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Keeping Bees in April

Here’s your to do list: 

1.     Put out some yellow jacket traps. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but any queen we can eliminate saves us a colony of troublemakers. Honey bees don’t usually go into the traps. Yellow jackets are fast. If they are hanging around a hive and you can’t swat them some people actually vacuum them up! Anything to get rid of them. 

2.    If you have new plastic foundation, they usually come with a little wax, but you could add another thin layer. Supplies are in Honey House. 

3.    If you ordered NUCs they should arrive mid-month.  Exact dates can vary greatly from year to year. 

a.    Get your site ready. Put down a tarp or something to keep the grass from growing around your hive. This will also allow you to see how many bees are dying. 

b.   You want the hives up off the ground. One layer of cinder blocks works fine.  Be absolutely sure the hive is level. You will be working the hive from the sides and back. So, allow enough room. You want the hive to face East or Southeast. Be careful their flight path doesn’t directly cross a walkway.

c.    If you don’t have drawn comb, you must feed them sugar water (1:1). You can add a few drops of spearmint or honey-b-healthy or Megabee supplement.  They will go through a lot of sugar water, perhaps as much as a gallon every four or five days. Keep feeding until they have drawn out a couple of boxes of comb. You can also put a pollen patty directly on the frames over the brood to increase the production of brood. 

4.    If you overwintered colonies successfully, congratulations!  

a.    Your bees likely came out of winter in the top box. You will want to switch the boxes around and put the active box on the bottom.  Never switch deep boxes when the brood chamber is between hive boxes. Switching at this time will result in dividing the brood chamber into two separate parts and not one complete chamber.  Wait until the entire brood has risen up to the top box to switch.  This ensures that the entire brood chamber will now reside in the bottom box.  Clean off the bottom board/screen at the same time. 

b.   Use this opportunity to remove any empty frames from the original bottom box that are black. If you started last year with a nuc chances are those five original frames need to either be thrown away or cleaned off completely. Leave the frames in the sun to soften the wax. Then scrape them off, wash with a bleach solution and a pressure washer if you have one.  Rewax plastic foundation. 

c.    You can feed these colonies sugar water (1:1) with additives but you won’t need to do it as heavily as for NUCs. A pollen patty would be great here, too.

d.   Pollen frames are often moldy. The bees are supposed to clean mold off. Put a mark on the top of those frames to identify them. Check them in a few weeks to see if the bees did indeed clean them up.  Feeding during Tillamook’s typical cool, wet spring may be critical, especially if milder weather is late in coming.  Besides syrup, pollen may be necessary, being that it is a critical component for brood feeding and rearing.  Also, syrup may be needed if the hive has plenty of empty foundation and needs to have new comb built. 

5.    A little insulation in the outer cover is good all year round. It keeps it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Also, don’t block whatever you did for ventilation.   If temperatures permit, consider taking the time to enlarge your entrance from the small closed down winter position.  Always delay enlarging entrances in weak hives.

6.    Check your bottom boards. You’ll have an idea what’s going on in the hive. You may find pollen (means there’s brood being raised), wax caps (means there’s brood being born), varroa (consider Apivar), or water (increase ventilation immediately). They will likely be little bugs, earwigs, slugs, and other stuff. Don’t worry about any of that. Just clean off the bottom board so you will have a fresh evaluation next time you go in. 

7.    Write down what you did and saw today. How many frames covered with bees? Honey? Pollen? Capped brood? Larvae? How much space is available? 

8.    Make a commitment to go into the hive every two weeks to check that you still have a queen and to see if they need additional space. Only go in on a sunny day, with temperatures at least above 60 degrees. Clean off burr comb from the top bars and inner cover if that is your preference.  If the bees aren’t calm close the hive up for that day. More on this in the May apiary list. 

9.    Strong colonies will need to be split in May. Get a plan. Are you going to keep the colony or sell it? Do you have a spot for it? You will need to move it a couple of miles away for a week or two so that the bees don’t fly back to their original colony.  Are you going to buy a queen or let them raise their own? 

10.  Call some beekeepers and ask to go into their hives with them. You will learn a lot every time you go into a hive. It’s really nice to brainstorm ideas about what’s going on. Most people love having help and helping others. 

11.   Attending bee meetings. Second Saturday of the month; 11:30 meet and greet; 12:00 meeting. Check the website for the location. 

12.  Pull up a chair near your hive. Sit, watch, enjoy them!

13.  Consider starting to monitor mite presence and levels via a bottom sticky board.  Mites should be monitored at least monthly through fall.  Wait until warm spring temperatures arrive to start with alcohol washes.  Mite counting on sticky boards becomes more meaningful when done on routine basis during normal times and prior to mite treatments (background levels) done during mite treatments (kill numbers) and done several days after mite treatments (to check for miticide efficacy). Record all findings in your journal.  Any spring mite treatments must conclude prior to adding honey supers, except formic acid which can be used when honey supers are on.  Remember, some treatments are temperature dependent.  Check individual inserts for more information. 

14.  Plan to have bait hives ready to go and where they will go by the end of April. 

15.  Make future plans on swarm control which will start during the colony building season. 

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