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 yield.
- According to the OSBA Honey Bee Pests and Diseases Update, April is an ideal month to test for Nosema infestation levels.
- 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.