably took the queen a week to begin laying after installed, and it takes 21 days for a worker bee to emerge … so their build-up is just beginning. (If this is your situation, it’ll probably be a few weeks to a month yet, depending upon weather.)
Traffic jams at the entrance in the late afternoon are common. If you see that consistently throughout the day, and / or after a couple cycles of brood have hatched, open ‘er up! It has been unusually cool, especially at night. Why not give them all the help you can in keeping them warm? (Bees need temps in the mid-90s to produce wax, and the queen needs honeycomb built.)
Q. Is that honey they’re making already?
A. Probably. It usually appears as dark, clear liquid that stays in the cells fairly well. After the moisture level is appropriate, they’ll put a wax cap over it and it will be preserved … for like thousands of years!
As we’ve had nice rains, bees are making lots of honey. You may only have brood on a few frames of (say) 10-frame equipment, and the rest could be predominantly honey. You may have to add a second box because they’ve filled practically everywhere that the queen could lay, a condition called “honeybound.” If they remain honeybound, not only is colony progress slowed, but they may think about swarming.
Q. Do I go through every frame when I do an inspection?
A. No need. Typically once I find EofQ and verify they have room to work and not too much room (when the population starts to decline), I’m outta there.
Q. I’ve got queen peanuts. Problem?
A. First, let’s define those. They look so much like one lobe of a peanut shell (to me anyway) that they’re aptly named.
There are various opinions regard queen peanuts, but most of what I’ve learned suggests they’re just practicing making queen cells—they’re not really making potential queens.
However, once a queen cell is capped, that either means they’re replacing their new queen, or thinking of swarming. Generally you can tell which by the placement of the queen cell. (Google to learn more about that—although remember, bees don’t google so they may not always act as we think they will.)
I handle suspected swarming cells different than supercedure (replacement) cells.
Supercedure cells I frankly just salute—they know far more than I do about when to replace a queen. I make sure to not disturb those cells, and check to ensure the colony is queenright after the new queen emerges (16 days from egg to queen, so about 20 plus days to see if she emerged, got mated, and is laying appropriately.)
New colonies—especially packages—may replace their relatively new queens early in the season. Perhaps they’ve sensed she’s not laying appropriately, or they think she isn’t because there isn’t the right range of the various ages amongst the current bees. One theory is that happens often with packages because about three pounds of bees are shaken into it, and they might not be the age distribution of bees you’d find in a colony. They blame her, and proceed to replace her … even though it isn’t her fault!
Q. What did you tell Dan to do about those queen cells?
A. Leave ‘em “bee”. He said the hive was queenright. They are a new colony, just starting to build up. (If they were more established I might move half of the eight he found to a nuc and try to start another colony.) They’ll nurture the most viable and hopefully raise the new queen that their instinct tells them they need.
Q. You didn’t cover my question. What do I do?
A. As always, feel free to email or text me or go to my FB page (Charlotte Hubbard, Beekeeper & …). We’ve been handling swarm calls and colony inspections and other fun things so I may not get back to you super quickly, but I will get back to you!