The beekeeping season is upon us! Leaves are finally out, apple blossoms are almost past and dandelions are gone to see for the next crop. One thing about this time of year is that the workload always seems to accelerate. One day you’re waiting for the first crocus and then next you are looking at 3 supers and a hive ready to swarm.
Here’s a hive status for this week:
Hive 1: 2 deeps, 3 honey supers, going strong
Hive 2: 2 deeps, 1 medium*, and 2 honey supers, going strong
Hive 3: 2 deeps, 1 medium, and 2 honey supers, going strong
Hive 4(new!): a medium from hive 1 forming queen cells as we speak with a deep box on top.
As you can tell from the list, the hives are built up quite tall already. In fact I believe this is the earliest I’ve ever managed to get all the honey supers out. This brings us to the topic of this post: Anticipation.
One of the biggest problems for beginners is they practice reactive rather the pro-active beekeeping. I did this too for many years. Here are some symptoms of reactive beekeeping:
- You find yourself running around frantically looking for the equipment you need today.
- Your hive has no empty space for either honey or the brood nest
- You are trying to save a failing queen.
All of these situations could have been easily avoided or at least planned for. Take equipment inventory in winter, make a plan for your seasonal management and figure out what you’re likely to need. While all beekeepers will tell you you can never have too much equipment I would say that at least 1 brood box with frames ready to go at all times should be your goal. This can get you out of a lot of situations.
The concept of “space” in a hive is one of the hardest to understand. How much ‘space’ does a bee colony need? What counts as ‘space’? For a first approximation, bigger is better. If you’re not sure if they hive needs more space – give it to them, at least in the summer when clustering for warmth isn’t an issue. What is space? Space is drawn comb with nothing in it. Let me repeat that. Empty drawn comb is available space. What’s not space? foundation is not space. Empty spacer boxes is not space. Comb with honey or pollen is not space.
What about the queen problem? Surely that can’t be anticipated, how would you know when a queen is about done. While you can’t predict when a queen will fail your bees likely can, so look to them. Are they making superseedure cells? Is there not a good laying pattern? Is this queen several years old? Any of these mean the queen may be about done. The best time to save a queen is before she dies. So look for signs from your colony of a failing queen and be ready to support that hive as you go forward.
Anticipation is the word of the day, so lets stop what we’re doing now and anticipate our bees needs. In summer you should be planning about 3 weeks out because that is the length of a bee life cycle. That hive with low population and lots of eggs? Cracker block full in 3 weeks. Here’s what I’m anticipating from my hives in the next 3 weeks:
- Complete spring mite treatment with Hopguard
- Add honey super to hive 1 (strongest) and maybe others
- Prepare for midsummer nuc production
So what will I be doing on this rainy day? I’ll be finishing building frames for my medium honey super, reviewing equipment for my nuc colonies and waiting for a nicer day to get in for the second round of Hopguard. What are you anticipating today?