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Honey Robber

Well, my ‘flow’ definitely hit pretty hard the last part of May and it’s still coming in a bit today. I was wondering if it was going to hit at all this year!

Having learned my lesson last year, I was ready to go out last weekend and pull all of the capped supers. I ended up making two hauls and think this will be a pretty good  honey year, but we’ll see. One of the best things to occur this year was an experiment with my first fume board(s) and a substance called Honey Robber. Basically, a fume board is simply a shallow box of the exact dimensions of my 10 frame hives. One end is open and the other end is closed with a kind of clear plastic (on the outside) and felt (on the inside.)

To use this tool, you take a foul smelling substance (I used something called Honey Robber) and sprinkle it onto the felt (I dribbled it in an X-pattern, twice quickly). Then, you place it directly onto the hive (after you remove the cover and inner cover), above your capped honey supers. The sun beats down on the clear plastic, heating up the felt and causing the liquid to vaporize into the hive.

The stuff stinks to high heaven, so it’s no wonder that the bees skedaddle away from it. After a few minutes (I waited 7), you can pull the honey super from the hive and not a bee will be on it! I was amazed – it worked like a charm with a couple of exceptions (see below.) Compare that to last year when I was taking one frame at a time from the super, shaking/brushing the bees off and then transferring it to a holding box in my truck. It definitely saved me hours of time and was quite seamless.

There were a couple of asterisks to this adventure, all of which I had read about online but had to learn myself (I’m stubborn that way…)

1. Don’t put that stuff in your car/truck. My cab still stinks, although it seems to be a bit less today. It smells exactly like puke, which I remember well from my college days…

2. It won’t chase bees off of brood. I could not figure out why some of the bees wouldn’t leave one of my supers and ignored it (like a fool) and ended up with capped brood back at home in my honey stack. Hopefully, I didn’t take the queen too….

3. It needs to be in the 80’s and it is really seamless when the sun is shining on the hive. In the shade, the sun doesn’t do its magic by heating the clear plastic top (and thus vaporizing the stinky stuff even more.) I got it to work in the shade, but there was always a rogue bee that didn’t seem to mind the smell. In the sun, none of them stuck around.

Unfortunately, I did not mark which supers came from which hives. I actually discovered a viable, capped queen cell on one (found the developing larva while uncapping.) I have no idea which hive was in swarm mode. None whatsoever.

Of final note, it is clear to me that some queen and blood lines need queen excluders more than others. The exact same hives that I had problems with the queen moving into the supers last year also had the problem this year (even though some were now lead by the daughter of last year’s miscreant.) On the other hand, those hives that didn’t go above the honey barrier last year repeated their performance this year. I am definitely going out to find queens and install excluders this weekend (unless it rains the whole time!) I’d like to remedy the problem that I had last year once and for all.

All in all, a pretty good first pass at extraction. The kitchen is still a mess, but I am hopeful of resolving that shortly!

Will June Be A Banner Month?

So far this year, nothing has happened according to plan. I know full well that many things (with honey bees) do not go ‘to plan’, but I have never seen so many things go awry. I was unable to get out to the hives this past weekend, so I am looking forward to seeing them this weekend. So far, I have not seen a ‘general major flow’. Some hives have put on a few supers, but the majority (as of May 19) were working 1 or 1.5 supers. I simply have not seen a ‘general flow’ where everyone puts on the pounds. Maybe everyone is full up right now, but I sort of doubt it, given the wet week we had last week. Will June turn out to be the real banner month for honey? We’ll see…

And what about Nuc’s?! Good lord. I’ve never had it this tough. I honestly think I have killed more queens then I’ve sold (in Nuc’s.) Couple this with the fact that a ton of my Nuc’s did not successfully raise a queen, and I am really far behind on the Nuc schedule. I have taken to combining strong Nuc’s with Laying Worker Nuc’s. The queen right Nuc takes over the other one and goes to town laying in them and filling them up. This allows me to split them about 3 weeks later and make a solid Nuc out of them. I have never done this before (but, I’ve never had so many Nuc’s with laying workers.) Between the weather and my personal life, it’s been one heck of a rough Spring. I hope my last starts thrive in June and I can finally finish providing what I promised!

