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Spring caution: handle the brood nest with care

With spring just around the corner, you are eager to know how your over-wintered bees are doing. You just can’t wait to see if the hive is thriving and the queen is laying.

But at this time of year it pays to be extra careful. You should avoid disturbing the brood nest if at all possible. In fact, the brood nest should not be examined until daytime temperatures reach the high 60s. When you open the hive at cool temperatures, you run the risk of chilling the brood and having workers fly out and perish in the cold. Plus, whenever you open a hive you run the risk of accidentally killing the queen. Kill her now, and you have no way to replace her. It’s time for extreme caution.

At this time of the year there are many clues about the welfare of your bees that you can read without disturbing the brood nest.

  • Look at the landing board. A small pile of dead bees is a good thing. The bees are cleaning house and hive life is progressing normally.
  • Look at the sides and top of the hive. A small amount of feces is to be expected; large amounts signal that something is wrong.
  • Put your ear next to the hive. If all is well, you will hear a gentle buzz. Tap gently and the noise will swell. However, do not tap too hard or too often as it stresses the bees.
  • If you haven’t done so, pull out your Varroa drawers, clean them off, and put them back in. Wait a week and then pull them out again. Based on the pattern of debris, you can see how big your cluster is and where it is. The debris will land directly under the cluster.
  • Lift up one end of your hive cover and peak inside. If the cluster is on top of the bars, they need feed. If they are lower down, they are probably fine.

If you see excess feces on the hive, or your cluster is sitting on top of the bars, feed the bees hard candy. Now is also the time to give them pollen or a pollen substitute as well—just quickly slip in the feed without disturbing the nest. Do not give your bees liquid sugar syrup until it is warm enough for them to fly freely. Too much liquid consumed by bees that cannot fly causes dysentery.

If it seems like your colony may be too small, it may be because of a weak or failing queen. You may want to go ahead and order a new queen, just in case.

Rusty

Here are some examples of Varroa drawers that were placed under the hive for just over a week. They are stained with black mold, but if you ignore that you can see the size of the winter clusters.

Comments

Raul and Amber
Reply

Bleh! I hate black mold. Horrible stuff. Kills my wife.

Does that not affect the bees?

Rusty
Reply

Raul,

The black mold on the varroa drawer is not in contact with the bees; it’s under the screened bottom board.

Raul and Amber
Reply

Right but the spores get in the air and that is what affects my wife. We lived in a home back in MN which had mold issues. Weezing, coughing, hacking were the norm moved out and it stopped.

Now I know bees are a bit different. But i was just curious.

Carol, Snohomish Wa
Reply

Rusty,

Spring management was the closest I could find to ask this question.

History: Started bees last April (newbie). Made it through the winter both hives alive. Treated in August with MAQS, and in Dec/Jan with multiple OAV till drops were essentially zero.

Last weekend, at 65 degrees, I went through the two hives. I wintered with two Langstroth deeps…the bees are at the top and inspection showed the bottom boxes essentially empty but for drawn comb in like 8.5 frames and some honey/pollen. Top boxes had 2-3 frames capped honey, pollen and 2-3 frames eggs, new larvae, but no capped brood that I could see. There are tons of nurse bees and it wasn’t THAT warm…so I was looking quick.

So I didn’t think far enough ahead, and I got to the bees without some empty frames of foundation handy. I have been wanting to set up some swarm traps, but I have no frames of empty drawn comb (first year) to bait the traps…sooo I went back into the hives today…sunny 55 degree day and went straight to the bottom boxes to switch out some drawn comb for plain foundation before the girls got to the bottom box.

Ok…that worked for one hive…the other…first frame I pulled (bottom box)…saw some eggs!…and the queen was there (jeez) I nudged her back into another frame in the bottom deep.

I took couple frames of comb and replaced them with wax coated foundation.

OK, so this is the question…(finally…sorry).

When I looked at that frame that I removed later, there were perhaps 10/20 cells with eggs…but every single one had multiple eggs.

The top box I inspected in that hive last week had nice even egg pattern and very young brood…it is a strong hive…hence the need for swarm traps.

Why would there be multiple eggs if I have a queen? It couldn’t be laying workers…and the top box had good even brood pattern. Is it just spring? And her ramping up? Or is she failing? I was surprised to find her in the bottom frames so soon…we are at a bit of elevation…and the weather is still cold at night.

Thanks for your website, it is my go-to place to get practical advise. Plus your no nonsense humor makes me laugh (a lot).

Carol

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

My guess is that you have two queens in that hive. Your old regular queen in the top box, and a new queen in the bottom. As I was just saying to someone else, two queens in one hive is quite common. We don’t usually see them because once we find the first queen, we don’t look for a second one, so we never find the second one.

It is probably a mother-daughter duo which can co-exist for many months. Whether she is mated or not is another question. It’s possible she is mated and is just getting into her stride. New queens often lay multiple eggs for the first few weeks. But I don’t know if she could have mated in the fall and then survived all winter and started to lay now. I suppose its possible, but not probable. She could also be an unmated drone layer.

Keep an eye on that bottom box and see what happens. If nothing else, it is interesting. Let me know what you find.

Cal
Reply

I mark all my queens because it helps provide answers to otherwise confusing situations. And, it sure makes finding HRH a lot easier/quicker.

Carol, Snohomish Wa
Reply

The factoid I left out in the explanation above…the queen I found in the bottom box with multiple eggs in cells WAS the marked queen. Important piece of information…my bad.

Today, about 2 weeks later (after a Hawaiian escape) was 60 degrees at my hives in the sun in Snohomish. I went in to do alcohol washes and see how that hive with the multi eggs was doing…I had visions of a failing queen.

Well. All good. I pulled two frames to find a good one for a wash…lots of capped, uncapped and single eggs in the questionable hive. I did not go to the bottom box. So I don’t know what the thing was a couple weeks ago with multi eggs.

Good news, the washes on both hives were ZERO! I did 5-6 OAV Q5days in Dec-Jan after what I think was a mite bomb robber infestation in late Oct.

With zero mite count now, how long before I should do another wash? June? Also…is there any reason at all to treat for nosema? I understand it is a secondary problem, and if all other factors are reasonable, there is no reason to treat or even look for either type of the little buggers. Is this the common understanding now? (and now I will check your index to see if you’ve answered this already).

Carol

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

Since you just checked for mites and came up empty, I would wait until after blackberry flow (about mid July) to do the next test. Just my opinion. You can go earlier if you want.

I would not treat for Nosema without a concrete reason. Fumigilin is nasty stuff, so I wouldn’t use it unless necessary.

Carol/Snohomish/Wa
Reply

Hmm, thanks..makes sense….Ill check another wash in mid July…so Im ready to nuke the buggers in early August.
This year (as apposed to last) I will wash again in Oct….as I had things seemingly VERY under control last late August…and late season robber/mite bomb infiltration led to huge numbers in Dec.

I wish I had a map of every beek in the area, and I could volunteer to come and treat their hives if they haven’t.
It would be so worth it.

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