A Year in the Life of a Beekeeper: Updated!

A Year in the Life of a Beekeeper – My personal view – (Updated with each new BBB)

A monthly beekeeping task and management calendar of events

While visiting a CENLA Beekeeper Club member in early February, he made a recommendation that I send out monthly, a notice of what we as beekeepers should/could be doing that month with our hives and what we should be expecting/planning for in the next month.  That sounded like a very good idea.  Some of this can be found within the chart we’ve passed out at several of our meetings over the last few years:  A year in the Life of a Beekeeper – An Annual Beekeeping Task and Management Calendar*.  {*Capital Area Beekeepers Association; Baton Rouge, LA publication}

What I’m presenting with these monthly exposes is directed at the hobby beekeeper, not the commercial, queen breeder or queen rearer, though they too would carry out much of what I’m stating.    In all cases, I document all my visits and what I do with a field book.  Never trust your memory and this documentation becomes especially useful over time.

With that in mind, here is what I’m doing this February and what I’m expecting for March.

January

Check colony strength.  Check honey stores.  Repair or replace equipment.  Visit the apiaries/hives at least once a month.

February

By early February I am beginning to prepare for the hive build-up, especially if I’m using Italians or hives that I’ve created from captured swarms – these are prone to early population buildup and need food to do so.

It is this month that I move out of my winter mode of checking the hives once a month, to that of every 2 weeks.  Sometimes I get antsy and start looking at them every week.

I check for honey stores and if lacking I initiate sugar water feeding (2:1 ratio).  Whether I have decent honey reserves or not, I begin feeding pollen concentrates (I use Bee Pro patties from Mann Lake).  Check for colony strength.  Are the numbers low, moderate or high?

I also do a sampling for Varroa mites, using the powdered sugar shake method but you can do a sampling use sticky boards, visual, drone brood sampling (see my talk from fall of 2016), ether roll alcohol wash.  If greater than 2% of the bees are infested, I fumigate with oxalic acid.  This spring all of my hives came through the winter with very low mite populations so I didn’t treat them.  [I’d recommend that you visit Randy Oliver’s website to become familiar with the treatment options and techniques regarding Varroa mite treatments.

{ http://scientificbeekeeping.com/http://www.scientificbeekeeping.com/ }  ]

Looking at my field book from last year, the earliest swarm capture I made was March 17.  With that in mind I believe that swarming season would begin March 1st and that would mean that drones were/are being produced as early as mid-February (it takes about 2 weeks after a drone pupates before it is sexually mature. That would mean that the queens would be pupating out in early March as well.  You should be looking for these things to be occurring.

How best to find these things out you might ask?  Plan on rotating your brood boxes before the first of March.  While doing that you can observe what’s going on inside the hive.

It is this time of year that I monitor the presence and development of the drone brood and drones.  Through monitoring of them I will know when the queens will be produced.

If you are cognizant of queen rearing, then start preparing to do this.  Check for queen productivity.

Continue with your repair or replacement equipment.

March

I’m into that time of year when I visit the yards every week.

Continue to check honey stores and colony strength.  The bee populations will/are building and they will need plenty of pollen and honey/sugars to help create those large populations, good drones and queens.

If you are into swarm capture, then get ready now.  Call and leave your name with the LSU Ag system, local fire and police departments, etc.  Be ready to move quickly.  Have a container handy to place the swarm in, a ladder, pruning shears, clean water &/or sugar water spray bottle, mosquito netting, nuc box at home, etc.  However, before responding to calls ask a few things:

How long has the swarm been there?

How high is it?

What is its size?

Get a contact person’s name and phone number and ask them to call you if the swarm leaves before you get there. If you can’t get to it for several hours, let the caller know that and if you can’t make it, tell them that and recommend someone else, if you know anyone. If you make an appointment to come, do so or call.

My first swarm capture this season came on Wednesday, March 1st.  I captured about 30,000 bees and they are now in a hive with plenty of honey and a pollen patty.

