Updated: Apr 17
As April arrived we've had some nice spring weather and some cool spells. This is common as spring arrives to have a little snow and cooler rainy weather thrown in to make life fun. The hive is growing, drones are here and swarm/divide season is close at hand. I've already heard of a few swarm events, and it will become more active in the next few weeks so, now is the time to do swarm prevention. You want to preempt swarming if possible and take action before you
see swarm cells. I like to inspect my hives for indications of swarming around the middle of April (now).
Strong healthy hives will want to swarm so the fact your hive wants to swarm is a good sign that you are doing things right! It's not difficult to help them do an artificial swarm which will fulfill the hive's instinct to divide at this time of abundance in preparation for the next winter season.
The principal being applied here is removing brood from the queen so she can go back to work laying and will make them feel that swarming has already happened or is not prudent at this time due to a lack of brood resources.
The first question you should ask is "Do I want another hive for myself or to sell, or do I just want to control the need for the hive to swarm?"
Making a Split for increase or to sell:
You can pull a nuc split (5 frames; 2 of honey and pollen, 2 with capped brood, plus shaking off 2 brood frames with nurse bees into the nuc). It is best to take the original queen out if you're making them raise a new queen. The strong remaining queenless hive will produce the best new queen. If you don't find the queen you can leave her in the original hive and buy a new one for the nuc box.
Controlling the need for the Hive to Swarm:
1. Double screen board - By using a double screen board you are basically removing all but 2 of the frames of brood placing them in a deep box above the double screened board, leaving the queen in the hive below with 3-4 empty frames to lay eggs on. The brood and bees you moved above the double screen board will act as a queenless hive and start to raise queen cells. Even though they share heat from the lower hive, they won't be able to spread the queen pheromon by not being able to touch the bees in the lower box because of the double screen board.
If you want a new queen you can let them raise one while the brood you've moved up hatches over the next 3 weeks. They will take a 4 day old just hatched larva and raise several queens. I usually select the 2 best looking cells and knock off the rest after 4-5 days. The new queen will take about 24-30 days to hatch, mate and start laying her own eggs. Now you have 2 hives one on top of the other (only requiring a third deep box and using the same bottom board and top) You can now find the old queen in the lower hive and remove her. Then place some newspaper between the 2 hives with a couple of knife slits in the paper and the bees will now merge together becoming one big hive. Requeening is an important step in keeping your overwintered hive strong and vibrant and having good honey producers. Older queens will start to slow down with the amount of eggs they lay and the hive will not perform as strongly and your honey crop will be light and your hive will struggle because of it.
2. Checkerboard Method: - This method keeps the original hive intact but give the queen room to lay and reduces the need to swarm. This is assuming you have a 2 deep box with brood in both boxes and and the bees are starting to feel crowded. I put on a third box and pull the 3rd, 5th, and 7th frame out and place them in the corresponding location in the 3rd box putting the empty frames from the third box back in the same 3rd, 5th and 7th location in the second box. Essentially swapping those frames in the 2nd and 3rd box. This act makes the queen go back to laying vigorously and I have had excellent results with it tamping down the swarm instinct. It's easy to do and doesn't require finding the queen and only needs the third box you should already have. The 3rd box will become the honey super and when the honey flows come, the worker bees will push the brood laying down and out of the 3rd box. They will backfill cells with nectar and honey as the brood hatches, forcing the queen to move her brood nest down.
Action items for April-
1. Do a mite treatment if you haven't already (I do mine in march).
2. 2nd Salvation Salve treatment in overwintered hives.
3. Do your spring hive inspection, making sure the bottom board is free of dead bees.
4. Do something to control swarming (prevention is better than reacting once capped swarm cells are present).
5. Feed your hive syrup and substitute pollen until they start bring the nectar/pollen in strongly on their own (usually the first part of April) depending on weather. If we're experiencing a lot of rainy cold days, they can't go out and forage and may need help keeping the brood nest growing and fed. New hives need to be fed syrup up until you put on the Honey super (3rd box). What you're doing is preparing your first 2 brood boxes with winter stores; the heavier it is in the spring the less you'll have to feed in the fall to get them up to weight for winter.
6. I keep entrance reducers on new hives for a month until they are starting to grow. Over-wintered hives won't need a reducer unless you split it heavily; then you may want to leave it on the bigger entrance for a month until they rebuild.
Okay, I know that's a big To-Do list! But you can do it! As always feel free to email or text with questions, and until next time, keep your Hive Alive!