A Keeper’s Year — May

By Serge Labesque

Mid-spring is a time of intense colony propagation, which is achieved by spontaneous swarming or, through apiary management, when beekeepers divide their hives. In most instances, these events bring about temporary interruptions in the growth of the populations while young queens are being raised. Nonetheless, large numbers of foragers continue to collect nectar and pollen. The brood nests of mature colonies that were not divided earlier and that did not swarm will soon be reaching their maximum size for the year. Their adult bee populations will be growing for a few more weeks though, until early summer. These colonies can become very large and benefit the most from the late-spring and early-summer honey flows.

Swarms as well as the young colonies that were produced earlier in the spring must develop into strong hives while nectar and pollen abound. They are a lot of fun to observe and it is easy to assist them in their rapid development, as they are given a good start by the spring honey flow. To do this, the beekeeper makes sure they are queenright and adds space to allow them to build the new combs they need. Although some of the new colonies may become good honey producers during their first season, especially in good apiary locations, their goal over the next few months is to prepare to face next winter.

As forager activity increases, the hive entrances are gradually enlarged to facilitate the bees’ comings and goings. When the hive openings are kept too small, the work of the bees is slowed down and the amount of nectar and pollen that may be gathered is reduced.

While managing mature hives still calls for occasional inspections of their brood nests to discern their potential inclination to swarm and as usual to check on their health condition, the attention of the beekeeper shifts to the honey supers. Harvesting some surplus early spring honey is indeed a nice treat.

There is no better time of the year than mid-spring to raise a few additional queens from our best colonies. These queens will be kept in small nuc-size colonies, at the ready to eventually replace failing queens and revitalize weak hives during the summer or in early fall.

Occasionally, we encounter colonies that show signs of disease such as chalkbrood or European foulbrood. They can be strengthened by reducing their volume and in particular by removing any brood comb that may carry pathogens. The wax of contaminated combs may be processed in solar wax melters, as these tools function well now, thanks to the warm and sunny weather. With the help of a generous spring honey flow, safe new combs will be built by the bees to replace what was discarded.

In summary, this month:

  • Inspect hives regularly, when foragers are out in large numbers.
  • Open the entrances of the hives to match their forager activity.
  • Avoid congestion of the brood nests.
  • Offer comb-building opportunities.
  • Add frames or supers to provide nectar storage space.
  • Maintain adequate clustering space between the brood nests and the entrances.
  • Watch for signs of spring diseases. Remove infected brood combs when health issues occur.
  • Ensure adequate air circulation through the hives.
  • Perform hive divisions.
  • Follow up on earlier hive divisions.
  • Maintain sources of water for the bees.
  • Monitor swarm traps.
  • Keep some equipment at the ready to catch an occasional swarm.
  • Rear queens.
  • Harvest only surplus early spring honey.
  • Discard old and misshapen combs.
  • Render wax from discarded frames.
  • Routinely clean and scorch tools and equipment.
  • Pull weeds from around the hives.

Serge Labesque © 2020