Finally, how about swarms? I do not go on all swarm calls, but I use them as a measure for what’s going on out there. I’ve received the fewest swarm calls in 3 years (and I really only started to take them 3 years ago.) Of those calls, none have been banner swarms (maybe one). They say a ‘swarm in June is worth a silver spoon’ – I assume it was in a year like this one. I haven’t seen many silver spoons so far. Maybe in June…

Finally, what about the hive problems!? I have already had 3 hives turn up with failed queens after a swarm. Two ended up with laying workers (again, family issues kept me away from the hives longer than I had expected.) Fortunately, I had a few Nuc’s to combine them with, but that just set the Nuc program back further.

The bottom line is that this has been a tough year for me. I blame it on this weather. We actually had a frost warning in May. I’ve been gardening for decades and have never heard of something like that.

At any rate, thought I’d whine a bit. It provides some relief….

Queens, Swarms and Queen Excluders

On Mother’s Day, I received a call from a fellow on the north side of Richmond about a swarm. It was a 25 minute drive and from a location that I have not collected a swarm before. Plus, he kept going on about how big the thing was, so I couldn’t resist!

But, Sunday was becoming very tough. I wanted to go spend some time with my Mom, plant another round of beans, squash, cukes and melons, and (of course) had 5000 bee tasks to do. When I decided to get that swarm, I decided it would be a ‘grab and run’ job. I rarely do these (truly – I’ve done maybe 2 of them and both of them were in the distant past when I would actually drive an hour to pick up a swarm.) This kind of swarm pick up focuses on dropping the swarm in the hive body, waiting a few (maybe 5) minutes to see that the bees are not reforming on the tree and some are coming into the box, taping them up and leaving. I effectively leave a lot of foragers at the site (scouts, out and about) and risk not having the queen. Normally, I’d leave the hive body there and come back after dark. But, with my current schedule, there was no way that was going to happen today.

At the site, the swarm was 5′ off the ground and an easy catch. As I talked to the land owner, he asked if I thought there were multiple queens in the swarm. With good confidence, I replied that it was unlikely. The size of this swarm said to me that this was a primary swarm and the new queens had probably not hatched yet. The next swarm would have a better chance of having a couple of queens. Heh. I should have known that this was major foreshadowing…

So, with a haul back down the 64/95 Exchange, I made it there and back in about an hour and setup the swarm box before I headed out to the bee yards to check honey supers. This is my favorite time of the year, as a full hive can draw out and nearly full a full Medium super in a week. I don’t like any of my hives to be lacking space!

Within 30 seconds of opening up the hive the bees were everywhere. Having seen my first swarm just weeks ago, I realized they were ‘re-swarming’ (or basically absconding!) I couldn’t blame them as they probably were thinking that this new home sucked with all of the jostling and so forth they went through only moments after I shook them into the hive body. Seeing them begin to collect on a nearby bush in my backyard, I grabbed a queen excluder and placed it under the primary hive body that still had most of the swarm. I didn’t have time to deal with these troublesome bees, I was getting irritated that I had wasted time getting them (on a very busy day) since they were acting like they were going to leave again and I figured this was my only chance to have a chance at keeping them.

I had never done this before, but had frequently read online about beekeepers in the South putting a queen excluder beneath a hived swarm to keep them from absconding. I figured that if, by chance, the queen had not yet left the box, I could manage to keep the swarm (and the small half-quart of bees hanging on the bush would return to the main hive when the queen didn’t follow them.) I worried about killing the queen, as the bees were spazzing out when I put the excluder beneath them, but I simply didn’t have time and was actually getting mad at the bees (heh – a character flaw for sure, but times were tough on Sunday!)

