Sort of like cats, only there are a LOT more of them and they can be pretty testy when they think you are getting too personal.
This week we started doing the spring manipulations that would encourage our bees to be happy in the home they have rather than split their hive and swarm.
Swarming is the way bees reproduce the hive. Basically, they increase the number of bees and stores they have available in early spring and when they run out of room to grow, they produce a new queen and the older queen takes most of the young bees and leaves with them to find new quarters.
It’s an admirable survival strategy for wild bees, but less desirable if we would like for them to put their energy into honey production rather than leave us to take up quarters in the neighbor’s barn.
So how can we nudge them to make a decision to stay?
The bees began laying eggs to hatch out spring bees early in January – or even late in December, when you and I were just deciding to have winter. The young bees that hatch will take on the hive cleaning and building chores for the first few weeks of their lives and, so long as there is space and available resources (i.e. stored honey or nectar from flowers) they are happy to create comb for the queen to lay more eggs. And so long as she has room to lay, the hive will not have reached the critical point at which they decide to swarm.
So, in order to keep them happily busy building their hive (in boxes where the hive has already been built) we go in and take a few frames of last year’s unused comb and replace them with frames that have holes in them. Not liking the idea of empty spaces in the middle of their brood nest, the bees will busily begin to draw comb for the queen to fill with eggs. And so long as we can keep them busy with this project, they will be happy to stay. Or, so we hope.
For the beekeepers among our readers, this strategy is explained more completely by Walt Wright and Matt Davey. Walt’s book on hive management can be found in the article archives at www.beesource.com while Matt’s are most easily found on his website:
Our calary pear trees are in bloom now and the spring wildflowers are just around the corner. It’s going to be a great year for beekeeping!!