March has been pretty dry and warm in Colorado and we finally got our first precipitation of the month yesterday. Luckily, we missed the snow which went south of us and today it’s supposed to be back up in the 60’s again. With all this warm weather, flowers and trees are starting to bloom. The flowering crab apple trees are in full swing as are the hyacinths and daffodils (crocuses are already past) and the tulips should be springing up soon! Another bee keeping season is upon us!
Last weekend the weather was nice, so in addition to cleaning up the yard, I took the opportunity to do the first inspection of the year into my two remaining hives, BnB1 and BnB2. Over the past several weeks, there has been much more activity from BnB2, but now it was time to take off the insulation and have a look-see inside.
First up was BnB1. The queen in this hive could be the original from 3 years ago and if so, that means that she’s almost ready for the nursing home. Queens generally live 3-5 years, but these days, most beekeepers replace their queens after 1 or 2 years. I never saw any signs of supercedure in this colony over the years, so I think she’s the original, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. She came over from BnB2 in the split last spring.
Opening up the back there was still plenty of beautiful capped honey and then some combs with capped and crystallized honey. In the brood nest, there was not a whole lot of new capped brood, just a couple of frames with some small patches on the west (warm) side of the hive, surrounded by pollen. I moved some of the crystallized honey to the front of the hive, per Les Crowder’s suggestion for springtime management and moved the nice capped honey far to the back so I could take it if needed for other hives.
But there were some signs of mite droppings, also, so maybe that’s why they aren’t building up as quickly. This hive had a pretty high mite load last fall and I was experimenting to see if these bees could survive the winter with the mites. They did do that, but I’ll have to wait to see if they can continue thriving, despite the mites. The queen looked good and there were lots of new eggs, so I’m hoping that they will start building up their numbers. But that also means the mites will be building up their numbers as well.
So, although it survived the winter, BnB1 doesn’t look like she’s going to be ready to split anytime soon and the jury is still out on whether she’ll make it with the mites. But I’m committed to not treating for mites and we’ll see how this experiment plays out. I have 5 frames of nice honey in the back and if the bees don’t need it, I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it.
BnB2 is the “daughter” hive from the queen in BnB1 and also had a lot of mites going into the winter, but was showing a lot of activity at the entrance.
Starting in the back, there were lots of dead bees on the bottom from the winter and there was still some capped honey. On a couple of the combs, there was some mold that had me concerned. I posted some pictures to a treatment free beekeeping Facebook page and was reassured that the bees would clean that up once their numbers got big enough to expand into the back. They’d also clean out the dead bees, but I helped them and got rid of most of them during the inspection.
There was lots of pollen, brood and bees so this hive is doing much better than BnB1. I even found a queen cup on one of the back frames, but didn’t find any drone brood. In the spring, the queen will lay drones as the hives prepare for swarming – the reproduction of the colony. Once there are some capped drone cells, or even hatched drones, it will be time to think about splitting this hive. Other beekeepers in the area have reported drone brood in their hives and there reports of swarms in Denver already. I’ll check back in a couple of weeks for signs of drones, swarm cells and to see if they cleaned up the mold.
I found the queen in this one also, merrily going about her business laying eggs.
This year, I’m not buying any package bees. All my package bees that were bought and brought in from California died from mites last year. I’m trying to build up some survivor stock that can last here in Colorado. So this year, I plan to split BnB2 at least once, maybe twice and catch a few swarms. I’m going to build some swarm traps to put next door and at Sarah’s house and I’m also on the swarm hotline list, so hopefully I can get a few more bees through swarms. I am also going to buy a nucleus hive (nuc) from a local beekeeper who has survivor stock, but that won’t be until late May or early June. And, I might try my hand at queen rearing if I have the time, to propagate the good genes of BnB2.
And this year I plan to inspect my hives less and just let them just go about their business. I’m now at a point where I can judge the health of the colony by watching the activity at the entrance and I have windows in most of my hives if I need a quick peek inside. I won’t be totally hands off, especially with new colonies from swarms and splits – I have to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to. But for the established hives, it’s time to let them just bee.