When I returned that evening, there that little troublesome ‘child swarm’ was, still clinging to the bush at night. I could still see a bunch of bees in the original swarm hive, about 15 feet away, so I figured this little extension were simply rebels without a cause (queen) and blank ’em. Of course, the next day at work it was constantly on my mind. And, as is always the case, I was so busy at work, I had something like a 40 minute window at work to deal with them. So, I hustled home and hived those troublesome bees in a small Nuc and left it at that.

Now, here’s the first mistake. It did  dawn on me the next day that maybe there were two queens. I also began to wonder that, even if there was just one queen, what if she was actually a virgin and I had her tied up in that primary hive with the queen excluder, unable to go out an mate? I actually had this thought multiple times, but never go around to acting on it until after work on Friday (5 days after catching the swarm.)

Going through the big hive/swarm, I found the little queen. Indeed, she was a virgin and no eggs were in sight. The big dilemma is ‘has she gotten too old to mate’? I have no idea how something like that would work. I removed the excluder and will give them a frame of eggs from one of my big hives in an outyard on Saturday, just to be safe. They had already drawn out 6 frames in the Deep and I wasn’t even feeding them. I then checked the Nuc and VOILA, there was the old queen (or at least a full sized queen that had started laying eggs pretty much the day I hived them, so I assume she’s a yellow queen – that’s what I’ll mark her with before moving them to a full Deep anyway.)

So, maybe the swarm wasn’t trying to leave after all. Maybe the old queen simply broke off from the main bunch after I set them down. Who knows how many queens may have been in that original swarm. Regardless, the lesson learned for me is that I absolutely cannot delay in getting that queen excluder off of a swarm (assuming I ever use that trick again.)

Crazy Swarms

With everything going on from monitoring Nuc’s, creating new Nuc’s, keeping honey supers on the hives and making sure that any hive that swarmed has a viable, new queen, I often farm out swarm calls to folks that I know. The primary exceptions to this rule are my own swarms (I want those genetics) and swarms from locations that I’ve never collected a swarm from (again, a chance for new genetics.) Over the past two weeks, I’ve had some really wild swarm calls! I’ve outlined a few of them below.

 

Swarm on Sappling

Could They Be Any Lower!?

I received a call from a fellow way out in the West End, talking about a colony of bees trying to set up home in a tree by his driveway. Of course, this was just a swarm waiting to find a new home and I decided to go get it (I’d never collected a swarm that far out on River Road before.)

When he said ‘tree’, he really meant ‘sapling’! These bees were no more than 6 inches above the ground (the bottom of the swarm was anyway.) Not only that, but they were pretty much all on the trunk of the small thing! There was no way to shake these bees, that was for sure. Fortunately, my pop’s old rule of ‘always have a piece of rope and a 5 gallon bucket for any task’ saved the day. Using the 5 gallon bucket, I literally scooped the majority of the ball into the bucket (it just plopped into the bottom) and subsequently poured the bees into the waiting hive. I then repositioned the hive to point to the tree and the rest soon followed! Bonzai!

Swarm on Pine Tree

My hive swarms to a nearby pine tree!

The next swarm was in my own backyard! I knew these gals were going to swarm and had already taken a fair number of bees to create a few nuc’s, but figured they would go anyway. The best thing about this swarm was that it marks the first time that I have actually SEEN a colony swarm! I’ve heard a million folks describe it, but I had never seen it (odd, given the amount of time I am around hives.) It was awesome as they roared through the air and finally came to rest on one of my trees. In the end, it was nature’s way of splitting my hive for me.

Finally, one of the wildest swarms happened in one of my yards out in Charles City. I had been watching the hive since it had a White queen and wanted to preserve the genetics. But, apparently I wasn’t watching closely enough. When I stopped by to check honey supers, I noticed that one of the hives was bearding. It was sort of cool, so I thought this was odd. I took a closer look and noticed that they weren’t really spilling out of the entrance, but hanging on the BOTTOM of the bottom board!

Swarm on Bottom Board

This queen must not want to fly!

