Friday, March 23, 2012
Spring Has Sprung!
I apologize but in my first post I meant to state that I will be writing about beekeeping for people that are just getting into the hobby. Beginners and novices will probably find more use of these notes but experienced beekeepers may find some helpful advice as well. Its all about sharing information.
This is the time of year for beekeepers to start doing some 'spring cleaning' on their hives and equipment. I have been counting the days until the weather conditions were right and I had the day off of work to be able to get into my hives for the first time and see how the girls fared over the winter. There is a routine that I usually follow in the spring and I have tweaked it over the years to make it easier on me and the girls when I take the first look in the spring. I try to make the process as stress free for the girls a possible. Here is a list of things I do and maybe you will see some benefit for you and adopt some for yourself.
First off, everyone should know that there are two things I firmly believe in when it comes to keeping bees -
1. There are no chemicals of any kind used in my hives. Speaking just for me, I have read the labels on the chemicals used by other beekeepers and that stuff is deadly! Some of the chemicals are so deadly you have to bee sure to wear gloves so you won't get the stuff on your skin. Any type of chemical you put in your hive eventually will wind up in YOU! I firmly believe this is the root cause of CCD.
2. A fellow beekeeper one said about his hives - "No welfare bees." By this he was saying that he doesn't feed his bees and I agree. I believe that feeding your bees is a bad habit that leads to the bees being dependent on you for their sustenance.
Anyway, back to the chores -
When I first open a hive in the spring the first thing I look for is Where Are The Bees? Where Is The Brood? I try to set my hives up with two deeps for brood boxes and the rest medium supers. Usually I keep at least four boxes on each hive - two deeps and two medium supers. I look to see where they have moved the brood. The queen bee in the hive ALWAYS move the brood UP in a hive. She will never go downward to a box lower than where she is at to lay brood. So I know where they were at in the fall when I closed them up for winter and now the first thing I need to know is where the main brood frames are at.
If the brood is anywhere other than in the bottom deep box, the first thing to do is get her (the queen) back in the bottom box. Doing this serves two purposes -
1. It puts a crimp in any swarming plans they may have and,
2. It opens up the rest of the boxes for this years expansion.
The easiest way to do this is to take each box off of the hive and stack them on the inner cover that you took off and have laid on the ground. Stacking them crosswise from each other as you do so they are in reverse order.
The box that currently has the brood in it, HINT - It will be the heaviest, set it separate from the others for now.
As you are taking the boxes off and sitting them aside, just notice a few things - what do the bees look like? Is there any K-wing, do you see any mites on any of the bees? Are there allot of bees with their pollen sacs full? Notice the general activity of the hive - are they very active or are they milling around slowly? You don't have to do a detailed inspection but just notice what you can as you go. With time you will get to where with a few glaces you can gain a wealth of information about the health of your hive.
OK. When you just have the bottom deep left sitting on the bottom board, pull out either one of the outside frames and notice what is on the frame. Is it empty? Is there brood? Is there honey? Sit this frame aside and the inspect each frame left in the box one at a time noting what is on the frame and the putting the frame BACK IN the box. Some beekeepers take all the frames out. This causes too much stress in my opinion and disorientates the girls more than need bee. So I put each frame back in the box after I examine it. Once you go through all of the frames and there is NO or very little BROOD, take that box off of the bottom board. Then I will take the bottom board and clean it off.
Now take the box with the brood and sit it on the bottom board FIRST. Take out a frame on the outside edge of the box and start looking at each frame on both sides. When you do this, hold the frame OVER the box so that if the queen were to be on the frame and see falls of, she will land back in the box, not on the ground for you to step on by accident. Now is the perfect time to learn how to find the queen. This time of year the hive isn't packed with bees and you will have an easier time locating her. One hint to finding her - look for a circle of bees facing inward, like folks sitting around a campfire, except the fire will be the queen.
Close to, if not in the center of the box, you should find the main brood frames. They will have empty cells where bees have hatched in the center, surrounded by cells capped over and full of brood. This should fill most of the frame.Around the edges of the frame there should be cells with pollen, nectar and then maybe empty cells depending on how prolific your queen is.
There should be 10 frames in the box and you should have at least five frames with brood. If you are thinking about splitting the hive ( more on this subject in future blog), you MUST have at least five good frames filled with brood. If not, no not even think about splitting. You will kill the split and possibly the main hive.
Now what I do, and I have found that this is the best way to control swarming, is to take every OTHER frame out and put in a new empty frame of wax. What you want to wind up doing is to separate each brood frame by putting in new empty frames and removing the frames close to the edges. This keeps the girls so busy they don't have time to think about swarming! One you have the box with 10 frames. New, brood, new, brood, etc.you can now start with the other deep box and sit it on top of the one you just finished with. Go through this box the same way and if there is allot of brood in this box, do it the same way. Separate the brood frames and remove the empty ones. If there isn't allot of brood just tidy things up and the go to your next box, rinse and repeat!
If you follow this procedure I guarantee you that you will have no swarms! Do this on each hive you have and when you are through you will know several things, the main thing being that your queen has plenty of room for laying brood and that she is in the bottom box. She will eventually work her way up into the other deep box. Check once a week to keep tabs on her and when you notice the main brood frames are in the upper deep box, just switch them, put that box on the bottom and the deep she was in onto the top.With my hives I have found that I only have to switch the boxes only once before the main honey flow starts and after that you don't have to swap them any more.
That's It! I do this every spring the first time I get into my hives and it is the only time I have to really get into the hives until fall. The rest of the year, simple inspections every week suffice.
I hope this helps someone and if there is any particular aspect of beekeeping you would like for me to talk about, please let me know and I will be glad to do so.