New beekeepers: if you are picking up package bees very soon, make sure you feed them and continue to feed them until there is clearly a strong nectar flow. Remember, these bees have no stored food from last year. The only food available is what you feed them and the forage from the notoriously unreliable spring nectar flow in the Willamette Valley and other parts of the Northwest. It is best to feed them sugar syrup and some pollen substitute. The substitute comes in powder form or as a patty.
Ruhl Bee has recently introduced a fascinating new hive, the Ruhl Long Hive. We will describe in more detail in later blogs, but briefly, it is a horizontal hive, but has far more flexibility than a Kenya top-bar hive and it is fully compatible with standard Langstroth hives and equipment. It can be run as a standard hive or top-bar hive, allows multiple colonies in one hive, and uses a follower board. More to come on this.
We are still taking orders for package bees, but the order queue will close soon. You can still order online through our website. Our projected arrival date is still the first half of April. We will continue to provide arrival updates on our website. For Kenya hive beekeepers, the package of bees is much easier to transfer than a nucleus hive.
For a new beekeeper, inspecting a hive can be daunting and sometimes detrimental to the hive. To help you through these inspections, we have just introduced a new field guide, called Hive Inspections Basics for Northwest Beekeepers. It breaks inspections into three levels: external observations, hive top inspections, and frame inspections. We thnk this will be a useful tool for beekeepers just starting this year and for those who feel a bit lost when doing a hive inspection.
If you are new to beekeeping, you might be alarmed to see a large portion of your colony hanging in a cluster outside the hive during these hot days, particularly in the evening. It looks as if your hive has grown a beard, thus it is called "bearding." Some people associate this behaviour with swarming, but more often it is their normal response to hot summer days. However, if your hive is particulary strong, you will see more bearding, and the probability of swarming is generally higher in a strong hive. Some people use slatted racks to reduce bearding, and slatted racks are often credted with reducing swarming. Whether they deserve the credit is debatable.
This time of year, with the main nectar flow finished and the bulk of the winter stores in place, the bees are considerably more defensive. The colony that let you intrude into their hive a few weaks ago might be much less tolerant today. Wear your protective clothing.
The blackberry nectar flow on the Willamette Valley floor is starting to slow, but there is still plenty of other nectar available. A good rule of thumb is to remove honey supers by first week in August. As with all such rules, there are plenty of exceptions. For example, higher elevations still have plenty of blackberry flow. But it is prudent to allow the bees plenty of time to make up any deficits in winter stores. Also the varroa mite population is high this time of year, so a good time to do a mite treatment is shorty after removing the honey supers.
You will often see high drone traffic on your hive entrance this time of year. And if you inspect your combs you will also find plenty of drones. This is normal. At least one of your combs will have drone cells, normally clustered around the edge. Some beekeepers install a drone comb, or an empty comb, on which the queen will lay predominantly drone eggs. Varroa mites prefer drone cells, so the beekeeper will remove this drone comb once it is capped over and then kill the drone brood to kill the mites. This is often done as part of in integrated pest management program (IPM).
Those of you running horizontal top bar hives such as the Kenya hive, make sure to regularly check the follow board. With the nectar flow now in high gear, the bees will need regular increase in space. In a strong flow, you might need to move the follower board every few days. To save effort, you can remove it competely, but the bees might build comb in a more scattered fashion.