In truth, I didn’t recognize it as a swarm on that day and just wrote it off to weird behavior. I was in a hurry to consolidate a few Nuc’s for sale and check on some queens that I was rearing. But, those bees kept nagging at me. The next day at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Finally, I left work and headed back out to Charles City to get them. I figured it MUST be a swarm. It didn’t make sense otherwise. I had to take the hive apart, so that I could lift up the bottom board and shake them into a nearby hive. Several of the honey bees fell to the ground around the hive stand, but I went to look at the bees in the hive. I didn’t see the queen, so I returned to the hive stand with my brush and a piece of paper to sweep up the remnants. There, right before my eyes, was that daggone white queen crawling around with a few of her fallen brethren!!! Heh. I picked her up and placed her in the hive. One more for the books!

Reversing Reconsidered…

One of the tactics utilized in March (in my area – central Virginia, near Richmond) to prevent or discourage swarming is a tactic known as Reversing. Simply put, you take the top brood box and move it to the bottom of the set-up. The strategy is based on the idea that the bees will have eaten their way up into the top box by the end of Winter and the bottom box will be empty of brood (or mostly empty anyway.) By putting the empty space above them, the bees are less likely to feel crowded and will move up into it.

For some time now, I have resisted this technique – primarily because one of the premier beekeepers that I follow has always been negative on the concept. He believes that this technique simply sets the bees back, forcing them to reorder their living space, rather than dissuading swarming.

This year, I had several hives that had pretty much empty Deeps beneath them and they swarmed anyway. I’m not sure if this is simply a factor of the weather and genetics (the bees simply were going to issue a reproductive swarm and did so, regardless of any external influences by me – or empty space beneath them), or maybe the fact that I did not reverse them when I could have.

I honestly do not know the answer, but this year will drive me to do a lot of experiments over the coming few years. I will start tracking the colonies that can be reversed and reverse half of them. Maybe reversing is not a bad idea in my area.

Nicot Day 15

Wow – the weather changed and then some! I’ve started receiving swarm calls and at least 2 of my hives have swarmed. I actually caught the marked queen from one of my hives and Nuc’d her, but she actually swarmed (with most of the bees in the Nuc) anyway! That’s simply amazing. I have never had that happen before. Taking a wild guess, I suppose they were literally getting ready to swarm while I was inspecting the hive. When I moved the bees to the Nuc (to make the parent hive think she had swarmed), they simply went ahead and swarmed! Ha. Oh well.

Besides creating a ton of Nucs (some with eggs, some with swarm cells), I have been fine tuning my queen rearing program. Over the weekend (actually on Friday), I hit Day 15 of the Nicot System. This is the day when you have capped queen cells that are about 2 days from hatching. On Day 14, you create a bunch of queenless Nucs to receive these cells. It is said that a bunch of bees without a queen will pretty much always accept a queen cell that was started by a queenless hive and finished by a queen-right hive. We shall see.

I miscounted my cells by 4 (it’s not that easy to count them, as the bees swarm the things when you remove the cell bar), so I had to create 4 Nuc’s ‘on the fly’ and give them cells. It will be interesting to see if the bees accept them (or kill them and go about raising their own queens.) I am feeling very comfortable with the Nicot system, using my double-deep setup (which I only have a few of, just for queen rearing.) If you stick to the schedule, the success rate is pretty good (I’d say about 50% – maybe that’s not good, but it’s more queens than I can handle.) I plan to make another run of it next weekend, this time providing some to the members of the East Richmond Beekeeping Association.

The toughest part, without a shadow of a doubt, is creating those queenless Nuc’s. It requires a ton of resources (I have 2 queen castles, that only require 2 or 3 frames, but everything else is a full, 5 frame Nuc.) Since I am building Nuc’s at the same time, I really had to push to get my Nuc’s created. When I create a Nuc, I pretty much just carve a piece off of a larger, parent hive. When I’m done, they typically do not miss a beat – sometimes spawning one, two and sometimes three more Nuc’s before it’s over. Most of the time, they (the parent hive) still have a great honey crop. But, this past weekend I had to cut deeply into several hives. I plan to pay special attention to these hives just to make sure they get back to critical mass and store enough honey for the Winter.

