A simple way to check the progress of your hive during the crucial nectar flow period is by using a crude but effective weight check. Go to the back of the hive, grab the hive cup handle (or cleat) of the lowest hive body, and lift. This tips the whole hive forward. It should feel quite heavy now, and get progressively heavier each week throughout the nectar flow. If your hive is not gaining weight at this time of year in the Willamette Valley, the colony might need supplemental feeding, or it might be in trouble. By end of the season, tipping the hive should feel nearly impossible because of the stored honey.
We are still in swarm season in the Willamette Valley. To reduce swarming from your own hives, the simplest thing you can do is make sure your colony has plenty of hive space for expansion. If you catch a swarm from one of your own hives, make sure you house it as far apart from the source hive as possible. Experienced beekeepers often like to a keep a spare single storey hive ready to house a swarm. If you are trying to lure a swarm, you can bait an empty hive box with some waxed frames, with a little lemon grass oil on a patch of cardboard or cottom swab. You can also use a swarm attractant that contains the pheremone Nasanov.
Quite often, we receive questions about dead bees and debri on the front entrance of the hive. On a rainy day following a sunny day, the colony will put more of its efforts into housekeeping, resulting in trash on the front entrance. You would not normally see more than a few dead bees scattered aross the entrance. If you see much more, it could be an indication of something more than housekeeping.
On a similar note, if you install an old brood comb into the hive, the bees will set to work cleaning out the cells, and for a few days following installation, you will often see small chunks of pollen and debri on the entrance. This is normal. However, before installing, consider the risk of latent pathogen build-up in the old comb. For example, foulbrood spores can remain in the comb for decades.
In the Willamette Valley, blackberries are starting to bloom on the valley floor. Time to get your honey supers ready. Make sure you remove all feeders and treatments before installing supers. Some beekeepers wait a couple of days after installing supers before installing queen excluders. This gives the colony time to start building wax in the super.
This May weather in the Willamette Valley is tricky. These wet cool days hold back the bees from building up for the main nectar flow. Keep feeding until the weather is more reliable. The stronger hives are consuming a lot of food now. This is a clue they aren't getting enough forage to mach their rate of expansion.