Charlie's monthly beekeeping calendar

Your monthly guide of beekeeping tips for you and your hives

May 13, 2024

To all SBA Members,

I have requeened all my hives with 2024 queens and replaced all my dead-out hives with nucs this spring. Also, I am in process reorganizing my apiary to be more focused on honey production and less on nuc production. I have been busy managing all my honey hives that made it through the winter in the single brood chamber management configuration, and adding honey supers to each hive when needed. All my strong hives have two honey supers so far and I will hopefully have a good honey crop this year. Interestingly, the locust and poplar trees are currently blooming, which is about two weeks earlier than usual.

What's new in my apiary?

After doing two years of research and asking countless questions, I finally pulled the trigger and bought a hydraulic hive lifter. The hive lifter is like a four wheel hand truck that can lift the whole hive or multiple supers at one time so you can under super or load full honey supers onto your truck for extraction. What a back saver!

You can see the hive lifter in action on my YouTube video, starting 20 minutes into the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5ZFuN2hUKs

Swarm season

Swarm season is in full swing. I have heard a lot of beekeepers talking about either their hives swarming or that they have been capturing swarms, and I have had multiple swarm calls from people in Baltimore and Harford County.

Swarm Prevention

For the past two years, I have been using a technique called hive equalization that I learned from talking to commercial beekeepers. With this technique, the beekeeper looks at the capped brood frames in the brood chamber and the population of bees in the hive.

If your hive is overflowing with worker bees and has four to six capped brood frames, the queen is running out of room to lay eggs. Even with no swarm cells, you can rest assured that this hive is going to swarm in the next two weeks. Equalizing hives is the management of the population of bees in the brood chamber. To do this, remove approximately half of the capped brood frames with the bees on them and put these frames in a weak hive that needs a boost in bee population. Alternately, you could make a split with these brood frames if you have a queen cell or mated queen to put with them. This management technique is done throughout the honey season until about July when the queen starts to slow down in egg production.

Swarm Cells

When you see swarm cells, there are several things that you can do with them, depending the stage the hive is in.

1. If you find multiple capped queen cells, the switch has been flipped, and the hive is going to swarm; you cannot reverse it. The best thing to do is to find the old queen on a frame and put her and the frame into your nuc box along with two frames of brood with bees, a honey frame, and an open frame for her to lay in. Then shake two frames of nurse bees into the hive to increase the bee population of the nuc. By doing this, you just swarmed the old queen.
Now go through the rest of the hive and see how many frames have queen cells on them. If you have two frames that have three to four queen cells on each frame, you have 2 options.
-Option #1:
Choose the best two queen cells on one of the frames and destroy the rest of the cells on that frame. Leave it in the original hive so they can make a new queen for themselves.
If you have a second queenless hive, choose the best two queen cells on the second frame and destroy the rest. Put this other frame in the queenless hive so they can make a new queen for themselves.
-Option #2:
Cut out each queen cell if possible and put each on a frame in a nuc to make multiple splits out of your hive.

2. If you find the hive just starting to make queen cells that have no eggs in them, you can destroy them but you have to fix the problem that is creating them. You have to keep the brood frames in the top of the brood chamber open for the queen to lay eggs in and reduce any overcrowding of the bees in the hive; this will help reduce the swarm impulse.
If you have five to eight frames of capped brood and larva, move the frames to the bottom box and move the empty frames to the top of the hive. If you have more than eight frames of capped brood, pull out those extra frames with bees and put them in a weak hive to give it a boost. This will reduce the bee congestion in the hive and reduce the swarm impulse. Make sure that you do not move the queen to the new hive when doing this.

You also have to keep a close watch out for the worker bees that might want to backfill the brood nest with nectar after the brood has emerged. If you see this, remove the frames and put them in your honey supers. Replace them with frames with foundation so the bees will have to draw wax. It's not a problem if you are using deep frame brood boxes with medium honey supers: just stack two medium boxes on top of each other with no medium frames in the bottom box and the deep frames will fit. Alternately, you can use a deep box as a honey super.

Honey Season

May is the peak honey flow month for our area, so keep plenty of empty honey supers on your hive. I have been frequently asked, "When do you put that second honey super on your hive?"

My answer is that when you have six to eight frames of drawn wax filled with nectar that's not capped, then it's time to put that second honey super on. I like to under-super when I add a super. What I mean by this is that I take off the almost filled honey super and put the empty super on top of the queen excluder, then put the filled honey super back on the top of the hive stack. The idea is that the bees will fill the empty super faster than going across the filled super to get to the empty super.

For the first year honey season beekeepers, remember to put ten frames in each honey super so the bees will draw out wax evenly across the frames. For the second year honey season beekeepers, this year you can use nine frames evenly spaced in your honey supers so the bees will draw out the wax past the frames to make it easier for you to uncap your honey, and each frame will hold more honey for you.

What are you going to do in May?
1. Reverse the brood boxes when needed to make sure that the filled brood frames are in the bottom of the brood chamber in your hive.
2. Make sure that there are empty brood frames in the top of the brood chamber to give the queen a place to lay eggs.
3. Check for swarm cells and queen cups on the brood frames along the bottom of the frames. You will find these frames in the middle of the hive.
4. Keep a close check on your honey supers to make sure your bees have plenty of space to store nectar.
5. Don't let the bees completely fill a honey super before you put another super on the hive.
6. Add an additional honey super when the honey super on the hive has six to eight frames filled with uncapped nectar.
7. If you see the worker bees back filling the brood frames with nectar after the brood has emerged, the hive is preparing to swarm, or your honey su pers are full of nectar. Remove these frames and put them in the honey supers and replace them with foundation and add a empty honey supper to the hive.
8. Have a nuc box ready in your beekeeping tool shed so you can make a split when you see that first swarm cell.
-A nuc box is one of the best and most useful tools you can have in your beekeeping tool box.
Here's to a great start to this year's beekeeping season!

Charlie Thomas
SBA President