Ensuring beehive success this spring 2014

The long, hard winter weeded out weak colonies with few exceptions. Proper spring management will aid overwintered hives and new colonies alike.

Serious apiarists should be supplementing overwintered hives with light syrup right now and perhaps a pollen substitute to keep new brood fed in this slow spring. Your surviving queens have been laying since January, and the growing hive may need assistance if remaining honey and pollen stores are depleting. Incorporating fumagilin in the syrup after it has cooled is advised for Nosema control, if needed. For new beekeepers, and starting fresh colonies, read on.

Starting with package bees

This is starting completely from scratch and letting the bees provide their own furnishings to their new home. Commonly, 2- and 3-pound packages of bees with a queen are commercially available. Two-pound packages start best on drawn combs, and heavier packages are more capable of using new foundation. However, they will both benefit from syrup feed to get established.

The syrup should be a 1:2 or a lighter 1:1 ratio of water to granulated sugar. This will allow the hive to progress despite poor forage conditions by providing food for brood, and an ingredient for the production of wax for combs. Once the season picks up they will refuse artificial syrup and begin foraging in the landscape.

Starting with a nucleus

A nucleus is a complete small colony of bees, pre-furnished with three to five frames of brood, bees and a queen. You may have to trade an equal number of your frames with the dealer, but once you get them, you will be placing these frames directly into your prepared hive.

One advantage of starting with a nucleus is that they are somewhat established already, with a fresh brood of workers on the way. In this slow spring, they will also benefit from syrup feed and pollen substitute as they expand their colony onto drawn comb or foundation in your new hive.

Starting with established colonies

You can buy entire established colonies with caution. Assure yourself that the hives are of the dimensions, population or race that you desire or require, and that they have been inspected by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Homemade hives may not provide proper “bee space” or fit the traditional dimensions of the most common commercial Langstroth hive frames, boxes, covers or bottom boards. You may also be inheriting someone else’s disease problem.

Check the honey reserves and supplement with syrup if they are low. Boosting populations may require introducing a nucleus or brood frames from a healthier hive. Changing hive temperament can be accomplished by requeening with a new nucleus or an individual queen.

MSU demonstration hives

Michigan State University Extension’s new beekeeping specialist, Walt Pett, has put together demonstration hives that will be placed around Michigan. In 2014, two hives will be at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan; Forgotten Harvest Farm in Fenton, Michigan; and Montcalm County. Check out the Michigan Beekeepers’ Association’s Michigan Bee Activities calendar to stay up-to-date on future workshops and meetings through MSU and other local beekeeping clubs.

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