But, this weekend, I plan to build a few more of these ‘queen castles’ – I think I will shoot for 2 frames per section and give that a shot. I really just need this second batch to mate, so I don’t think this will be a problem. But, I can’t fathom how often I’ve said that and been wrong…

Beekeeping 201 and Swarm Cells

Yesterday, I held the first Beekeeping 201 Class, focusing on Spring Nuc’s with a hands on workshop in my yard. The class was pushed back a week, due to the wild weather of March, which effectively created a wild ‘lab’ for everyone. I told everyone that we might find one of the hives in ‘swarm mode’, but didn’t realize both of them would be well into the process.

In both of the mature hives at my house, we found multiple swarm cells, some of them capped. Traditional wisdom (or, as I like to call it, manic traditionalism) will tell you that a queen and the swarm leaves when the cells are capped. Never really believing a good bit of the nonsense that folks espouse, I forced the class to bear with me while I checked every frame for the old queens (just in case.) In both cases, we found the marked queen running around on the hives (yellow marks)!!!

This was GREAT news, as it enabled me to spawn a few Nuc’s with the queen cells AND create two Nuc’s (1 for each queen) for the old queens. I left at least 2 swarm cells in both parent hives (in one parent hive, there are more like 6 swarm cells – I will probably go rob a couple of those tomorrow, when I have more time to make up a few more Nuc’s. Although we did not create Nuc’s with eggs, I was able to show the class what I believe is the ONLY way to prevent a swarm – take the old queen and let her start a brand new hive. I think the class enjoyed the session.

We also marked a Queen in one of my Overwintered Nuc’s and upgraded it to a Full Deep. In all honesty, this queen was well behind most (if not all other) Overwintered Nuc’s in my backyard. I had already split two of them, taking the queen to a full-sized Deep and leaving the upper Nuc (with eggs) on the old Nuc’s stand to receive the foragers. I’ll finish them today, unless it really does rain all day.

As usual, it all comes down to time and not enough of it. I actually knew that the two hives in my backyard were at risk of swarming, but was willing to take the risk for the class. But, I also found swarm cells at two hives out in Charles City, later in the afternoon. I cannot say that I ‘purposefully’ allowed those hives to enter swarm mode. Instead, it was simply a matter of getting around to those hives in the little time that I have had this Spring.

On the plus side of things, I have now gone through every hive and know for certain that I lost 5 of them over the Winter. Unfortunately, one was lost to starvation (which will, no doubt, elicit the chorus from my readers that spend all Winter feeding their bees – ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’) But, losing this one hive to starvation will not change my ways (I will still not waste my time feeding my bees in the Winter…) I learned (or re-learned, once again) that I really need to cull my weak queens. The hive that starved actually was started in 2011 and swarmed in July of last year (or maybe end of June.) The queen that replaced the previous grand ole lady struggled into August and beyond. I probably should have combined them, but I wanted to give them a shot at making it.

For what it is worth, I did take two supers of honey off of them. But, according to my notes, I left a bunch on. Maybe I misjudged. Oh well – one more for the head scratching times…

Nicot Day 5

Nicot Cup Holders

Nicot settings that hold the egg cups

About 3 weeks late, I was finally able to start the first queen rearing program this past weekend. Today (well, yesterday, given the fact that my daughter woke me up and I’m unable to get back to sleep at this ungodly hour!) was Day 5 of my Nicot system.

The Nicot system utilizes a little contraption that you confine the queen in, for a day, so that she can lay eggs in it. You then take her eggs (the system has these little ‘cups’ that she lays in) and  place them in a ‘starter’ hive to get going – that’s a VERY high level overview of what’s going on…

For me, yesterday was Day 5 in the system. I had to create a queenless scenario in one of my hives and install the cell frames. Today, I will need to actually move the egg cups onto the cell frames.

