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Swarm Prep

I was painting some hive equipment in the nice weather we have been getting in Richmond, Virginia today, which typically means there is a lot of ‘thinking’ going on as I tackle the fairly monotonous task. I kept going back to my beekeeping excursion this past week and how much some of my hives had progressed. Finally, although the temps were in the low 50’s (definitely beneath the temps that I normally pull frames in), I decided to look into the hives and overwintered nucs in my backyard. The big caveat to all of this is that I started open feeding in this yard last weekend, as part of a multi-year experiment on how it really affects already healthy hives.

In the first Nuc, I found that they had expanded into the full Deep. This was a bit of a surprise. They had nearly twice the brood from last weekend and had drawn out the 2 frames of foundation (yes, they are drawing wax.) This ‘nuc’ was already in a Deep, only because I never got to transfer them into one in the busy part of last Fall. So, I dropped a Medium on them. I normally feed a hive when they are drawing out a Medium, but I think this is still possible robbing time. I will wait for mid-March before I start feeding (hive feeding, I mean.)

The second look was a full hive. I found the beginnings of a daggone swarm cell. They had not drawn it out much, but I could see the mass of royal jelly in the thing. This is a pain – I wanted to be ahead of this. I whacked the queen cell and took a Nuc from them (my first Spring Nuc). I replaced the frames with some drawn but mostly foundation. I shook a bunch of nurse bees into the Nuc and also gave them a frame of foundation. I think those nurse bees need something to do (like draw wax) or they get antsy and kick off a swarm.

The next hive was from the Aug 1 cut out that I did near Lewis Ginter. They were only starting to work into their upper Medium and had plenty of space. They looked good, but are not near causing me problems (i.e. swarming.)

I then checked several Nucs. Two were ramping up nicely and will probably either be split (if they are doubles) or simply moved to a Deep (if they are singles) next weekend. But, the final Nuc (the cut out from post-Irene off of River Road) had a nearly capped swarm cell! Nurse bees were everywhere. They were in a double, so I moved the queen and 6 frames into a Deep and moved them off of the Nucs original location (a few feet.) I left the Nuc with the swarm cell and some 24 hour (or less) larva (and eggs) on three frames from the double nuc, 1 drawn frame and (of course) 1 frame of foundation to give the nurse bees something to do.

I am not sure if this activity is due to the open feeding or if all of my hives are on the verge of swarming. There are 15 or so hives that I haven’t seen since January… I may need to take a day off from work this week. I will definitely be starting a group of Nucs next weekend. I have decided to postpone my queen rearing program until March 10 (that’s my current plan, at any rate!)

All I can say is beekeepers in this area should be watching their hives. Swarms are not a bad thing, but if you are thinking about increasing or creating Nucs, it’s better to catch them before they swarm for sure.

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