Spring is here! No wait, it isn’t, where are my gloves? Never mind, look at those blossoms—spring is here. Um, is that tulip actually shivering? Spring, gone again…
Spring has somewhat sprung; BEE SEASON definitely has. SW Michigan has received a couple major package distributions already, and plenty of nucs have arrived. Those dear bees that came out of Georgia seem a bit bee-wildered.
What should you be looking for, worrying about and pondering? Here are some thoughts …
Are you like a kid Christmas Eve awaiting the arrival of your bees? If you already have them, do you stand in front of the hive mesmerized watching them? (Hint: DON’T STAND IN FRONT OF THE HIVE! Watching is fine, just get out of the middle of the “runway.”) Are you looking at your yard wondering where you can put more next year?
Those are symptoms of “Bee Disease”, a wonderful addiction to the winged darlings. Of course, if your loved ones don’t also have Bee Disease, they may not understand why you want to miss your cousin’s graduation to check on your bees. (The same bees you’ve checked on twice already this week.) Join (or start) a local bee club. Members understand Bee Disease, and can also help mentor about real bee diseases.
I theorize that newbees get stung proportionately WAY more than commercial beekeepers because you haven’t yet learned to work with them (ie, slide your fingers onto a frame instead of grabbing it) or to double-check that your hood is fully zipped, or that the temperament of the colony is signaling go away and you missed it, etc. Plus, newbees (OK, and us oldbees) can’t stay away, so every time we walk by our backyard hive(s) we hang out with them a bit.
Bottom line? At least wear a veil. You can’t watch your little darlings if your eyes are swollen shut.
Installing the Package
I am a big fan of the “put the package in the box” method for installation, not the “shake in bees” installation. Less stress on bees, and beekeepers, and has been widely used since the 70s. If you’ve heard me speak, that’s the method I suggest. However, in cooler weather—the bees may not scamper out of the shipping box to surround the queen in the upper box. Thus, if it is 50ish when you install, you may want to shake them in. If so, I suggest using a second empty box atop the single box you’re installing into as sort of a funnel—so not too many fall outside of the box (and then take it away.) At about 45-50 degrees, any bees who fall outside the hive may not find their way back to the group.
Frequency of Checking
Daily is too much. Monthly is too little. Of course, in the beginning when you’re doing critical things like ensuring the queen is out and laying properly, you might need to be in there at least weekly. And as a newbee, getting to know your girls and understanding their bee-havior, build-up and beauty is important … weather permitting.
We try to get into our hives every 10 days to two weeks, to ensure they are queenright. “Queenright” doesn’t mean finding the queen, it means finding eggs (only one / cell – more than that is likely an issue)—meaning you’ve had an active queen within the last three days, or larva (little white worm) which means you’ve had a queen in the last eight days. Google honeybee eggs, or honeybee life cycle, for (thousands of ) excellent pictures.
You’ve brought a non-native species into a hostile environment (Michigan—where it can snow in May.) Help your apis mellifera “bee” their best by giving them nutrition during this critical spring build-up. They can’t get out to nature’s grocery store when it is pouring rain and / or too chilly.
And no, you don’t need to change the syrup daily. If they’re not sucking it down (some hives never do, and when it is cold, the bees are huddling anyway), go with smaller quantities —keeping the remaining syrup refrigerated. We change it about weekly, depending upon weather (cold and rainy I’ll leave it there; warm weather and they’re ignoring it—I’ll remove) and if that particular hive is interested (same location, same bee source (both packages installed the same day) and one hive will take down a quart a day, the other hive is totally not interested. It happens.)
When bees are installed, they’ll first come outside their hive and make little circles, increasingly larger until they’ve locked in the location. If it has been rainy and the sun suddenly bursts through, the volume of circling, practically delighted bees is a bit crazy. They are probably not swarming—they’re probably just orienting, and warming up before they go forage.
All bees do this, so a cool thing to watch for is for periodic hatchings (it takes 21 says from egg to worker bee), so about four weeks after your package install, you’ll start seeing new bees getting the lay of the land.
Drone versus Worker Brood
The difference may be hard to figure out at first–until you figure it out. And you gotta figure it out, this is a critical initial check. All drone brood means your week either doesn’t exist, or is improperly fertilized (and has no future.)
Drone brood, when capped (which means it has a wax lid on it) looks like pencil erasers—bumpy, curved like the top of a bullet or a silo … where worker brood (what you hope to see most of in an ever-increasingly growing pattern) is flat and smooth. Both drone and worker brood will be capped perpendicular to the earth. A queen cell (much longer) will point down to the earth.
We installed a couple nucs on April 18. The weather and our schedule didn’t allow us to peek at them until April 29, oops! We opened them to verify that they were queenright, and see when they might need a second box … and as they’d built through the inner cover, we knew we were a bit late.
They were queenright. Never saw her, but found one egg per cell so we knew we were good.
As for when they needed more space? Um, about four days earlier. They had plenty of bees on all frames (not just 70% which is when I typically add the second box), and those frames were well-drawn out, with lots of brood in various stages of development (eggs, larva, pupa). And once a colony gets to that population, they will grow even more quickly … so we’ll be visiting more frequently watching for swarm cells and making sure they have plenty of room.
These are just a few of the concerns we’ve been asked about. We are passionate about honeybees, which means Hubby and I are passionate about helping beekeepers. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we may assist.