April 30, 2012
With the first flowers already in bloom, and with daytime temperatures reaching above 50 degrees, I decided earlier this week it was time to help prepare the bees for the spring harvest of nectar and pollen.
Just to review: The hive I am currently working with was purchased late last spring and last season the bees generated sufficient honey stores to make it through the winter but not much extra. So we did not do a honey harvest last year.
The bees survived the winter well and in late March, on a warm day, I opened up and inspected the hive. I was looking for 3 things:
- to see how much honey the bees still had stored (to help me decide whether and when to start providing supplemental feed)
- to see if there was evidence of a queen and to see if she was laying new larvae
- to assess the general state of the hive.
The inspection went very smoothly, though the bees were a bit too homely for my preferences (e.g. not out gathering goods and instead sticking around the hive). The bees had moved up to the top of the two deep boxes, which is normal after a winter, and they still had several frames quite full of honey.
In one of the center frames I spotted developing larvae, a sign that there was indeed a queen and she was actively laying eggs. And soon thereafter I spotted the queen herself! By this point the bees were rather annoyed with me, and the sugar water I had been using to calm them with was not sufficient and so I decided to close up the hive, satisfied with what I had found.
A few days ago, after the temperatures had warmed up considerably and I was confident many of the bees would be out foraging, I returned to the hive to do the last few steps in prepping the bees for the start of the spring nectar harvest. These steps were to:
- switch the deep boxes, so that the box that is more full of honey and brood (e.g. where the queen is) is on the bottom and that the box full of frames emptied of honey during the long winter is on top.
- remove the bottom board, to increase ventilation with the warmer temperatures
- set up the feeder
The first step was to remove the deep box that was on top. Since it was still rather heavy, I chose to remove a few frames first, to lighten the load. Then I just picked up the box and put it to the side. Now the bottom box was exposed and I was able to pick this one up without removing any frames because it had been emptied by the bees during the winter. I then placed the heavier of the two boxes (the one that had been on top) on the bottom, replaced the frames, and then placed the lighter box on top. Step one done.
Next I removed the bottom board and set up the feeder so the hive will grow strong during these weeks just before the major nectar harvest (when the black locusts and big leaf maples bloom). With these tasks complete, I closed up the hive and wished the bees good luck.
On a side note, we are steadily trying to increase the amount of bee forage that we have within bee range. At this point black locust and maple trees on neighboring properties provide most of the nectar. But with an increasing number of fruit blossoms, ever more asters, borage and alfalfa, hopefully in the future the bees will have more options closer to home.