Managing honey bees for honey production and pollination was the topic of the fourth week of the FBI’s beekeeping class. During this class, we learned different management techniques for keeping bees to harvest honey and for pollination. Eric Kenoyer taught this class. Some of the things brought up in the beekeeping class is probably only correct for the Midwest.
Three spring management techniques used in the spring are establishing a colony, caring for a new colony, and managing an overwintered colony. Establishing a new colony can be done a couple ways. It can either be done by installing a package, buying a nuc, buying an overwintered colony, or splitting a overwintered colony. Buying a package, buying a nuc, and buying a overwintered colony are all ways to get into beekeeping. Buying a package and buying a nuc are the most common ways to get started. Caring for a new colony is inspecting a new colony and building the colony up. One wants their hives to be healthy. A healthy hive has good nutrition, a young fertile queen, and should not have a damaging level of diseases and parasites. One can make sure that the colony will have good nutrition by giving them sugar water and a pollen patty before the spring bloom begins. Evidence of a young, fertile queen is a strong brood pattern with eggs and larvae of all stages. Usually, no extra honey is produced by the bees the first year. Managing an overwintered colony can include splitting the hive. Splitting the hive means taking part of the hive and part of the bees and creating two hives from one.
During spring the bees will be looking for food. The first food for the bees is dandelions. This is why beekeepers are always telling people not to spray dandelions. Another floral source for bees is clover. Yellow sweet clover and Dutch clover are especially good flowers for bees. It is important to have lots of floral sources for bees to forage. If possible, having flowers that are in bloom from early spring to late fall is ideal. Some of the best floral sources for bees are considered weeds.
One of the biggest factors a beekeeper has to consider when managing for honey production is swarming. Swarming is a colony’s natural way to reproduce, When a colony swarms, it goes from one colony to two or more. The colony size, the queen, congestion in the brood nest, and worker age can all be causes of swarming. A large colony will swarm. If the colony is two big for the space they have, they will swarm. As a general rule, if the bees have filled seven to ten of the frames in the top box they need another box. Whether a deep or a super box is added depends on the time of year. A deep is added in early spring if the colony only has one deep. If the bees already have two deeps, honey supers are often added. The queen can cause a swarm if her pheromone is not being distributed through to hive well enough. If this happens the bees will make a new queen then they will swarm. To prevent this colonies can be split. Congestion in the brood nest causes swarms because the bees simply do not have enough space. This can be prevented by making sure the bees have enough space in the brood nest. If there are too many worker bees in a colony, they will sometimes swarm. This happens because the young worker bees do not want to stick to their job. They want to become foragers, but because there are not any younger bees they are stuck with being nurse or house bees. There are many reasons that the bees swarm, but these are some of the main reasons.
When the bees are preparing to swarm, they make swarm cells. Swarm cells are enlarged, peanut-shaped cells that bees raise queens in when preparing to swarm. Swarm cells are found on the bottom of the frame. When the swarm cells have been capped, the mother queen will take half the colony and leave the hive in search of a new home. The first queen to emerge will take over as queen and will kill her competitors. If two queens emerge at almost the same time, they will fight until one kills the other. Sometimes the first queen to emerge will take half of the remaining bees and swarm again. In this case, the second queen to emerge will become the queen of the colony.
Sometimes a beekeeper will see swarm cells built off the middle of the frame. These are not swarm cells; they are either supercedure cells or emergency queen cells. Supercedure cells are queen cells that the bees make when they want to replace their queen. They will replace their queen if she is failing, not producing enough brood consistently, or if they do not like her. Emergency queen cells are queen cells the bees create to make a queen if she suddenly disappeared. If a colony does not have a queen there will be no eggs, more then one egg per cell, no brood, or only drone brood. If there is more then one egg and only drone brood, a worker is laying the eggs. A laying worker bee is a worker that develops the capabilities to produce eggs. Because workers cannot mate with drones they can only produce drones. A colony will die off if they are only producing drones. There are two ways to remove a laying worker from a hive. If it is a strong hive, you take the frames 150 yards away from where the hive is and shake all the bees off onto the ground. Then put the boxes back. All the bees, except laying workers, will go back to the hive. If it is a weak colony, the best thing might be to shake the bees off in front of a stronger hive. The bees will enter into this stronger colony and stay. Sometimes a new queen can lay multiple eggs when they first start out laying. Eventually she will stop laying multiple eggs. Sometimes it is essential to replace a queen. This can be done by either buying a queen or letting the colony raise their own queen. A beekeeper should buy a queen if the hive has no eggs. If a hive has eggs, they can create their own queen.