Continue feeding up until the honey flow is on – I began placing patties in mid-February and by February 25th I’d placed a second patty as the first had been consumed.  You will know that the honey flow is on when the bees stop feeding on your sugar water and/or pollen patties and you see them bringing in lots of pollen and filling the hive with honey.  At that time stop feeding, remove the patties and store them in the freezer until later in the year or next spring.

Make colony increases and prepare and/or make hive splits, nucs and prepare for queen rearing.

Plan on adding honey supers as needed – when I have 7 out of 10 frames full of honey I add another.

Treat for ants and vegetation in the yards.

One thing I didn’t mention in the last newsletter but which I do whenever I find the queens, I make sure they are marked.  I do this for new or old, whether in established hives or swarms.  You are there, do it and be prepared at any visit to do it.  There are established color codes but use whatever suits you.

April

With April the honey flow in Central Louisiana is probably in full flow.  At this time of year natural hive production, queen replacements, swarming and the like are occurring.  If you value your bees it behooves you to create splits, capture queen cells, build nucs, and if you choose, to sell queens, nucs, and hives that you have created.

Many queens that overwintered and spent their best creating large populations of bees for this spring’s honey flow have become overextended and many die and/or need replacing.  This is where the nucs and/or queens you’ve been creating come in handy.  I usually replace the queens in those hives that look like the brood pattern is suffering with new queens.   Sometimes, I just replace the queens anyway, rather than wait for a possible failure – it can happen quickly and one week the hive looks great and the next it’s being overrun with wax moths.  Whenever you replace the queen(s) be sure to monitor that hive for the next few weeks to be sure she’s been accepted and brood production is coming on line.

Continue adding honey supers as needed. Treat for ants and vegetation in the yards.

May

In May I continue with weekly hive maintenance by treating for small hive beetles (I use SHB traps on the top frames and a West trap with powdered lime in the bottom, below a screen), ant and vegetation management, adding supers as needed and most importantly:  monitoring the individual hives for brood production and possible pest/diseases.  This latter point will entail breaking open the hives to look at the brood pattern/condition.  I don’t do this every week but I do it at least twice a month.  With strong hives that I’d checked once or twice in mid-March that are full of bees and putting on supers every week or so, I usually break into their brood chambers and check them once this month.  Back in February when I’d rotated the brood boxes I was able to examine my hives in depth.  Now I do a quick perusal of the frames looking for possible signs of swarming (queen cells), brood production, poor brood production, eggs, uncapped larvae, drone brood, etc.

Though all my hives came through the winter with low varroa mite populations, I have sampled for the mites and have treated all my hives with oxalic acid via fumigation.  I do this with all swarms and nucs – once I’ve got them established.  As the bee populations’ increase and the drones come on line, so the mite populations tend to increase.  Sample, monitor and treat as necessary.  This season, I chose not to use drone brood frames to control varroa mites, but if you choose to do so, be sure to pull them once the cells are capped.  It’s always a good idea to break open some of your drone brood and take an inventory as to how many mites you see.  I opened 20 random cells in three out of five hives in one yard and counted two mites.  That indicates a low count – in those hives. As stated above:  [I’d recommend that you visit Randy Oliver’s website to become familiar with the treatment options and techniques regarding Varroa mite treatments.

{http://scientificbeekeeping.com/http://www.scientificbeekeeping.com/}]

This last April I did lose some queens but was able to save all the hives’ bees by either requeening or hive combinations.  The nice thing about combining hives is that you can always come back and split those hives and add a new queen – if you have them (queen cells/nucs).  I never combine a hive with obvious disease or heavy mite issues with a strong colony.  As I treat for mites regularly and requeen often, I usually don’t see hives with major disease/mite issues.

As I do my spring honey harvesting the first week of June, I start documenting how many supers I’m going to pull in June, about two weeks prior to harvest.

June

Depending upon the weather, I usually harvest the first week of June.  During the harvest I pull those wooden-ware items that need repair or servicing and replace them.  I should mention that I try and utilize the efforts of new beekeepers during the season not only to train them but to assist with maintenance in the yards.  They often ask for that service and I enjoy their company and help.  It may take longer to complete a field check and sometimes they kill a queen or drop a box but that’s part of the journey to becoming a beekeeper (once a few summers back they managed to wipe out three queens and several queen cells – all in one visit!)  At honey harvest their assistance is greatly appreciated and I give each of them a gallon of honey when we finish.  I should make note here that I “really dislike harvesting and processing honey!”  Whenever I can get help and get this part of the business completed I never say “no thanks”.

