No, it’s not Christmas (sorry Andy Williams), it’s Springtime! For beekeepers, it’s a time of swarms, splits, new bees and hives.  For gardeners, it’s a time for cleanup, plantings, new gardens and watching the rebirth of nature.

This year, I’m adding another hive, same style as the other (Hardison Top Bar).  I just put the finishing touches on it, complete with my stenciled artwork.  Compare my hive to my friend Lucia’s who is starting beekeeping this year.  Some people have artistic talent, I definitely didn’t get that gene.

Amazing what you can do with a stencil.

Amazing what you can do with a stencil.

Lucia's beautifully painted hive

Lucia’s beautifully painted hive

I’m getting my new bees (3 lb. package/~10K bees) on Saturday from  from Tim Brod  of Highland Honey Bees.   I volunteered to help pass out the packages which I’m really looking forward to.  Hundreds of thousands of bees all around (luckily in cages) and excited beekeepers coming to pick up their new bees.  What fun! I helped a friend and his son install a package last weekend and the look of joy on their faces was incredible to watch.

The Boulder County Beekeepers e-mail list has been abuzz about swarms and new packages. Seems that the swarm season is well on it’s way.  Last year was a dismal year for swarms.  Bees swarm as a way of reproduction.   When the colony feels that it needs to expand (for many reasons) beyond it’s existing capacity, it starts raising new queens.   When they are close to hatching, the old queen leaves with roughly half of the workers who have gorged themselves with honey to find a new place to live.  This swarm of bees will fly for a while and settle on a branch, wall, fence, etc, surrounding the queen who is somewhere in the middle of the mass of bees.  From there, scout bees fly out to find a new place to live.   Many people see a bee swarm and are afraid, but the bees are fairly docile with their bellies full of honey.  The swarm may stay in place for 1-2 hours, then move on to another spot.  Beekeepers have a love/hate relationship with swarms.  If it’s your hive that swarms, you’ve just lost half your bees.  If you catch a swarm, it’s free bees!  So, if you find a swarm in your backyard, don’t call the exterminator – call the local beekeeper association (or your city offices who know who to contact) which maintains a swarm hot-line and some lucky beekeeper will gladly come out and take them away.  While you are waiting, sit and watch the swarm and marvel at what the bees are doing.

Beekeepers sometimes try to prevent swarming by doing a split.  Basically, when you see queen cells being capped, you move the old queen, some brood, honey and some of the bees to a new hive, saving them the trouble of swarming.  The new virgin queens will emerge, one will kill the others and then she’ll take her mating flight and come back to rule the hive.  The old queen will start filling out her new kingdom.  I had hoped to make a split this year, but my bees are not feeling cramped  and there are not enough of them to swarm. They seem happy with the queen they have (no queen cells being made), so for now, I’m just going to let them be.

Strawberry and blueberry beds

Strawberry and blueberry beds

On the gardening front, I’m making some new beds and am going to start getting rid of a big chunk of my lawn.  I have to move my strawberries since they are right where I’m putting the new hive.  I’ve made a raised bed for them where the kids play structure used to be.  Behind that, I’ve planted blueberries which is a difficult plant to grow in Colorado.  We have very alkaline soil and blueberries need acidic soil.  The solution?  Plant them in a bale of peat moss (which is acidic) and they are supposed to be okay. (link to Front Range Food Gardener post about this).

My next big project is turning a large chunk of my lawn into a new garden.  This will be a multi-year project.  When we moved into the house, I put down sod on the north side of the house as a place for the kids to play soccer, croquet, etc.   Now that the kids are grown and mostly out of the house, it gets little use and just sucks up money in the form of water.  So, I’m going to turn part of it into gardens full of low water use plants.

On a sad note, our beautiful flowering crab tree is dying and I’m going to have it removed instead of pumping it full of fungicides or pesticides that will harm the bees.  I planted this tree when we first moved in and it was a little 6 foot twig. Diana used to laugh at it and call it my Charlie Brown tree.  Over the years, it’s grown to provide much needed afternoon shade on our west facing house, so we’re really going to miss that.  I’ll replace it with a Linden tree which the bees love, but it will take a while before we get our shade back.

Our dying crabapple tree giving one last show

Our dying crabapple tree giving one last show

Snow crab tree

Our flowering snow crabapple tree in better times

We have arugula ready to pick that I planted in February, spinach and lettuce that will be ready next week and radishes and bok choy on the way.  The apple and crab trees are blooming and flowers are springing up all over the place.  I’ve got a basement full of plants itching to be planted, so I’m hoping the weather stays warm enough that I can get them outside.

It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Categories: BeesGardening


LuAnn · May 2, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Nice post! I recall seeing a swarm in our yard many years ago. The bees made a big ball around their queen in the tree, and then took off a couple of hours later. Also, I’d been hoping to get some local honey from a neighbor of mine who keeps bees, but he mentioned yesterday that it’ll be a while as he had recently done a split. Now I know what that’s about. Thanks, Don, and good luck with the new tree.

    Don · May 3, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Glad you enjoyed the post and now know what a split is! I hope your neighbor’s bees have a super season and you get to share in some of the golden reward.

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