What are your beekeeping goals for 2021?
Is it too early to be setting goals for the remainder of your 2020-2021 beekeeping year? Remember that your beekeeping year begins in August or September (some people say October). If the bees had a concept of a year, when would it start? I posit that the bee’s year begins in the winter, when the queen begins to lay eggs that will develop into the brood buildup for the spring increase. I have been told that the queens of some sub-species may start laying as early as the Winter Solstice.
What Are the Bees Doing?
It is now the first weekend in March. We have had some oscillating weather … days that were warm and the bees were out frolicking, bringing in pollen, making cleansing flights, etc. Then we have had some very cold days that the bees have had to stay clustered all day. These are the conditions that will kill your hives in spring, especially if they do not have enough bees left to cover the brood that the queen is laying and reach food. It is truly sad to find bees that starve to death within inches of honey and piles of fondant.
I have lost one hive so far … the nuc that I was trying to overwinter. I was sceptical that it would survive because of the population, my late fall / early winter mite situation. Looking at the frames that I photographed from that deadout, they still had Varroa problems. They might not have ever had a full brood break or my attempts to use oxalic acid sublimation to knock down the mites failed. Probably all of the above.
Looking at my IPM trays, all my queens have been laying for some time. Not massive amounts, but definitely I see the debris from brood uncapping, and I have seen that since early February, so new brood was laid as early as mid-January.
It is too early to open boxes and pull frames to inspect the hives. Yes, we have had some days that the outside temps have been in the 50’s and that is safe for a quick peek up top to put on more fondant if needed, but what matters right now is how cold it gets at night. If I disturb the cluster when there is brood being covered and it gets cold at night, the brood will be chilled and die, or the cluster will not reform quickly enough and bees will freeze. I will be patient. The only hives where I will pull frames are those where I suspect a dead-out and I can’t find any evidence of life without pulling frames … and that nearly caused a disaster.
Preparing for Spring
It seems that winter went by much too fast. I have not spent much time working on the winter activities that are recommended for beekeepers (See “Tucking Them In for Winter” for a partial list). So I am playing a rushed game of “catch up” and fighting with spring/winter/spring/winter weather. Crocuses were in bloom on February 10 and the bees were bringing in some pollen then. We since then had some snow and ice, then a big warm-up, then a freeze. This coming week, temperatures are supposed to get into the low 70’s.
Refurbishing and Building Woodenware
I stacked up all my boxes that were not on a hive for refurbishment and preparation for spring. 2 deeps, 11 mediums, 3 shallows. I also have 3 deeps that I have not yet assembled. Also 12 inner covers (I am using absorbent boards instead of inner covers this year), a few shims, queen excluders and other bits and pieces need attention.
All my boxes are getting retrofitted with metal frame shelves. These are thin strips of metal that lie on top of the wood of the frame shelf and are nailed to the inside of the box to hold them in place. I am hoping that they will make it easier to clean off the propolis that the bees like to stick between the frames on the shelves, without damaging the wood. Keeping the shelves free of propolis makes it easier to slide the frames when making inspections. So far, the ones that I deployed over winter feeders have rusted. This was a surprise. I thought that they were stainless steel strips, and that stainless steel does not rust. One of those too statements must be false. However, even a rusty metal strip should be more slippery than a propolized wooden shelf. A steel brush got them nice and shiny again.
Boxes that do not have cleats above the finger-hold indentations will get them. It is much easier to lift a box full of honey with the cleats. I use lengths of 3/4″ square dowel, cut to 8 1/2″ in length, sanded smooth, glued and nailed above the finger-hold indentations.
Any repair and repainting of boxes gets done at the same time. Some of my boxes were rushed onto the hives last year, without proper painting. My preference is to prepare each box with two coats of primer and two coats of latex paint.
Building More Frames
If I’m going to make cut comb, in shallow boxes, I will need more shallow frames with surplus foundation. If I am going to deploy more deep boxes, I will need more deep frames. All these need to be assembled from pieces, and then have the wax foundation inserted. I have not decided whether to wire or just use hair pins to support the foundation. Perhaps it is time to invest in a frame assembly jig. It takes a long time to assemble them one at a time.
I have made a spreadsheet inventory of all the equipment that I have on hand, either on one of my hives, or undeployed. I have also calculated precisely how many pieces of equipment will be needed to fully equip myself. My plan is to reduce to ten full-size (10-frame double-deep brood nest) colonies. I would like to have enough equipment on hand to support twelve hives, which gives me enough spare pieces that I can swap things out for refurbishment, or make an emergency split, or hive a swarm.
Warning : This pages are part of my ‘Bee Babble’ series. The content is intended for a specific audience and is subject to my disclaimer