June generally is the tail end of the honey flow for CENLA – though this season I’m not so sure.  The floral sources are changing with the weather heating up and the rains slacking off.  Weekly field checks and maintenance continue.  Supers are still added when needed.

Swarm season is or has come to an end by this month.  In your hives, a good indication of this is the lack of drone production.  When the bees stop making drones then they aren’t making queen cells either.  If you are trying to raise queens then you will need drones to mate with them.

July & August

Due to the frequent rains, I wasn’t able to harvest in early June, but rather in early July.  As such, we had a mix of spring honey (more yellowish) and some summer honey’s (amber colored) in our harvest.  When harvesting, I always take empty supers with me to place as needed on those hives where all the supers are pulled – which isn’t often.  Usually there is an uncapped and partially filled super on the top of any hive.

This season, I’m still seeing some drone brood in some brood boxes so there are queen cells being produced in some hives out there.  For the most part however, swarm season is pretty much over.  The summer heat and humidity are in place by now with the respective floral sources at this time of the season.  For Louisiana, most honeys produced in the summer and fall months is amber-colored, versus the lighter more yellowish spring honey.

Weekly field checks and maintenance continue.  Supers are still added when needed.  This year I have started using Swiffers in the tops of my hives for the control of SHB’s.  I’m still using the SHB traps and the West traps.  I use ½ of a 4” x 8” sheet and rotate them out every two weeks.  In one hive where I had an aggressive SHB population I placed two full-sized sheets.  Of note, though I usually look at the West traps every two weeks, due to the weekly rains, I look at them every week.  Reason:  often, after a heavy downpour, the trap gets water in it and the lime needs replacing.

I’m still sampling for varroa and have used oxalic acid fumigation twice over a two week period since May in each hive.  With the frequent rains we’ve been having it was hit or miss getting to the yards with my truck so at one time I used a battery on a small wagon and long battery cables to apply the charge needed to convert the crystalline oxalic acid to a gas.  I avoid using formic acid or MAQ strips in mid-summer due to the heat.

By mid-August I will begin counting the supers that will need harvesting in early September.  By so doing you can plan ahead for what you should be expecting at harvest time, both in space needed in/on the vehicle(s) during removal from the apiary and in materials needed in processing at the processing center.

September–October   

By September I am ready, barring adverse weather, to harvest my supers.  This last August looks a lot like August 2016 – a result of hurricane/tropical storm Harvey.  An inordinate amount of rain has created conditions where it becomes difficult if not impossible to reach the yards with my truck.  What I am seeing in my two yards is that the foraging bees are not bringing in much honey and what they do bring in is being utilized by the hive, resulting in a low super build-up. My last field check-up indicated I will be able to harvest 9 supers from 11 hives – about 22-23 gallons of honey. This may be one of the poorest fall harvests in my record books! What is important to take note of here is that for established hives with two supers and one or more supers of honey, these hives should be able to go into and survive the winter with no supplemental feeding required.  For younger hives, (splits, nucs, this season’s starters, etc., you probably will need to supplement feed them to carry them through the winter.  [You should have a field book and be making notes of this.]  In any case, weekly field checks and maintenance continue.  Supers are still added when needed.

Two noteworthy comments made to me recently are worth documenting:

(1) From Erik Fain of the Lake Area Beekeepers:

“One time in particular, I had a hive I thought was a gonner and I gave it a frame of brood and I mean it was very dramatic how within a matter of a day or two, that hive just bounded into productivity.  I don’t know if you agree with this, but if so, a task that I have in early spring that I think is a good one is if there are hives that are not building up, I take a frame of brood from a strong hive to give it a boost.”

