Spring Inspection at Bees a Charm

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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It’s already been a very busy bee season this year.  Was very pleased to find—after this unusually cold winter—that my girls were doing fine and ready to start the spring hub bub!  Back in April, my friend Michael and I grabbed one of those few-and-far between warm days to do a quick inspection.  I had combined a couple of my hives last fall to make them stronger, taking the advice from our NC State Bee Inspector, Adolphus Leonard, “Take your losses in the fall.”  Well, it paid off this past winter because upon inspection we found that the combined hives were very strong and could easily be split, giving me back my five hives!

Last Saturday, one of my hives swarmed!  And after-swarmed twice more!  Although they were 30 feet up in a tree, once again thanks to Michael (he’s a tree-climbing fool!) we were able to recapture and hive two of the three swarms. . .the third and smallest escaped our grasp despite 3 attempts to hive them.  They headed to the woods; hope they’ve found a nice home.  As a thank you, I gave the first swarm to Michael for all his hard work.

The second swarm/first after-swarm is now residing at Bees a Charm

So today I thought I’d take advantage of the sunny skies and a day off from work to see if the girls needed me to do anything.  I had been watching and had some ideas of what might be going on (i.e., hive 1 (the after-swarm) looked problematical; hives 3 & 4 looked “swarmy”) so I was prepared!  Here’s what I found:

Before I go hive by hive, I think it should be stated that all hives have white wax and plenty of nectar, capped honey and pollen!

Hive #1

Started out as two colonies:

1. Bottom colony is that split mentioned above from about a month ago (1 medium). Was concerned by the diminishing number of bees at the entrance and was assuming a laying worker hive.

2. Top colony is the swarm mentioned above, residing in a deep box. The swarm is doing well.

In light of my concern with the split, I initially merely stacked the swarm hive (entire sbb, deep box, inner cover and outer cover—on top of the swarm–no interaction at that time–with the thought that when inspected, if the split had laying workers, I would use Adolphus’ method of remedy[i]. However, when I inspected the split, although I found no sign of a queen or brood of any age, I also did not find signs of laying workers.  Checked the swarm and they were doing well.  My thought was to combine outright, but on the chance there was a virgin queen, I opted to separate the two hives with a double queen excluder[ii] and check back in a week or so as to whether I should combine or keep them as separate hives.  Figure by then, if the answer is to keep them as separate hives, the workers will be evenly distributed between the two boxes and I will need only to move the top hive.

Hive #2

1 deep, 1 medium

Going Gangbusters.  Left them alone.

Hive #3

2 deeps (as of today), 1 medium

Going Gangbusters. Very crowded; no swarm cells; added a deep

Hive #4

3 mediums (as of today)

Going Gangbusters. Above average population for 2 mediums so added an additional medium. No swarm cells.

Hive #5

2 mediums

Another split from April with no sign of a queen (no brood), but more populated than Hive #1.  Gave this hive a frame of larva/eggs from Hive #4.  Shook all the bees off, including nurse bees, for fear of missing the queen.

Throughout my inspection, I saw no SHB; no varroa or “iffy” capped cells.  Everyone looks very healthy and is in a very good mood despite the many gray clouds that shadowed us out every now and then as we worked together.

Looks like it’s going to be a very good year! Let’s hope so!

[i]Put the laying worker hive on top of a healthy hive with a queen excluder between the two hives.  The workers in the good hive will smell the laying worker pheromone, go up into the laying worker hive and kill the laying workers.  After a day or two, remove the queen excluder.

[ii]Should two queens exist, the double queen excluder provides enough separation to prevent the queens  from stinging each other to death while still permitting the workers to freely move throughout the two colonies.

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