Nicot Cell Frame

Nicot settings, attached to the cell frame

Although I have never tested this out, I have read in a few places that the best queens are ‘started’ by a queenless hive. Since I plan to ‘start’ my queens on Wed, I wanted to create a queenless situation on Tuesday and give the bees a day to really get worked up over losing their queen. My current method (I am, by no means, an expert here and continue to try different ways to achieve the best results) is to start with a hive that is on 2 Deeps and is going strong. I locate the queen and place her in the bottom Deep. Once she is secure, I turn the whole hive around and face it backwards. Finally, I place a bottom board on top of the lower deep, facing forward, and put the final Deep in place.

If you can picture this, both of the Deeps remain but they are now separated into two groups of bees. On the bottom, with the entrance facing behind, the queen continues working and building. Up top, with a new entrance facing forward (although a little higher) is the other half of the bees, who now have no access to the queen below. They shortly go into emergency replacement mode.

It is important to have some nurse bees up top, where the queens will be started. But, I will really dump them up there tomorrow. For right now, I simply want to make sure there are two masses of bees (on brood), one without a queen. I face the entrance of the new queenless hive in the same direction as the original entrance, to get most (if not all) of the foragers. I want this mini-hive to be roaring for the eggs they are going to receive a day later.

Finally, I drop my cell frame into the queenless hive. The real goal here is to make it familiar to the bees. It will smell like ‘part of their hive’ and be easier to accept when I add the eggs tomorrow.

Lined Up and Ready to GoFinally, I have a few hives with the Deep/Deep setup. Their main purpose is to house my queen systems. When I was going around to determine who would hold the queen frames (I am doing several this year, so would like several hives to ‘start’ and ‘finish’ my queens), I did find another deadout! Argh! I didn’t have time to really get into the hive, but will do so tomorrow. My losses continue to creep up and it is painful, but it’s more emotional then anything else. I also came across a few double deeps that are great examples of queens to watch. They were really just barely working on 5 or 6 frames in the whole hive (frames with brood). The hives that I chose had brood on 13+ frames. It’s key to understand what ‘is roaring’ and what is ‘whimpering along’…

New queens, Nicot mania, swarm cells and struggling hives

That pretty much sums up the last couple of days. This was my three day weekend and had long been planned as the weekend that I would be dropping queen-cells (from the queen rearing program) into various Nuc’s. Instead, I spent most of the weekend around the house (sometimes doing beekeeping chores, but mostly other stuff!), waiting for the temperatures to breach 50. Friday had some positives, Saturday had a lot of interesting events and Sunday was purely a prep day.

swarm_cell

An early swarm cell in 2013

My first stop on Saturday was to check out a tree with bees in it. Friends had mentioned it last Fall and wanted me to ‘save’ them, so I wanted to see if they were still alive (and they were, so I hope to get that genetic pool in April – should be a quick extraction, but you know how that goes…) On a whim, I slipped by one of my nearby apiaries, remembering how they had swarmed on me last year and I still hadn’t gone into a single hive in that yard. When I arrived, it was like a melee of honey bees – there were so many coming and going from that line of hives that they were banging into my head as I made my initial, outside inspection. I tackled the most active one first (usually, I do the opposite) and immediately found 5 uncapped swarm cells on Medium frames. Checking the Deep below, I found the queen (yellow) and 8 frames of capped brood (about 75% full.) This hive was tearing it up!!

I went ahead and created two Nucs off of the hive, liberally shaking (two shakes each) bees into both Nucs (one a Medium, one a Deep). I put two (or maybe three) of the queen cells in the Medium Nuc and let the Deep Nuc raise their own. I replaced most of the frames with drawn frames, but did put some foundation in there to give them more room. I squashed the remaining cells. Note: I absolutely do not believe in this method of preventing a swarm. I honestly do not have time to check for cells every X days and I’m not sure it helps at all. My plan is to come back this weekend, after Easter Sunday, and look for more cells. If I find even one, I’ll pull several frames with the queen and let the hive go ahead and raise a new queen. I’ll use that queen as a backup queen for the Summer.

