Memphis Backyard Farmer


March Bee Keeping Update
March 31, 2011, 12:42 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping, Uncategorized

It’s a miserable day here in Memphis. Actually, it’s been a miserable week of rain and cold. The weather is still so very finicky, undecided about staying in the familiar gray of winter or taking the leap into the green freshness of spring. Seems like an easy choice to me.

While I wait, I’m trying to get my bee keeping supplies in order. It’s the end of March, which means there’s lots to do. Memphis bee keepers should already have an idea of the state of their colonies. Did yours make it through the winter? Are they already building up? Does any equipment need to be repaired or replaced?

Personally, I’ve had – for me – a rough winter. Late last fall I lost a colony to small hive beetles (SMB), a constant pressure on bees here in this part of the south. We go back and forth – some times I win, some times they win. I lost a round with a young colony I had started as a split last spring. So going in to the fall, I was down to four hives, one of which was a very small colony of Italian bees I had obtained as a nuc in the spring. I thought for sure it wasn’t going to make it through the winter. After all, it was small, and lets face it – Italians just don’t over winter as well as my Russian colonies do.

Surprisingly, though, this colony came through in great shape. When I last checked – about three weeks ago, they were really building up, collecting pollen, and very healthy.

Meanwhile, one of my other colonies, a Russian and sister split of the hive I lost in the fall, failed. I seriously think this is my first CCD loss. It overwintered with a strong cluster, full of bees. I fed her during the winter and it looked great. When I went to check on her last, the hive was empty. Maybe 4 or 5 dead bees inside the colony, and none outside the hive entrance. The hive had a full super of honey on it. They didn’t starve or freeze – if you’ve seen a hive starve, then it’s unmistakable, all those bee bottoms stuck out of the combs. This really took me off guard. So now I’m down to 3 hives, the fewest I’ve had in a while.

Fortunately, I have a queen on the way from Wolf Creek Apiaries in middle Tennessee. I’ve been wanting to try some bees from their operation for a while. They’re all organic, and their philosophy of breeding is more natural than the pure strains most have been producing for the past few decades. I’ll do a split with this queen and hopefully get another split later in the spring by overcrowding one of my hives and producing my own queen. If I can end up this season with 5 or 6 hives, I’ll be happy.

But now that I’m sitting on some empty equipment, I really don’t have much to do this year. Usually I’d be assembling frames and painting woodware. You, however, should have wax in frames, woodware painted, expecting your packages to arrive. You should also be feeding your bees, since the pollen flow is probably irregular and the warm weather has already flipped the “lay eggs” switch “On” in your queen. Your colonies will need lots of honey (and pollen substitute if you can get it) to keep the new brood fed so that you enter the big spring flow with plenty of bees.

So are you ready? How did your hives make it through the winter?

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