Colony Management during May Nectar Flow
Take that long awaited trip to the Carribean Islands of Jamaica and Nassau
before the temperature gets too hot and before the kids get out of school. You
can leave tomorrow if you had started planning your 1999 "honey bee plans" last
fall by requeening with a young queen, treated your colonies with Apistan for
the 8 weeks of October and November thereby killing about 99% of all Varroa
mites, began 1:1 sugar syrup feeding in February to initiate egg laing by your
queen, start brood chamber reversal in February and faithfully continued it
until now, installed a queen excluder and one super of drawn comb by about April
1st and added another 4 supers of drawn comb before May 1st, attended the Maryland
STATE bee meetings and the monthly instructional meetings of the MCBA, and lastly,'
helped all those beginning beekeepers that need your help so badly and provided
talks to our local school students about the importance of honey bee pollination
to the food for humans.
I am ready to go to the Carribean right now, but maybe my electric (wheelchair)
scooter would not do very well in the salt water and sand. You tell me what
I missed when you return. For those other people whose responsibilities of life
prevented you from performing all my fall and winter suggestions for making
a fine spring honey crop, let me see if I can help, prevent a disaster, and
renew your enthusiasm.
SWARM PREVENTION may be of great concern. It is extremely late in the Maryland
area to practice swarm control in place of a MAJOR IMMEDIATE action of swarm
prevention. Quickly inspect your brood chambers, and if swarm cells with visible
royal jelly and larvae are present, the bees have already entered the swarm
"mode" perhaps 10 days ago, and you have NO choice but SPLIT THAT COLONY instantly
or you are about to lose a swarm.
Maybe you don't want another colony or you don't have the equipment for another
colony; but you don't want to lose that honey crop either. There is no problem
here, the honey bee supply houses have plenty of equipment for sale, you can
sell the honey crop to pay for the equipment, and recombine the two colonies
after July4th into just one colony WITH THE NEW YOUNG QUEEN.
Further, most beekeepers are short of DRAWN COMB; and this new "temporary"
colony has drawn maybe 20-30 sheets of foundation into DRAWN COMB and all you
have to do is protect it from wax moths until next spring. HOW do you make this
sudden split, get a new queen, and don't lose your honey crop? Find the OLD
queen and transfer the frame she is on PLUS most (not all) of the frames that
contain BROOD and all the adhering bees into a new hive body with a super of
foundation on top of that, and set this new colony on a new stand and feed it
1:1 sugar syrup. The older foraging bees that you have transferred to this new
colony will go out to forage but return to the old colony by "habit". The result
is that your "new" colony consists of your old queen, the brood, and the non-foraging
nurse bees who will feed the brood larva and draw foundation because of the
sugar syrup feed and the incoming May nectar. You may even have to add an excluder
and a super of foundation on this "new" colony in about 10 days.
ALWAYS THINK AHEAD OF YOUR BEES! In the old parent colony, you can either have
left a frame with a big swarm cell on it or telephone for a new MARKED queen
with 48 hour delivery ( my choice), you have all the foraging bees to make your
honey crop, and you have replaced the brood frames with either empty drawn comb
or foundation (all together, not mixed with drawn frames).
Neither of these colonies will swarm, because you have eliminated the causes
of swarming during a nectar flow which are twofold: an older queen who cannot
produce enough queen pheromone to "glue" a large bunch of bees into a single
functioning unit, and you have given both units lots of super space and foundation
for them, to draw and store the thin nectar.
The parent colony might make 3/4 of the honey yield that a non swarming colony
might make and it has a NEW queen, while the new "temporary" colony might make
1-2 supers of honey and lots of drawn comb for use next year.
In spite of past practice, honey bee research has proven that destroying swarm
cells will probably NOT stop swarming; but if the colony does swarm, your colony
is left QUEENLESS because you destroyed the swarm cells and the old queen had
stopped laying eggs in order to lose weight to fly with the swarm. In the past,
many beekeepers clipped a queen's wings feeling that a "non-flying" queen prevented
swarming; but research has shown that this practice might only delay a swarm
3-4 days, and the colony may kill the clipped queen and swarm with the first
virgin queen that emerges.
I have written paper after paper that you CANNOT substitute foundation for
drawn comb. If you do NOT have DRAWN COMB and have to use foundation, you HAVE
to install a super of 10 frames (never 9) of foundation when the prior super
is about 1 /2 - 2/3 full. You will have a kingsize mess on your hands if you
install more than one super of foundation at a time, but your bees might well
go in to a swarming mode if your prior supers are filled up before adding an
I like to install a new super of 10 frames as soon as the bees have filled
(not capped, just filled) the 6 center frames of the prior super, and I reposition
those 6 frames by placing 3 filled frames on either side of 4 empty frames in
the center before adding the new super.
By doing this, all 10 frames of the prior super are filled and capping started
before much filling is done on the new 10 frames above. Over many years, I have
listened to novices (not beginners) complain that their bees did not produce
the crop that mine or some neighbor's bees yield; and they blame it on the race,
a poor queen, El Nino, or a dozen other reasons.
When I have gone to their apiary to inspect their bees or listen to the long
stories about the amount of attention that they give their colonies during a
nectar flow,quite often I find the answer to their problem.
The beekeeper, anxious to help his bees make a large and beautiful honey crop,
lights his smoker, opens the colony, checks almost every frame, even repositioning
some, and repeats the procedure later that week and again next week, etc. Could
you have your home ready for a party of 50 people once each week for 4-6 weeks
and still perform your normal employment? Of course not, and neither can your
When you inspect your bees and use a smoker during a nectar flow, you have
totally disrupted the normal bee activity for 24-48 hours while the bees repair
the broken comb or cappings you broke, air out the smoke so they can smell queen
pheromones again, regurgitate all the honey they gorged themselves with thinking
they might have to fly to a new home from theirs that is apparently "burning",
restart queen laying in freshly polished cells, and fix a dozen other things
that curtailed nectar collecting to make honey!
All of you know my heavy use of that word: anthropomorphic. STOP being anthromorphic
and learn to "think like a bee". Bees know what they are doing, and it your
job to LEARN from them and don't try and teach them a thing!
Maybe a little removed from the subject, but so very important: Over 60 years
ago, my mentor, Dr. James I Hambleton, Chief of the Honey Bee Division of the
U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, would say to me "Just inspect UNDER the queen excluder
and if you have made everything correct for the bees down there, the bees will
take care of everything above the excluder themselves without your help" What
a superb instructor he was, and now 60+ years later I still keep bees with the
science that I was taught then, later, and TODAY. George W . Imirie Certified