Here is a look into our annual cycle of beekeeping!
The beekeeping season begins with the first major blooms of the year. The red and silver maples, eastern red bud, and those little yard "weeds" in the mint family, henbit and dead nettle give the bees the cue to get out and start growing.
This is in February and by March things are really beginning to take off. All sorts of trees and shrubs begin to bloom, dandelions, and other "weeds" provide plenty of pollen.
This is the busiest time of year for a beekeepers, because all the colonies will want to swarm. That is when around half of the adult bees and the old queen leave the hive to live somewhere else, leaving the old colony to raise a new queen.
We try to catch a growing hive before it gets too crowded and create a split, which is like an artificial swarm. You have to find the queen and take a few frames from the original hive, shake adult bees into the box, then move the new hive to another location.
The old hive will rear a new queen and if all goes well, she will mate and start laying eggs within a couple weeks.
During the rest of the spring, the hives are growing rapidly. Additional hive boxes or "supers" are added to provide space for honey storage and egg laying. Pollen traps are added to strong hives for excess pollen collection.
In May, the major nectar flow happens with the Tulip Poplar providing the primary honey crop. By early June it is time to harvest the honey!
Honey boxes are removed with the help of Bee Quick an essential oil spray and fume board that force the bees out of the top honey box. A bee brush is used to get the stragglers.
Honey is extracted in our garage and then kept in food safe 5 gallon (about 42 pound) buckets. The extracted frames are frozen in chest freezers until needed.
Colonies are starting to decrease in size over the summer as fewer flowers are available. The mite treatment Apivar is applied as soon as honey supers are removed. The treatment period is 42 days. Strips are then removed and a sample taken for counting mites per bee.
Samples of about 300 bees are taken from brood frames of each colony and frozen. The dead bees are washed in an alcohol solution to allow counting Varroa mites.
Now and again later in August, another miticide, Apiguard is applied to those colonies with high counts (>2 mites/100 bees).
Colonies are well into preparation for winter and these generations in the fall are critical to a healthy overwintering population. Food supplies are checked and frames of honey or sugar water in a hive top feeder are provided as needed.
Pollen traps are used on strong hives that have high foraging rates to collect excess pollen during the fall flow. Varroa mites and viruses are still top of mind and treatment of formic acid is applied in October.
As colonies reduce in size and leave empty frames, excess hive boxes are removed and stored in our woodshed. Hardware cloth mouse guards are added to each hive entrance.
The months of November through January are generally too cold to open the hives and investigate or intervene. A quick peak on a warm day can confirm your hope that the bees in each colony are snuggled up together, eating their honey and staying warm.
In January, on a cold day, a vaporization with oxalic acid is used for another zap at the mites, before they emerge to start the new year.
Here are more photos and videos of our beekeeping
Check out the "What's in Bloom" page to see what the bees are foraging for now!