New Colony Hints

Lots of people started keeping bees in SW Michigan in the last few weeks. Here answers to a few FAQs / things to do for this time of year in this geographic region:

  • Keep feeding! Many days last week and this week are too cold / wet for them to fly. They won’t build up if they don’t have resources for fuel. Keep those feeders filled up, and a pollen patty available inside the hive. And yes, doggone it–we’ve had a few days where it is even too cold for them to break away to the feeder.
  • Don’t park your car near where they can sting it. :)

    stung truck2016-05-08 14.19.45
    A bee was clearly irritated with Marshall, and finally landed on his truck and stung it! (White spot on window gasket.) First time we’ve ever seen that happen.
  • Slider boards: I recommend keeping them in as the weather is so variable. Until new colonies build up (usually a couple of brood cycle (about 21 days / cycle), it is hard work keeping the interior warm at night. Of course, if Mother Nature dumps 90 degrees and high humidity on us in May, pull those slider boards out a bit.
  • Yes, it is too early to start planning who gets honey for Christmas. Most first year colonies will not manufacture enough honey for you this season. They’re expending too much energy building a home from scratch.
  • Yes, it is time to start thinking about Varroa mites—unless you want to kiss your investment good-by. Google HBHC Varroa guide for a free PDF on how to test and treat.
  • You probably don’t need to change the entrance size on the entrance reducer until a month (at the earliest) after you installed a package. Let’s do the bee math: 21 days until worker bees hatch, and the queen won’t start laying until likely a week after the package was installed. Thus, for the first month—no bees are born, and bees are naturally dying of old age. You will have fewer and fewer bees in the colony for about four weeks. A reduced entrance helps them defend the entrance and regulate the temperature. If you’re only two weeks past install and you suddenly see tons of activity at the entrance, probably not your bees. Perhaps your colony is being raided. Nucs are a different story—it largely depends on how much brood was underway when you installed it.
  • Speaking of kissing your investment good-bye, yes, your colony might swarm on you even though you just brought them home. (Unfortunately two people have called with this issue, so sorry. It happens.
    Yes, first year colonies do swarm, here's proof. They poured out of that hive like a brown river, unstoppable.
    Yes, first year colonies do swarm, here’s proof. They poured out of that hive like a brown river, unstoppable.

    New foundation, no stores, no sunshine – given the option bees may decide to look for some place more appealing. In both cases (this year), the queen was prematurely released. Usually a new package won’t swarm because the queen is caged for 3-7 days, and by the time she’s out, her workforce has invested in making the place home. Make their new home as appealing as possible—drawn foundation from an experienced beekeeper, food at the ready, free WIFI, etc.

  • Varroa mites—they’re not your friends. Read up now and figure out how you’re going to monitor and manage them. If you installed a nuc, it is time to start checking for them. If you installed a package, you should begin checking to get in the practice for your monthly starting-in-June checks. Either way, remember:
  • –> ALL colonies have mites, the key is whether they have too many at this point or not to survive with them (see the above guide for the thresholds) and
  • –> At this season in SW Michigan, most mites are under the cappings of developing brood, and thus—you can’t see them, or rely on seeing them on the slider board. The experts recommend the testing methods in the above publication for sound reasons.
  • Remember, there are few black and white answers in beekeeping. I’ve gotten some “when do we put on the next box” questions, and that is a function of lots of things. Among the variables—are there any, a few or several frames of dark colored capped brood? Dark coloration means it is probably within days of hatching. At about 7,000 bees-to-be for a fully covered with capped brood deep frame, a colony’s population changes fairly quickly. Weather / forage are also big factors, as is time of year. Generally speaking though, add the next box (Langstroth equipment) when bees are covering about 70% of the frames and most frames are well-drawn into comb, or well underway. And please don’t get frustrated with season beekeepers because we answer every question with “it depends…” Bee-cause, it all depends–and that’s part of the mental fun of beekeeping.
  • Did I mention that Varroa mites suck (really, that’s what they do) and that you want to understand how to manage this deadly threat to your bee-loved bees?
  • Early season key checks include assuring that the queen is laying one egg per cell. Multiple eggs / cell means laying workers and sure death of the colony. Also watch for a good laying pattern (predominantly worker brood, few spaces, an ever-increasing amount.)

We’re standing by (honestly, more likely we’re in a hive) to help you figure out what’s going on with your bees. Don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help, because we all need to help bees.

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