I have had a number of concerned beekeepers contact me expressing dismay over the extended cold spring weather. The arrival date seems not the best timing this year. The bee delivery dates are picked out in October and early November of the year before. Days are reserved for shaking and filling the packages in
to catch that window of time between too cold for queen mating and too hot for transporting bees to the airfreight from the field. We try to predict when the willows will be blooming and the weather warm enough to hive the packages on arrival to California . The two windows of time have to line up or overlap just right. Once the dates are set there is not much we can do to change the schedule. Alaska
Each year there seems to be some factor we cannot control that challenges the smooth delivery and easy installation of our packages. In the last four shipments of bees we have had two years of volcanoes and one year of tsunami challenges. This year we have cold and snow that seems to not want to give up. Bees are resilient and beekeepers are resourceful so at least we have that going for us.
Here are some things that you can do to improve your success in early and cold spring.
* Darken the snow in front of the hive helps the bees tell which way is up and will melt the snow faster when it is warm enough to melt. Ashes from the woodstove work well for this. Use a vegetable strainer to sift the ashes over the snow to stretch the supply.
Warming the equipment:
Bring your hive into the house prior to installing the package to make sure that the components are warm. Bees on a cold bottom board have a harder time moving up to the frames to form a good cluster. Climbing on warm combs can also a help although the combs cool relatively quickly. Don’t waste a lot of time getting the hive carried out and the installation done. Keep in mind that moving a hive is not a difficult thing to do and it is possible to hive right in front of the garage with the bottom entrance screened and move it inside for them to get settled.
* Note from Dawn: Before moving the hive, ratchet strap all the hive components together. I will demonstrate this technique on either 4/13/13 or 4/14/13
* Size of the hive:
Keep in mind that the bees will cover about five frames. Reducing the number and size of the boxes will help out. The use of follower boards (Styrofoam cut to take the place of a frame fitting snugly in the hive) can be employed in a 10 frame hive to reduce the space to a more efficient size for the bees.
* Single box:
Use only one hive body to install the bees this spring.
* Note from Dawn: I will be changing my spring hive to one brood box per colony!!
* Frame of syrup:
If you have drawn comb consider filling the upper portions with sugar syrup by use of a spray bottle. Make the standard honey arch that you see normally in the hive inspections. This will allow the cluster to form with food right into the cluster. Leave the centers of the frames empty for the queen to use as well as the bees to transfer heat through the comb.
* Don’t hive wet:
If you regurally spray the bees during hiving process they will loose heat faster when they are wet. Hive the bees dry with full bellies. To do this spray sugar feed through the package screen and allow the bees to consume the feed before taking them outside. A few good sprays with intervals between for uptake can fill a package in about an hour.
* Heat of the day:
Use the warmest portion of the day to hive the bees.
* Screening the entrances and indoors:
I have hived bees indoors before…. I would not care to repeat the experiment. If you feel that the bees are better off indoors hive outside. Screen the entrances and move them inside. A screen cover under or in place of the inner cover can help you regulate temperatures in the hive.
Over the cluster:
Bees needing feed in the cold won’t travel far get the feeder as close to the cluster as possible.
Avoid outside or Boardman entrance feeders. Bees will not break cluster to go down to food feeding the bees from directly above the cluster works well just be sure that the feeder does not drip on the bees.
A frame feeder as well as a feeder over the cluster may be used to keep the bees from being trapped away from the feeder to the side
Hive top feeders:
Insulation above the feeder will allow the bees to travel up to the feed without moving from the warmth area of the hive.
*Note from Dawn: I will demo this inner and over cluster feeding method on 4/13/13 or 4/14/13.
Conservation of heat will certainly help the bees establish a cluster loose enough for the queen to lay in. Just like a house, the best place for insulation is above the cluster. Insulation pillows using plastic bags with standard insulating materials in them are used in
. Reflectix insulation (foil bubble wrap) cut to the size of the inner cover and laid on top of the inner cover works well. Styrofoam is another alternative. Canada
Heat sources inside or under the hive can help. A small silicon oil pan heater stuck to a piece of metal to dissipate the heat can be used. Heat sources between 25 and 40 watts should be sufficient depending on the size of the space to warm up.
Follower boards rather than outside insulation may be the best method of
adding insulation to the walls of the hive.
* Note from Dawn: As discussed in my classes, I recommend having both the inner, follower boards and the outside insulation. I won't be using any heaters as I don't want to risk over-heating the bees. Bubble wrap insulation is the best choice and we can put extra under the bottom board. One could even build a box and fill it with insulation if necessary.
* Entrance reducers:
Use the smallest entrance to reduce drafts
* Top entrances:
Small top entrances for the dissipation of moisture may help the hive to avoid the damp conditions.
* Holding your package for a warmer time:
Temperatures for holding packages should be around 60 degrees. To tell if the temperature is right, observe the cluster. If there are bees running on the screen it is too hot. A properly cared for package should have a fairly loose cluster hanging quietly. There may be a few bees not involved in the cluster found crawling on the screen or exploring the bottom of the package. Keep the package in the dark or in dim light.
Note from Dawn: If I end up having to keep hives in my garage, I will turn the thermostat down to 59* or 60* and tell my children to "wear layers!"
*Feeding through the package:
You can spray the package twice a day for feed through the screen. Bees that are hungry will have their tongues out through the screen.
A nut jar or any large jar with a plastic lid can have a number of holes through the lid and placed over the package to feed the bees. To do this the feeder can is removed and a screen is stapled in place over the hole left by the feeder can. An overturned nut jar can be placed on top of the screen and the bees can feed through the screen. Feeder jars can be changed as necessary.
*Note from Dawn: I'm headed back to Alaska today after being in rainy Oregon for several days and Chattanooga, Tennessee for a couple days. I'm making a very strong effort to bring some sweet, southern wind and sunshine back home with me and I plan to give Jack Frost a serious boot when I get there!!!
This is a lot of information I hope that you find at least some of it useful.