When it comes to managing bees, there are three times of the year that require different types of hive management-- Winter, Early Spring and Summer. Each season is crucial to maintaining a strong and healthy colony and requires different bee management skills.
Spring is a critical time of the year for the bee colony to grow and strengthen. Special steps are needed to insure that the colony will grow and get ready for the busy summer months.
- Sometime in early February, you will want to check on the bees. Make sure the colony is still healthy and has enough food. If food is running out you may want to feed them some sugar syrup.
- February and March are good times to check on the queen bee and see if she will need replacing. You must order your queen around this time to ensure delivery in April/May. As a rule of thumb- it is a good idea to replace the queen every other year.
- As Spring-time progress, keep an eye on the colony to see how fast they are growing. Check about every 10 days. If the hive is getting full and 7 to 8 of the frames are covered with bees, you will want to add another brood chamber super.
- Finish up your bee disease treatments during the spring and make sure they end at least 30 days before the honey flow begins. For more info on diseases and treatment times, check out Lesson 15.
- Watch out for swarming. Bees will swarm if they get too crowded. Bees will generally swarm after it has been cold out and a warm day suddenly appears.
- If your colony is growing fast, you may want to also think about splitting the colony into two separate colonies. This will require another queen to support the additional colony.The most effective method is to use a nuc. A nuc is a small hive where you will transport two frames of brood with bees on it from a very strong colony along with 2 frames of honey. Do this during the middle of the day when the aggressive worker bees are out gathering nectar. Insert the four frames into the nuc along with a packaged queen bee. Seal the entrance and move at least a mile from the old hive location. Once the nuc is moved you can open the entrance. After about 10 days, check to see if the bees have accepted the new queen then you can move the nuc back. This nuc will be used to replace a queen that has gone bad or can be used when you split a colony to start another one. The nuc introduces the bees to the queen in a stable manner and makes it less likely that when you insert her into the new colony that the existing bees will want to kill her.
Honey Flow Management
Management just prior and during the honey flow is crucial. This is the time when bees will need room to store honey and timing is critical. The timing of the honey flow is completely dependent on where you live and the primary plant nectar sources. In Oregon, one of the major sources is the blackberry bush, since there is a massive abundance of it throughout Oregon. Once it starts blooming, you know the honey flow will begin.
- 10 days to two weeks before the honey flow, (or when the major nectar producing plants begin to bloom) add a honey super on top of the brood chamber.
- To keep the queen out of the honey super so she won't lay eggs, you have a couple of options. One is a queen excluder, which is a wire mesh that makes it impossible for the larger queen to pass through. Another option is to use three frames of plain foundation in the middle of the honey super with drawn comb frames on the outside. A queen will always come up to the middle of the super when moving up, and if she sees the plain foundation she won't lay eggs there.
- Keep an eye on how full the honey super gets, and add another super if it begins to get full. The best method is to add the honey supers even before the flow begins. It is better to have too much space for the bees to store honey than have them run out of room and cause them to swarm. You can add 1 to 3 honey supers on top to give them adequate room. It all depends on how strong your colony is and how much honey you think they can produce. Always err on giving them too much room.
- After the honey flow, which is usually sometime around the end of July in areas like western Oregon, you can take off the honey supers to harvest the honey. Honey flow times can vary tremendously depending on location, and can even happen as late as August/September, depending on the types of plants in the area and when they bloom.
If your bees are going to make it through the winter, they need to be well fed and protected against disease. The winter months are when bee diseases are most prevalent. The bees aren't able to leave the hive often, so they are susceptible to more diseases. Below are some steps to help your bees survive the winter months.
- Check to make sure your colony is strong enough to winter. There should be a good amount of bees covering at least 7-8 of the frames in the hive. If the colony is not strong, you may want to join two weaker colonies together. First, you will need to kill the queen in one of the colonies. Next, place a newspaper between the suppers of each colony and insert a super on top of the other with the newspaper in between. The bees will gradually bite through the newspapers and introduce each other slowly. This makes it easier on the bees and will most likely not invoke problems with the two hives merging.
- Make sure they have sufficient sugar or honey stores. 35-50 pounds of honey is a good rule of thumb for a stable, healthy colony. The weather can also affect their food consumption. The colder the weather, the more the bees will eat.
- If you are not leaving the bees honey stores to eat over the winter, use a pollen patty or hard candy called a candy board. You can even use dry sugar in some cases. Do not feed bees sugar water during the winter, because it will cause them to create waste in the hive since they can't fly outside due to bad weather. This could prove fatal to the colony. A pollen patty, which is a mixture of sugar syrup, white granulated sugar, soy flour, yeast and bee pollen, is a good food to feed them during winter. You combine these ingredients and shape them into a patty and insert into the hive. The bees will nibble on it all winter and get the nutrition and protein they need to survive the winter.
- Early winter (around October) is when you want to do another round of disease control.
- Put on entrance reducers. The entrance reducers will keep out yellow jackets that want to rob the hive of food and will also help keep the cold out of the hive.
- Tilt hives a bit so that water falls off.
- Create an upper entrance in the hive by drilling a small hole. The hole will allow condensation and moisture to escape and keep the hive dry.
- From the beginning of October to February, don't bother the bees.