Beekeeping Tips for May
by Todd Balsiger
- Like last month, the overriding objective is for all
colonies to be queen-right, healthy, and well fed so they
can build up to maximum populations for the onset of the
major nectar flow. The major nectar flow begins in most
areas by late May.
- Light hives can still starve if the weather turns bad.
After the maples and fruit trees bloom there is actually a
decrease in available nectar until the summer nectar flow
begins in earnest. Although very infrequent, in past years
it has been necessary to feed well into summer to prevent
starvation. Simulative feeding can be done at this time
prior to the main flow, but discontinue before supering!
- Swarming is at its zenith in May (end of April too), so
continue swarm control practices. The following phrase still
has meaning: a swarm caught in May is worth a load of hay; a
swarm caught June is worth a silver spoon; and a swarm
caught in July ain't worth a fly.
- Nuc boxes containing one frame that has had brood (a
dark frame), one frame with honey and pollen, and the
balance foundation are ideal for catching swarms. Swarms
draw out foundation fast and do an excellent job. Remember
frames need to be tight together when drawing
foundation– too much space and the likely result will
be burr or misshapen comb. You can feed sugar water to
accelerate growth just like for divisions.
- Consider setting up decoy hives (just like the nuc box
above) to catch stray swarms in your apiary.
Make sure the mice can't get in!
- More on swarms… Decreasing queen pheromone
production and its distribution within the hive triggers the
swarm impulse, so the two best ways to reduce swarming are
to regularly requeen (young queens produce more pheromones)
and to reduce congestion (reversing, equalizing, splits).
- Visually look at colonies for health and investigate why
some hives are not keeping up with their peers… Does
it have an underperforming, old queen? Has it become
queenless and developed laying workers? Does it have a
disease? Has it swarmed (don’t destroy the swarm
cells!)? Are they raising a supercedure queen? Take
appropriate action (which could be doing nothing). If you
don’t know what to do, go to your next local
beekeepers’ association meeting and ask.
- Look for signs that it is time to super, e.g., the bees
lose interest in syrup, the bees have zero robbing
tendencies, and you see a new film of white wax especially
on the top bars.
- Provide abundant room for storing honey early in the
season. I consider two supers as abundant. If
paradichlorobenzene crystals are used for wax moth control,
then air out supers on a warm day to vaporize its residues.
- Bees work from the center up, so foundation centered in
the hive will be drawn the fastest. In general, always use
10 frames when drawing foundation to prevent burr and
misshapen comb. After the frames are drawn, it is
recommended to go to 9 frames for supers to make uncapping
easier. For brood boxes, either 9 or 10 frames are okay.
- Research has found no difference in top-supering vs.
bottom-supering. Do what is easier for you. Just like
whether to run 9 or 10 frames per brood box, top-supering
vs. bottom-supering is one of those highly debatable issues
- I recommend queen excluders (there are exceptions). I
consider brood in supers as a big problem and hassle. Not
the least of which are frames that have had brood are
dramatically more attractive to wax moths and will require
- Bees collect water in the summer as avidly as nectar and
pollen. If appropriate water resources are absent, provide
water early and let the bees train themselves to use it.
This is especially important for urban settings –
where your bees may end up in your neighbor’s swimming
pool or pet bowl instead.
- Varroa mites: You may want to sample to estimate your
varroa mite load, and treat if its high. This may be your
last opportunity to treat with controls that have short
withdrawal times before supering but require higher daily
high temperatures for use. In the April (2009) American Bee
Journal, Randy Oliver states that maybe the U.S. should
adopt a lower threshold that the Europeans have adopted:
around 1000 mites total for a moderately strong hive of
30,000 bees. The previous threshold number that I cited in
the February/March Beeline was 3200! See the article for