Friday, January 20, 2012

Getting Ready For Spring, Which Is Around The Corner

While it is hard to think of blooming flowers while we weather January, the big spring tree bloom is just around the corner.  And with the mild winter we have had so far (don't count your chickens yet), the bloom will probably be earlier than we are used to in this region.

Speaking of mild weather, the bees have benefited from the temperature and have had ample opportunities to break cluster to take in some of the feed I have been giving them, and to take their cleansing flights.  Combine the health of the bees with the damp weather we have had to support the foliage and I predict a healthy honey flow.

To take full advantage of the earliest parts of the flow thus maximizing honey collection and production for the bees and the humans, it is important to give your girls a head start before the flow.  You need to essentially triple the size of your colony within a 30 day period by encouraging the queen to begin to lay in earnest and by providing the resources necessary for the production of brood.

First and foremost, you need drawn comb into which the queen can lay eggs.  If you colonized your hive last year and it has over-wintered, you should have plenty of drawn comb, and it should be relatively open and free of honey as the bees emptied the cells during the winter.
Second, the bees need energy in the form of 1:1 syrup.  Several theories abound regarding syrup concentrations in early spring.  The predominate theory suggests that feeding a weaker syrup, 1:2 (one part sugar to two parts water) more closely matches the sugar concentration of nectar and thus tricks the hive into thinking there is a flow, even if it has yet to begin.  This flow instinct is meant to stimulate brood production.

I have always fed 1:1 syrup except when going into winter and find it works fine, and I get more energy to the bees per visit, which coming out of winter is my most important priority.

Third, I feed pollen patties to these hives as a source of protein.  Protein and water make up most of the structure of a bee and bee larvae.  Without it brood production will be slowed, and resources will be sacrificed to forage for pollen (their natural source of protein) rather than tending to a growing population.
Here you see a hive with two pollen patties.  I would consider three in spring per hive.  Lay them across the top bars IMMEDIATELY ABOVE the brood area.  Pollen patties are crucial for substantial early buildup of your hive.

If you need any, we sell them for $5 a patty, picked up in Georgetown.  We use UltraBee, which is meant to be the best in the business.
What should you be doing ahead of spring?

Make sure your equipment is in good shape.  Order replacement boxes for worn wooden-ware, and purchase honey supers (medium supers, we have an inventory of these for sale) to put on your hive when the flow begins.  In a heavy flow the bees can fill one of those boxes in a week, so be prepared ahead of time or risk a SWARM.

Consider starting a second hive.  After the flow many beekeepers increase the size of their apiary by splitting their existing hive in two.  The queen-less hive will make their own queen over time, or you can avoid this pause in the population and purchase one of our mated queens.  Having two hives is better than twice the value as a weak hive can be strengthened with a frame of brood from the other, and if one hive dies off you can use resources from the second hive to begin anew.  And you will have twice the honey.

Buy a package of bees.  If you know you have a colony that did not survive this winter or its first season, we can get you new bees to install in your equipment.  Don't let your prior experience discourage another try.  We are here to help.

Read a beekeeping book.  It is always a good thing to continue the climb up the endless learning curve, and reading about it will get you juiced for all the hard work you are about to put in.