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Spring Notes

What follows are various bits of advice and tidbits from the web regarding honey bee hive management in Spring. Where possible, notes are suited for my region in central Virginia (Varina, Virginia – just to the east of Richmond, Virginia.)

Honey Supers : Many folks advise that you should put all of your honey supers on the hive by the time the apples bloom. This gives them a lot of space to work into. I am not so sure that I will follow this (sounds like a Wax Moth smorgisborg), but wanted to note it here for future reference/experimentation.

Main Nectar Flow : Starts on May 16, give or take 10 days. The first real flow is measured by the primary dandilion bloom, which occurred in mid-March in Richmond, Virginia (2010). This is when they start feeding themselves (not that you shouldn’t feed them if we hit a lot of wet spots or cold periods.)

Supers & Swarm Management : Unripe honey, which contains a large percentage of water, requires much more space than it will occupy after it has been processed into ripe honey. If you suspect that your bees will produce three supers full of honey, then provide them five supers to store and convert nectar. Put your supers on by tax day — April 15th. Put all your supers on at once to encourage nectar collection and to dissuade the bees from swarming.

Install Imirie shims. An Imirie shim is inserted between every two supers, and is included at the top as well. These shims — nothing more than a wooden frame of a queen excluder with the wire rack removed and a notch cut in one side — are designed to provided openings for the foraging bees, and to reduce entrance way congestion without cutting holes into the wood of the supers and hive body. (The openings also allow for better ventilation.) A queen excluder (George is “a strong believer” in queen excluders) is positioned under the lowest super to keep the queen from laying eggs in the bridge comb that may be drawn out in the area of the shims. (Bridge comb is much less likely IF there is adequate supering.) As bees return to the hive with nectar, there is no reason why they should have to fight their way through the brood chamber to turn over their nectar load to the house bees. This only adds to the congestion of the brood chamber. Let those bees bringing in the pollen for brood production use the main entrance way. Reducing the congestion of the brood chamber will help to keep the swarming urge at a minimum.

The proper use of shims according to George Imrie : The proper use of a shim is as follows: Use with supers of DRAWN COMB only. Put 2 supers over the queen excluder, then add a shim, add a 3rd and a 4th super, then add another shim, add a 5th super, install the inner cover that has an upper entrance made into the edge of it, and top this off with the telescoping cover and a brick..

The shim is 3/4″ inch high, and hence its placement is defying the “rules” of BEE SPACE, and bees will build BURR comb on top of frames if the shim is used IMPROPERLY, particularly if it is used in the brood area. If the shim is placed between supers of FOUNDATION, the bees (having no construction blueprints) will build burr comb within the 3/4″ inch space of the shim, and “weld” the upper super to the lower super with burr comb as they draw foundation.

Culling Frames. After 3 to 5 years, it’s good to replace comb. Brood comb is the main comb to replace, as it is the primary collector of disease and insecticides, being used and re-used multiple times every year for rearing more bees. Ideally, in year 2, you begin to migrate the older comb towards the outside of the chamber during the deep swap in Spring. Once the frame is on the outside, it is much easier to swap it for another frame (it is unlikely to hold brood).

In most cases, you will have to swap it with a frame of undrawn foundation, which actually sets the bees back a bit during the nectar flow. This means they need to draw out more comb for rearing more bees. You really want them doing nothing but rearing bees in the early Spring, preparing for the main nectar flow. But, the frame has to be moved out.

An interesting side note to this is a plug for the Medium Super strategy. By using Mediums for both the Brood chamber and the Honey supers, you can actually swap out old brood comb frame with fresh honey comb frames, eliminating the setback in brood rearing during the early Spring. This research actually has me considering a move to Mediums now, before I invest much more in my current strategy.

Supercedure vs Swarm: Spring is the time of the year when you are most likely to encounter Queen cells. It is easy to believe that any Queen cell found in the Spring is indicative of a coming swarm, which you are actively trying to prevent at this time of year. But, it could easily be a supercedure cell.

The common knowledge says that a cell found on the bottom (or edge) of a frame is a swarm cell and one found in the middle of the comb is a supercedure cell. But, it really depends on the number of cells and the condition of the hive.

If you only find a couple of cells, it is more then likely a supercedure cell. These usually happen after the main flow, but the bees can do it anytime. If you find 5, 10 or more cells, you are dealing with a hive that is in swarm prep mode. These cells will have varying ages, giving the bees an opportunity to cast secondary and tertiary swarms as well as insuring that they end up with a viable queen after the old queen leaves.

Here is a great forum post by Michael Palmer and Walt Wright on Checkerboarding, Spring Reversals and Swarm Prevention in general : http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=236233

Overwintered Nuc’s : Any Nuc’s that were overwintered need to be monitored very carefully at this point. If done successfully, you should have a whole bunch of bees in a very small space. This is likely to equal Swarm Time! It is highly dependent on the weather, but generally look to remove any that are stacked (on top of regular hives) by about the middle of March. You might need to get some of them into a full-sized hive body by the end of March or earlier. If you have several strong Nuc’s (and you do not want to hive them in March), you can take a frame of brood from each to create a brand new Nuc or two. It’s probable that you’ll have some spare queens from the established hives that decide to try to swarm.

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