(2) From Billy Jowers of the CENLA Beekeepers:  He noted that the flowering “centipede grass” was covered with honeybees. Here is a website I found regarding this plant:  SEEDLAND http://centipedegrass.com/

Centipede grass is native to China and Parts of Southeast Asia and was brought to the US in 1916. It is found in South America, the West Indies and parts of Africa. It is a slow growing creeping grass and has short stems growing upward.  This makes it resemble a centipede insect and so that is what it is called.

Planting Info For TifBlair Centipede Grass

PLANTING TIFBLAIR CENTIPEDE GRASS instructions — TifBlair Centipede Grass.

BEST TIME TO PLANT CENTIPEDE SEED CENTIPEDE SEED? HELP WITH PLANTING NEW CENTIPEDE LAWNS ABOUT OVERSEEDING EXISTING CENTIPEDE LAWNS

A warm season, thick sod forming, uniform growing, and medium to light green colored grass. Centipede is probably the lowest maintenance of the warm season grasses.  Centipede seed came from Southern China in the early 1900’s and since become one of the most popular grasses in the southern states.

If I didn’t already have an established lawn I’d consider this grass.

I’ve been told by several beekeepers in CENLA that they’ve had a problem with high populations of small hive beetles in some of their hives.  I too have had them blossoming in at least three of my hives.  The Swiffers, West traps and SHB traps have helped in keeping their populations under control.  I’ve been placing 3-5 Swiffers in those hives and replacing them every week.  The Swiffers were literally covered with the beetles.  Stay on these insects else they can easily overwhelm your hives!

When I harvest I use a leaf blower.  This last spring I made a cardinal error in taking my gas-powered blower to the yard before checking that the fuel lines were in good shape – they weren’t!  I’d started it the day before and put fresh fuel in it.  And yes, I only use non-alcohol fuel and I drain and run the tanks dry in the fall in preparation for winterization.  But I forgot to check the quality of the plastic fuel lines.  I’ve since fixed them but I went out and bought a Black and Decker battery-powered leaf blower, charger and extra battery.  Each of the Li-ion batteries last 20 minutes – more than enough time for removing the supers.  Now I won’t have to carry fuel and worry about the darn things starting up or dying.  I should have done this years ago!

Following the harvest I return the next week and rotate my deeps, place two MAQS strips (formic acid) between the deeps.  Then, after 3-4 weeks, I reduce the openings to the hives to about an inch.  I use rags to do this but you can use just about anything that will work – wood, metal, grass, etc.  (I think I might be the only fellow using rags for this.).  At this time I will examine the brood, honey and pollen stores and often, I replace the queen.  Weak hives are either eliminated or joined with stronger hives.  Before joining with another hive I ask why it’s weak.  If it’s diseased it’s better to treat it or eliminate it.  If you’ve been managing for varroa that shouldn’t be an issue.  Do a sampling for the mite if questionable.  In October, I often provide Bee Pro patties in the hives so the bees will have a good pollen source for the brood going into the winter. NOTE:  monitor the patties – if you see larvae infesting the patty, pull it and place in the freezer.  Give it to the bees later.  Also, if you have a problem with SHB in your hives at this time, don’t put the patty in hive until the beetles are brought under control.

Why replace the queen at this time you may ask?  You want a strong queen/hive going into the fall and winter thereby providing a good base to begin with when the spring arrives.  You plan for strong spring hives by building strong hives in late summer and early fall!

Starting in October I may start pulling back from visiting the hives every week and begin with two-week interval checks.  I’m looking for food reserves, possible honey build-ups (that can happen with warm falls that seem to go forever).  You may be able to pull honey again but whatever you do, in this area, always leave the bees all the uncapped honey and one super for two brood boxes.  When you rotated the brood boxes, the box that was on the top should have been filled with honey – it is now below the brood, which was in the bottom brood box.  The bees now have honey and pollen above and below the brood and what will be the “core” of the hive during the winter.

If you’ve done your job well, you should have a well-established, well-fed hive going into the fall.  Congratulations – now you can start thinking about repairing all the frames and woodwork you’ve collected that were damaged or needed repair/painting/replacing.  They will need to be ready come spring.  Think about what you might want to order this winter.  But that’s months away.

November – December… coming soon… stay tuned!

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