April is survey month. I hope you have or will complete a survey on overwintering losses/successes and what you have been doing for varroa management. It should take no more than 10 minutes to complete a survey. Address is www.pnwhoneybeesurvey.com/survey or simply use search engine to find pnwhoneybeesurvey.
I really appreciate the number of survey respondents from WVBA over the last several survey years. If you attempted to provide results on the electronic survey after I spoke about it at March 28th WVBA meeting and were unable to submit, please consider trying again. We had an unfortunate glitch on item 9a (question on queens) and, depending upon your response, you may have been prevented from finishing the survey. It is now fixed.
I trust by now you have looked at your colony(ies) and likely have started some spring management (feeding, cleaning bottom boards, evaluating strength perhaps). Some colonies are very strong already this season but we also find some surviving colonies that are weaker. We need to individually assess colonies to determine if we need to stimulate (the weaker ones), feed (those with limited honey stores) or seek to control swarming in those that are strong in which the brood area has or may become congested. Supering can help relieve congestion, and stronger colonies will often need the first super this month, but simply adding a box on top will not be of value unless the bees use the space.
With the abundance of flowering plants and good weather at the end of March, we also have to be sure we don’t lose a large colony yet this spring. Strong colonies may have used most of their winter stores, are using pollen daily as they collect it for their brood feeding and are likely living “on the edge.” A cold snap, with some rainy cool days resulting in no or very reduced foraging opportunities, can result in a spring loss. Weaker and strong colonies can collapse quite unexpectedly.
April is the month when swarming can be intense. We saw some March swarms this year especially during the mild 70 degree days at the end of March. Colonies start raising queens and then swarm for complex, inter-connected reasons. Congestion of the brood nest (too many adult bodies on brood frames), a rapidly expanding adult population, and an older queen unable to supply sufficient queen substance to her daughters, are thought to be the major factors
However, brood areas limited by heavy left-over winter honey stores or honey collected from spring flowers, poorly drawn combs with lots of drone cells, frames of foundation not yet drawn, bees stuck in the top box only slowly expanding downward or sideways with their brood, poor hive air circulation, dampness and other factors are additional contributors to brood congestion and poor circulation of the queen chemicals.
Rearing of queens and swarming is a basic bee biology and bees rear drones and queen cells when conditions are favorable in their hive. But small colonies can swarm too. Colonies with older queens are 2X as likely to swarm.
April is the month we like to start new colonies. Packages and nucs may outgrow their initial box given favorable weather and some nucs may need a 2nd brood box before end of April, 3-6 weeks from installation date. Packages and nucs are someone else’s idea of what you want in bees, Capturing a swarm is a great learning experience, can be lots of fun (sometimes a bit frustrating) and is a better way of increasing colony numbers or making up winter losses. The best way is to split those strong colonies before they swarm. You can use the swarm queen cells to get them queenright faster. Remember of avoid “over-loving” newly installed packages, nucs, swarms – let them get established before pawing through them.
I wish all good spring management success.