The rest of the hives in the apiary were more along the lines that I expect these days (a week to three weeks out from being big enough to spawn a Nuc). I did find one hive that could have used the old checkerboard method, but I didn’t have the equipment to do it (I will have it next weekend!)

The rest of the checks that day (there weren’t a lot, as I only had a few hours of decent weather) included one more hive that spawned a Nuc, several average hives and one hive that was well below average. The last one really surprised me a bit (I’ve become used to finding the average hive, the rare strong hive or the (fortunately) rarer dead out. I have not really found a ‘weak’ hive. This one was chock full of honey and only on 2 frames. She has a lot of brood on those two frames, but it’s the first hive that I have come across with less than 5 frames of capped brood (except the dead outs…) I’ll probably take action on this queen, but will let them roll into April before making any drastic calls.

Another bit of interest was the number of new queens that I discovered. I apparently had a lot of swarms last Fall and didn’t know it. Most were White or Blue queens, so it should be expected. I was happy to find the new ladies and mark them all (yellow).

Finally, I got the Nicot system off the ground and am hoping for a bunch of queens in a few weeks. Timing being like it is, I had to release the queen in the middle of a snow storm! The main bonus here was that I could see a ton of eggs in the system, which was a huge positive. I wasn’t sure she would get any laying done, given the events of the setup and capture. But, she did her thing! This year, I have two hives ready to take the cells, giving me the opportunity to raise over 40 queens. But, I’ll be overjoyed with just 20!

More Snow!!!

Wow. I spend a good part of the year looking forward to March and April. It’s Beekeeping Nirvana! Not this year, however. March has been a monster. Really cold weather (and often SNOW!) has always been in the forecast. My bees are behind, which is good, because I am behind (I’m always behind, but this year it feels like I am behind a whole month!)

Tomorrow, I had scheduled a Sustainable Beekeeping 201 class, the first in the series of sustainable beekeeping classes for more experienced beekeepers. One of the primary tasks was to create a few Nuc’s in one of my outyards. Since the weather today and tomorrow is supposed to be the same, I planned to use the temperatures today to judge whether we could hold the class (although, when I scheduled this in late February, I thought my main problem would be to find an apiary that still had hives that I had NOT pulled Nuc’s from – right now, that’s pretty much my entire fleet of hives!)  At 11 am, when we would be well into building Nuc’s, it was still in the very low 40’s. Although it could be done at this temperature, I simply didn’t want to risk it. So, we postponed to the ‘bad weather date’ (which is next Saturday – this doesn’t look very promising either, but we’ll see.)

By about 2:30 PM, the temps his 50 and I journeyed out to the Westover Plantation outyard. I had not been through this outyard since February 2 (and that was just a quick inspection – pull the inner cover and a frame or two from the upper supers.)

The best news, of course, is that all of the hives were doing fine. In fact, two of them were really pouring it on. Being close to the river, I have found that these hives typically are ahead of most of my other hives (excluding overwintered Nucs). I could have easily created Medium Nuc’s from two of these hives, but instead created a single Deep Nuc off of each of them. It’s supposed to be wet (maybe with snow) and cold over the next couple of days, so I gave them both an extra shake of honey bees. Medium Nuc’s are tough enough (for me, anyway), so I hope to return in a couple of weeks and get a few Mediums off of this crowd.

Of note, I have still not seen anything to indicate that hives are in swarm mode right now. I will probably regret those words, but I currently believe that there are 2 to 3 weeks before I have to really worry about a hive swarming. Ideally, I will have reduced all of my hives by then (by spawning Nuc’s.)

I want to close on a totally different topic – reversal. That’s the practice of going into your hives in March and moving empty supers (from below) to above. You follow this up, every few weeks, with another reversal. The followers of this practice say that the bees go into swarm mode when they get to the top (as if they don’t have enough sense to realize they have plenty of space below.) I had a large number of hives with empty supers on the bottom this year. I did not reverse one. So far, every single one has done what I expected them to do – built down into the empty super. I honestly do not believe that reversal helps one bit (and probably simply stresses the bees more than anything else.)