The Hive Life – Sweet Rewards of Spring

by J. David Weidner

The months of April, May and June are by far the busiest for our bees and for beekeepers.  These months correspond with the peak of swarm season and if your colonies survived the cold winter, they should be multiplying extremely rapidly in preparation to cast off a swarm.  This is the method that honeybee colonies, these awesome superorganisms, multiply and expand to establish new hive locations.  Our colonies will soon attempt to maximize their populations and when the time is right, the bees will produce a swarm cell and the old queen will leave the original hive location.  The new virgin queen will soon emerge, fly from the hive and mate with several drones during mating flights.  The new queen will mate with as many as 15-20 drones before she then begins to lay eggs.  The evolution of the honeybee colony has thus been completed.

Honeybee swarm

As a beekeeper, you must conduct routine inspections at this time of the year and provide your colonies with enough space to expand.  If your main goal is to produce a honey crop, it stands to reason that you would want a strong colony with lots of foragers to bring in lots of nectar and produce lots of honey.  To obtain a good honey crop, a honey bee colony should have about 50,000 bees.  During these ever warming months, when a large colony is not provided with enough space and nectar begins to flood the hive, beehive colonies typically are likely to swarm.  It is our responsibility as beekeepers to manage our colonies in such as manner as not to encourage our hives to swarm and to “keep them in the hives and out of the trees”.  

The months of April, May and June are when the largest nectar flows occur in New Jersey and you need to be prepared to capture this brief opportunity.  If you haven’t done so already, get your honey supers on in early May.  During a strong nectar flow, the bees will draw out nice clean white wax and quickly fill these new honey combs with nectar.  You can add additional honey supers as your boxes become full.  

If one of your goals is to expand the number of colonies that you wish to maintain, the spring is the perfect time to make splits.  There are several methods of splitting a hive.  You might wish to simply divide your hive into two equal parts and “walk away”, allowing the bees to produce their own queen. You might wish to combine a swarm cell and several frames of bees and allow them to make their own queen or you may consider splitting your colony by purchasing a mated queen.  While each method works, there are various advantages and disadvantages to each method to consider and it would be wise to do some research prior to attempting them.

Beehive raising a new queen. Large peanut-shaped capped queen cell on edge of brood comb.

As always, I strongly recommend monitoring your colonies for varroa mites.  There are several mite treatments that are acceptable for use on your bees when honey supers are on.  These treatments do not leave any residues in honey.  Varroa mite levels will elevate with a continued increase in honeybee population.  I recently attended a beekeeping conference and the State Apiarist indicated that treatment thresholds for mites have lowered.  Therefore, if you find varroa mites in your hives, it is strongly recommended that you treat appropriately.

April, May and June are the months that beekeepers can enjoy watching their bees do what they do best – multiply and make honey.  These are the sweet rewards of beekeeping, but in order to reap these benefits fully, you need to MANAGE your bees!

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