It has been a long time….
About two weeks ago, I spent some time out with the bees, at that time it became apparent that out of the 8 colonies I went into the winter with, only three were going to survive. Why? i think quite simply it was March. We had great weather for the bees to begin to build colony strength early in the month and then we had a nasty cold spell that not only shut down the Maple Sugaring, it apparently killed several of my colonies. Needless to say, we are thankful that we placed an order for six packages at the start of the new year.
Yesterday, Larry and I drove the three hours to Greenwhich, NY where we picked up our bees and headed home. The drive in and of itself is exhausting enough, but upon our return, we needed to install the packages and do some much needed Apiary management.
Of the three colonies that survived the winter, all were ready to be broken down, cleaned and “reduced”. At this time of year, bee keepers pull frames of bee’s and brood out of the parent colonies and create smaller colonies called nucs, short for Nucleus colonies. This does a couple of things, it reduces the parasitic mite (Varroa) load in the colonies and reduces a colonies desire to swarm from being over crowded early in the year. It also gives the beekeeper an extra colony or two. I chose to only make one new colony, installing a new Russian queen with good Varroa resistance, decent honey production and overwintering ability genetics… only time will tell.
The other job this time of year is to hive those packages we brought back yesterday. There are a couple of ways to do this, the traditional shake them all out of the box way, which last year was a complete disaster or, the let them come out of the box to the queen on their own method I read about this past winter…
Because last year was such a disaster with most of the packages drifting to the colonies at either end of the row, I decided to try a new method. This new method involves a bit more set up, but works fantastically well. First, you need two hive bodies (one full of frames and one empty), you also need one medium super also empty of frames. Follow the basic hiving package instructions to calm the bees: spray them with sugar water, keep them cool, tap them to the bottom of package before installing etc. To set up each colony, the empty hive body goes on the bottom and the hive body with frames will be placed on top of that with sugar water and pollen patties on top of the frames and the medium super closing it all in with of course the cover on top.
Before you put everything together though, install your queen between a couple of frames, open your package and shake a few bees on top of the cage.
Next, tip the package with most of the remaining bees on its side and place in the empty hive body.
Put the hive body with frames and queen on top, then place the sugar water and pollen on the frames with the medium super around them. Cover and wait 24 hours. If all has gone as it should all the bees will be out of the package and will be on the frames. This time when you go out, all you are doing is removing the bottom hive body and placing the hive body with frames and now bees, directly onto the bottom board. Keep the food on the frames, cover again and wait several days to see if the queen is laying, add back that 10th frame etc. It is always neat to see what the inside of the package looks like, because often this little artificial swarm will begin to draw comb.
For new bee keepers who are a bit trepidatious this is as hands free and bees in your face free as it gets. You will have to get used to them as you work your colonies, but this eliminates drifting and the bees seem to be quite calm and easy to work after this less violent and confusing introduction to their new home.