On this blog, Fridays are being dedicated to beekeeping. I can only talk about real estate for so long or it makes my head spin. Bees are much more fun to talk about!
I had dinner with some of my beekeeper friends last night. We were discussing the unusual winter and spring and how it has affected our bees. It’s an old adage among beeks that if you ask 5 beekeepers the same question, you’ll get 6 different answers. Strangely, we were all of one accord yesterday: No one has ever seen a year quite like this one.
Because of the extremely mild winter, the trees and other blooming thingies began their quest for pollination back in the end of February – about a month too soon. Bees usually are clustered together in tight balls dreaming bee dreams during the cold and snowy days of February. They are not out foraging and raising the queen’s babies, like they were this year. End result? Enormous numbers of bees bringing in enormous amounts of nectar, and packing it all in the brood chambers, for lack of space.
This is called being “honey bound.” It’s sort of like constipation for beehives. They get so clogged up (but with good, tasty stuff and not crud) that the hives cannot function properly. Queens have inadequate space for egg-laying, and the brood is spread out all over the frames, instead of being tightly packed together, making it harder for the nurse bees to keep it all warm on chilly nights. So – honey bound hives swarm. Sometimes more than once. Sometimes several times – the first one with a queen, and the others, queenless.
Mat (who is my contractor and also my friend and an awesome beekeeper) was posting his swarm capture numbers this week – it was up to 12 or 15 by the time we all had dinner together last night. Chris (friend and president of our beekeeping club) had gone through all his equipment and borrowed stuff from another beek to keep his hives going. I completely ran out of stuff – thankfully my new order from the beekeeping supply place arrived yesterday, and the cartons are stacked up to the living room ceiling.
What to do about it? We discussed several options last night. I am going to put an empty super at the bottom of my most giant hive to give the queen room to lay and also keep the young bees busy making honeycomb and not thinking about swarming. I’m going to pull out every frame of capped honey I can find (something else unusual for May), extract them, and replace the emptied frames into the brood boxes of other hives to hopefully fill with eggs. Since all my Langstroth boxes are mediums, every frame is interchangeable.
The alternate plan of action is doing a “shake swarm” where you take every frame out of a hive and shake off all the bees into a new, empty hive and let them start over. It’s messy. Bees are unhappy. Beekeepers will get stung. Maybe a lot.
Hopefully I can keep all my bees from flying away. And if they do… they leave the honey behind for me.