Dear Fellow Beekeepers
Hello to everyone and hope that you are doing well. It is late February of 2021 and hopefully everyone’s bees have made it thus far through the winter. As you know we have had a rough week or so lately with snow, ice, and very cold weather that have definitely stressed the bees but this is all part of the natural cycle of weather and the bees are used to it.
I wanted to give everyone some information about what to expect in the coming weeks and months :
Flowers and pollen :
I just noticed the first blooms of henbit or deadnettle today in my yard. These two flowers are very close relatives and can be difficult to tell apart but are members of the mint family and have a small purple colored flower (see below picture)
If you are really interested here is a link to a nice article about the two closely related flowers:
Nevertheless, these two flowers are some of the earliest to bloom and do provide pollen that you may see coming into the hive. The maple and the elm tree will also start to produce pollen from their bloom in late February and provide a very nice pollen load for the bees in order to feed the new larvae that are present in the hive. Simple observation of the outside entrance to the hive in the coming weeks will tell you all that you need to know – pollen laden worker bees returning from the field indicate a laying queen inside the hive. Simply stand to the side of the entrance, observe returning bees, and look for pollen on the legs of the bees returning. Here is a nice video of returning bees laden with pollen:
My experience last year was that the dandelions bloomed in the third week of March, the bees do obtain pollen and nectar from this flower and it is one of the earlier blooms for the bees.
Winter Feed :If you have placed winter feed on your hive I would leave it there for now. The bees will continue to take it for now, if it consistently gets warm then some beekeepers start to feed liquid sugar 1:1 for the newly laid eggs and subsequent larvae. I removed my solid feed last year the 3rd week in March when the dandelion started to bloom. If you have fed sugar block then you can always remove it and then dissolve it in water in order to feed as liquid feed.
I would tell you that most hives do not die out from lack of feed in December, January, or February but due to a prolonged cold snap in March. The hive will have produced lots of brood and larvae but will be unable to feed them in March due to their honey stores being depleted. So you do need to watch them closely but if you have been feeding them this should not be a problem.
Here are some bees feeding on sugar block in January of this year.
These bees were finished with their feed in early February :
and then were happy to get some more in their hive before the ice storm :
Equipment :As I have noted in previous emails, take the time NOW to get prepared for what you are going to want to perform in April. Repair and paint your hive bodies, make up new hive bodies, get new frames ready to go, start to get material ready for that new hive stand that you want to create, if you are going to place swarm boxes this spring get them ready, etc. Trust me, when April gets here you are going to be so busy with other things that you will be glad to have all this equipment ready now.
Purchasing Nucs or Packages :I am going to give everyone my opinion but I will warn you beforehand : This is my opinion only and by no means do I claim to be the expert on this subject so please take this with a grain of salt.
My experience is that when March gets here everyone gets really anxious about getting new hives and to get started with beekeeping. Many people will order packages from out of state and this is a common practice. I personally think that, as other much more experienced beekeepers have told me before, package bees “don’t give you the proper mix of bees”. That is to say that package bees don’t really have the proper mixture of nurse bees, foraging bees, young bees, old bees, etc and they really need to rely on the queen to start laying new eggs. So it takes time for this to occur.
Or the other option is that folks order nucs from out of state, usually Georgia or Florida. Nucs are typically 5 frame hives of bees with a laying queen and capped brood – thus they have a head start over the package variety. This is also fine and very commonly performed, you install your nuc in a 8 or 10 frame hive body and let them get started.
Here is my point : no matter what you do in terms of ordering packages or nucs, you now have out of state bees that are not used to this climate or area or flowers or whatever. So you get those bees in their new surroundings and guess what happens? Nothing. They kind of sit there and get acclimated to their new surroundings and it just seems like they don’t get much done till mid to late April anyway.
I personally think that you are much better off ordering nucs from local beekeepers from your region. So for this region you typically start raising your nucs in early April with a capped queen cell which means that for all practical purposes you should expect a nuc with a laying queen in it by early May – please remember that this is weather dependent. Two beekeepers in this area that have been in the business for many years are Eddie Wilson and Sherman Sparks and they consistently supply nucs for sale each spring. They do this together and you can reach Eddie at (606) 392-1262. I produced some nucs last year and will do so again this year, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested. I do not think that there is anyone else that I know locally that produces local nucs BUT if this is not correct please let me know – I do not want to leave anyone out if they are active in nuc production.
Here is the appearance of a typical 5 frame nuc.
Splits :I have had several people send me questions regarding when to split your hives in the spring. The thing that is the most important to remember is that the drones are driven out of the hive in the fall after the first frost. There is no need for drones (males) in the hive during the winter if they are not going to be productive in terms of hive maintenance. Then in the spring the queen will be directed by the hive collective to start laying drone eggs and they will start to appear in this region in mid to late March. So there is no need to split your hive in early March before there are any drones ready to mate with a newly hatched queen. Usually I will start splits in early April. We can speak more on this later hopefully if we ever resume our meetings.
Swarms:I caught my first swarm last year on April 18th in my apiary and my first feral swarm in early May. You can set up swarm traps if you so desire in early April. If you are interested there are many youtube videos and internet articles available regarding the production and implementation of swarm traps.
I hope that this is informative for all the beekeepers out there and I continue to urge everyone to stay safe during this time of COVID. Hopefully we can restart the meetings sometime this year but I do not expect this to happen anytime soon. I will try to talk with everyone soon either in person or via email.
Kent J. KesslerPresident, Madison County Beekeepers Association