Beekeeping Tips for April
by Todd Balsiger
Each spring we need to verify that colonies are queenright,
healthy, and well fed so they can build up to maximum populations
by mid to late May. During this inspection we need to do some
“cleaning” within the hive itself.
- Mouse guards can be removed.
- Spring is usually when starvation occurs… Find light
hives by lifting (tilt one side up) and feeling its relative
weight. Feed light hives –– syrup is okay now. If
they’re starving, make it a thick syrup; for stimulation,
thinner. You can also transfer excess frames of honey from
overly heavy hives to lighter hives.
- On a calm, warm day go through hives and clean them. By
“clean” I mean to make your hive easy to work again
– to free and unbind frames from the clutch of wax and
propolis. Burr comb should be removed. Poor quality frames or
brood frames older than 5 years can be replaced with new comb
or foundation. At least move the poor quality frames to the
sides of the brood boxes, and center the best quality frames in
the middle. In practice, it is best to separate the brood boxes
to isolate the queen, and to work one brood box at a time.
- Change out (or at least clean) the bottom boards that the
bees have been using since last summer and exchange them for
clean, dry bottom boards. Screen bottom boards should be okay.
- Swap out the bottom board for a clean, dry one.
- When reassembling the hive, if the lower brood box is
mostly empty (which is often the case), reverse its location
and put it on top. This will relieve congestion and provide
expansion room for the queen and the brood nest. There are
times when you may not want to reverse based on the brood nest
configuration. For example, if brood is located in both boxes
and it’s still early in spring with cold temperatures, it
is possible to create chilled and dead brood by reversing and
separating a portion of the brood from the main, and then not
having enough adult bees to cover both areas of brood. In
another example, if the queen is already working in the lower
box, and the upper box is still mostly food stores, then
reversing would not increase space for the queen. In this case,
it would be better to pull excess frames of honey and replace
them with empty frames.
- You may want to requeen weak hives and make divisions out
of strong hives. The assessment of whether a hive is weak or
strong is based on the hive population. A large adult
population, lots of brood and a solid brood pattern are
indicators of a good queen and a strong hive. A queenright hive
has eggs and brood, so unless you want to requeen or make a
division at that time, you do not need to find her. Always scan
brood frames for the presence of foulbroods, particularly AFB.
- April is the best time to make divisions to make a robust
honey crop the current year (some start in March). It should be
mentioned that making divisions is a form of varroa control, as
it disrupts the brood cycle and sets the mites back (swarming
does the same thing but to a greater extent). Keep in mind that
well mated queens are not always available early in spring, and
that additionally feeding and the need to make well balanced
divisions (ratio of adults to brood) may be necessary to
prevent chilled brood.
- Consider adding disease free dead-out brood boxes to
booming two-story hives in anticipation of making divisions
with them when your queens arrive. It will relieve congestion
and give these overly populous hives something to do –
clean and refurbish frames –– and will make an
excellent division later.
- Continue to look for signs of Nosema-infection. Provide
Fumagilin-B medicated sugar syrup to suspected cases. Affects
of Nosema include reduced bee life spans, increased supercedure
and colony death, slow spring build up, and reduced honey
- According to the OSBA Honey Bee Pests and Diseases
Update, April is an ideal month to test for Nosema
- It is suggested to keep the front of hives clear of grass
to promote ventilation and forager access.
- If you believe Tracheal mites are a problem in your apiary,
consider the use of plain extender patties (two parts sugar to
one part vegetable shortening). Place patty in the middle of
two-story colony, or on the top of a single story.
- Determine your varroa mite load and whether its population
should be reduced. This is a good time (and maybe your last
window of opportunity) to use controls that require higher
daily high temperatures for use, and shorter withdrawal times
before supering. Mite Away II can be used between 50F and 79F
and Apiguard, between 60F and 105F.
- When planning to super remember the withdrawal time
requirements for medications and mite treatments. Also, if you
use paradichlorobenzene for moth control, air out supers on a
warm day to vaporize its residues.
- If you want to give your hives a boost begin stimulating
feeding (equal parts sugar and water by weight) 6 weeks prior
to the major nectar flow (so start about mid April).
DISCONTINUE simulative sugar feeding before supering.
- Swarm season starts with the flush of new growth on plants
and trees, and will continue into June. Nuc boxes containing
one frame that has had brood, one frame of honey and pollen,
and the balance foundation are ideal for catching swarms.
Consider pouring sugar water or honey all over the frames to
increase the attractiveness and to provide additional resources
to draw foundation.
- Wax moth activity dramatically picks up when the
temperatures rise, so keep an eye out on your stored supers
– especially supers that contain pollen and had brood.
Moth crystals (paradichlorobenzene) can be used for control, as
well as freezing the frames. Exposing the frames to light can
inhibit the moths, too.