Keeping Bees in June
Because of all the rain and cool weather, everything is late this year. We usually have had lots of swarming, massive brood rearing, blackberries beginning to bloom, etc. None of that’s happening. That means everything in May in the Tillamook Apiary definitely still applies to June. Go back and review that. We’ll enhance some of the items here and add a few new ones.
Here’s your to do list:
1. Add wax to every single undrawn foundation before you put it in the hive.
2. Prevent Swarming, if possible. (The following is in addition to what we said in May.)
a. For a strong hive with no queen cells: If your colony is two deep boxes there is something you can do called an “artificial swarm.” To do that you must move the old queen and half the bees and food to a new hive. Move that new hive a few miles away. This replicates what happens in a true swarm. You can buy a mated queen for the original colony or let them raise their own. The artificial swarm hive can be moved back to your apiary in a few weeks.
b. Again, for a packed hive, rearrange the frames a little. Put only nine brood frames in a ten-frame box and seven in an eight-frame box. Space the frames as evenly as you can. That’s going to give them the feeling of more space. It’s also going to make taking frames out much easier all summer with less agitation for the bees.
3. Monitor your brood boxes to be sure they don’t get “honey bound.” That happens when the flow is on, and they fill the cells with nectar leaving next to no room for brood. Put a couple of empty frames amongst the brood. They can even be un-drawn if you have lots of young bees or capped brood.
4. Add your honey supers. If they aren’t drawn comb be sure to wax them heavily. If they are drawn, put on two boxes. Once the first super is mostly full of nectar checkerboard the two supers. Alternate a full frame with an empty frame in both boxes. Be sure the empty frame in one box is above or below a full frame in the other. When adding additional boxes, add them on top of brood boxes under the existing supers, not on top. Some beekeepers will add supers with only 9 or 8 frames spaced evenly for easier opening of cells during harvest.
5. Make your own decisions about whether to use a queen excluder or not. If you have very full brood boxes, a queen excluder is probably a good idea. If you don’t put on a queen excluder, the queen often starts laying in the honey super. If that happens you can shake all the bees down to a lower box and then put on an excluder. When the brood in the super emerges, the queen won’t be able to lay any more up there. The bees will fill that brood comb with honey. We tend to not put on queen excluders because bees don’t like them.
6. If you think your hive is queenless
a. Call another beekeeper to go in with you. It’s possible your bees swarmed, and it appears queen less because there is no open brood. You may be waiting for a virgin queen to mate. You usually have capped brood, but no larva and you will likely find open queen cells.
b. It’s also very possible you have a damaged queen, no longer able to lay eggs. You must find her and kill her before you put a new queen in.
c. A truly queenless hive needs a new queen ASAP. The bees in the colony are older and don’t accept a queen as easily. Add a frame of open and capped brood when you add a new caged queen.
d. If the hive has been queenless for more than three weeks or so, some of the workers become laying workers. They start to lay eggs but since they never mated, all the brood is drone brood. It’s very hard to fix this problem because the colony thinks they have a queen when they don’t. Introducing a new queen never works.
e. Monitor the queen’s presence and performance in all hives but especially purchased NUCs and packages. MIA queens are common and the sooner queenless hives are found and corrected, the better.
7. Hive Inspections get more challenging as the colony gets bigger.
a. You can actually take a strainer and shake powdered sugar on top of the bees to distract them from your work. Always use smoke, too, but don’t overdo it. Lots of smoke makes them angry. Notes on keeping your smoker going are in the May apiary write-up. Sugar water in a squirt bottle is also a good idea. Squirt in mid-air that bee that keeps trying to get you.
b. You have several goals:
i. You want to know you still have a laying queen. Finding larva means you had one four or five days ago.
ii. You want to be sure they have pollen and honey to feed the brood. If a dearth is on you will need to start feeding again.
iii. You want to check the brood pattern to know if you need to replace the queen. Spotty patterns suggest the need for re-queening.
iv. You are still checking for queen cells. Going through every frame looking for them requires the hive to be open for too long. Check the bottom of the top brood box and just a few middle frames in the top box.
v. Try to keep your inspections as short as possible. An open hive attracts robber bees and yellow jackets.
vi. Throw your bee jacket in the washer. Angry bees leave scents on the jacket and gloves.
8. If you have a very weak colony with only two or three frames of bees and very little brood, go back and read what we said about weak colonies in May in the Tillamook Apiary.
9. Your bottom boards should be out. Put them in for about 24 to 48 hours and then look for varroa. Do this every few weeks. Varroa found? Do a sugar shake or alcohol test. Check out www.honeybeehealthcoalition.org to learn about your options. They have great videos. Formic Pro is the only option that kills varroa underneath the capped cells. It is also one of the few that can be done with honey supers on. It does kill the bees closest to the pads you will put on but usually not a large percentage. It could actually kill the queen but if you have the potential for a serious varroa problem it’s worth the risk. The queen often stops laying when the formic pro is on, and it sometimes takes a week after you remove the pads before she starts laying again. Watch the video on the website listed above.
10. It’s really important to write some notes about what you found. You’ll be amazed from inspection to inspection how the hive changes. Your notes will make you a better beekeeper.
11. Yellow jackets are flying. Do what you can to get rid of them.
12. There’s still time to plant some seeds. Check out the foraging section of the website. Look on the page for Annuals. Bachelor Buttons, zinnias, asters, and nasturtiums are always a safe bet.
13. Attend bee meetings. Second Saturday of the month; 12:30 meet and greet; 1:00 meeting. Check the website for the location. We do apiary visits all summer, weather permitting. Bring your bee suit.
14. Sit and watch your bees. Just enjoy them. Be in awe of them. Let them give you new insights into “the bigger picture” of life, what’s important and what’s not.
15. If there are no open water sources, consider adding a source of water for your bees. Bees prefer slow running water, however many times bees can be attracted to open water containers, even if they may be considered “dirty” by our standards.