Most overwintered hives consumed little of the supplemental sugar added in the fall. Red maple pollen and nectar have kickstarted brood rearing, including drone brood in comb drawn within the small void caused by the winter feeding shim.
The hives had lots of activity during warm afternoons in early February.
Nearly all of our hives were left with enough honey stores that they haven't consumed the sugar that was added in December as "insurance" against starvation during a long winter.
A few hives were given patties containing protein and carbohydrates to stimulate brood rearing a little earlier than they would otherwise kick into gear to (hopefully) permit some early spring splits.
This hive swarmed or absonded from a colony somewhere in Easton in late September. Despite feeding with 2:1 syrup in October, it did not store a lot for the winter. More sugar and a portion of a pollen patty were added to sustain it until the spring flow.
During the winter, bees thermoregulate by clustering together tightly. Notwithstanding outside temperatures, the core of the cluster is maintained at 80+ degrees. When temperatures rise above 50-degrees, bees will break from the cluster and make cleansing flights. These industrious bees found yellow and red pollen somewhere, perhaps witch hazel, on January 6th.
Winter Cluster Information
To ensure no hive starves, all are supplemented with loose sugar or sugar bricks in case the hive consumes its honey before nectar flow begins in the spring. Few hives consume any/much of the sugar. In the spring, all remaining sugar will be mixed into syrup to feed new hives and splits.
Hives get a 1-1/2" shim to provide provide an upper entrance for ventilation to carry humid air out of the hive. Foam insulation is placed under the outer cover to reduce potential for condensation, which could drip onto and chill the clustered bees.
Mice like the protected, dry and slightly warmer environment of bee hives as much as they enjoy houses and garages. Hive entrances are reduced to <1" and screened to exclude mice.
New hives made by splitting larger hives in the summer consumed lots of nectar to generate wax to produce new comb and may have less honey stored for winter. They are supplemented through feeding of heavy sugar syrup (2:1 sugar/water mix), which the bees move into comb, dry down, and cap with wax like honey.
In addition to confirming their "winter stores", we review hives for strength and consolidate weaker hives by removing one queen. A common beekeeping mantra is "take your losses in the fall". This recommends combining weak hives, which both may be less likely to survive the winter, into a single, larger hive to increase its chances of survival to spring.
Honey supers are removed from the hives for extraction of the honey.
After bees evaporate the moisture content down to 16-17%, they cap the cured honey with wax. The white wax cappings are shaved off using a knife to open the honey comb for extraction.
After the wax capping is removed, the frames are placed in a extractor, which spins the frames and extracts the honey through centrifugal force.
As honey flows out of the extractor, it is gently filtered through a wire mesh sieve to remove wax capping crumbs, propolis and larger pollen particles.
Bees filled comb in the honey supers--shallower boxes placed about the deep brood boxes for honey storage and collection. Nectar is placed in the cells of the comb and cured through evaporation, then capped with new, white wax.
Borage planted in our new wildflower meadow was visited frequently by the bees this month.
Several hot days in late June, the bees were "bearding" in the afternoons and evenings. With hive populations at a peak, some bees gather outside the hive to maintain an appropriate broodnest temperature inside the hive.
Nucs created in April grew into double deep hives at a new beeyard in Trappe and will be used for honey production next spring.
We replaced queens and expanded our apiary using the "On-The-Spot" or OTS method of queen rearing developer by Mel Disselkoen. This involves removal of older queens to a nuc box, notching or compressing the bottoms of cells just after eggs hatch, and managment of resulting queen cells.
Queen cells capped in a full hive are moved to a queen castle, which is a deep hive box divided into compartments with separate entrances. Each compartment requires only 2-3 frames and provides an efficient space for new queens to emerge, mate and begin laying.
After the new queen is laying, the 2 frames in a compartment of the queen castle are moved to a 5-frame nuc box to provide room for additional brood and pollen and nectar storage.
Queens raised in March and April are laying well. Nucs started in April are outgrowing their 5-frame boxes and moved up to 10-frame boxes.
Hive populations are rapidly expanding as queens daily lay 1,000+ eggs, each of which will be a new bee in 3 weeks
The very busy bees are returning to the hives with pollen and nectar dawn to dusk.
Screened boxes containing 3 lbs of bees and a queen were delivered from Georgia and "installed" in new hives in early April. After the bees are shaken into the hive, they immediately begin drawing comb and collecting pollen and nectar.
Robust, over-wintered hives were "split" to build up more hives and to reduce the potential for swarming by our honey producers. Nucleus hives made last fall were either split or moved into 10-frame production hive boxes.
The stronger a hive is, the more honey it can produce. Several older queens were replaced with new mated queens to improve brood production. A queen in an overly defensive hive was pinched/replaced--getting stung isn't fun.
The beekeeping activity begins. Spring weather finally arrived and began to trigger swarming of growing hives. We collected two swarms in late April. Please let us know if you find a swarm your yard.
We deployed swarm traps in Wye Mills, St. Michaels, Easton, Oxford, Trappe, Cambridge and Denton. Hopeful of adding new local, feral honeybee genetics to our apiaries
Queens kicked egg laying into high gear. Hives have frames full of brood like this. 9 days after an egg is laid, the cell is "capped" to protect the developing bee. Worker bees emerge 10-12 days later. Can you find the queen?
The bees are really active on warm days are are returning with pollen. The hives have brood and will begin to rapidly expand in population. Red maples are beginning to bloom.
We've assembled and painted a lot of new woodenware. Welcome change to be able to paint outside in the sun!
The last of the new nucleus hive boxes stacked and drying--soon to be used for spring splits.
When temperatures creep in to the 50s and 60s, the bees are happy to leave the hive for cleansing flights. We treated to reduce mite levels before the spring brood buildup begins.
We're still working on assembly and painting of new brood and nuc boxes, feeders and honey supers to expand our bee yards during 2018.
We are assembling lots of frames and new swarm traps. If you're interested in helping us to grow this year and live in Talbot County, please consider hosting a swarm trap (follow the link above).
We've ordered new bee packages and reserved Maryland-raised queens bred for mite and disease resistance, high honey production, and gentleness. We will install the packages in hives in early April and re-queen several hives when the queens arrive in May.
Winter hive prep competed by adding a shim with a hole to provide ventilation and a top entrance to each hive. Ventilation is essential to winter survival to prevent moisture from condensing under the hive cover and dripping onto the bee cluster.
New this year, several hives also received a "quilt box" -- a box with a breathable bottom (screen or burlap) and a few 1"+ holes in the sides that is filled with pine shavings to facilitate exchange of humid air inside the hive.
We're also busy assembling and painting new hive bodies, honey supers, frames and swarm traps to put to use as soon as the dandelions bloom in a few short months.
The brood raised now will be the bees that sustain the hive through the winter. We're continuing inspections for mites and small hive beetles. Hives that are light on stores for the winter are getting top feeders with 2:1 sugar syrup to top off the hive's winter food supply.