As the day lengthens, so the hive strengthens

It is snowing today. Between global warming and mountains to our west, we seem to get less and less snow every year. Which is a real shame as I enjoy the white stuff. If it is going to be cold, we may as well have snow. In a prior post I gave a rundown of my top bar hives from 2020, so in this post I share my Langstroth hives.

Langstroth hives on January 31, 2021: Pandora, Io, Calypso, Mars2, and Mercury. ©Erik Brown

I grew quite the collection of Langstroth hives this past year. There were so many swarms that I got tired of catching them. I did very little swarm prep and it showed. I bought boxes for four new 8-frame nucs in April to accommdate the new hives, and pulled pretty much every other box out of storage to hold bees.

A swarm from Jupiter2 on March 17, 2020. ©Erik Brown

Jupiter2

My first two Lang hives back in 2015 were named Mars and Jupiter. They were good hives, from two nucs I had bought, and taught me a lot about beekeeping. This year I brought these names back. My overwintered nuc came through the winter with a booming population. She swarmed on March 17, which is quite early for our area. I was recovering from a serious illness so was fortunate to see it, and in my state at the time it was quite difficult to catch. I managed to get the swarm into a deep box and place it in my apiary. This was just the beginning of so many swarms.

Jupiter2 on March 29, 2020, when I moved the bees from a nuc into full-sized boxes.
©Erik Brown

I moved the hive into 8-frame boxes on May 29. There were enough queen cells that I created another nuc as well (the hive Io). I initially used just two medium boxes, and there were so many bees that I added another. Even with three mediums the hive was quite full, as you can see in the picture. There is a slatted rack between the landing board and the first box (the purple strip).

In May it might have swarmed again, as there was another round of capped queen cells. Like I said, so many swarms. I did a sugar roll and found a ton of mites (56 out of 300 bees, or about 19% of bees had a mite on them). This may have been partly due to the fact that there was not a lot of brood. I treated with two Formic Pro strips and hoped for the best. In July the queen was laying well and the mites were at 4 per 300 bees, which is still a little higher than I prefer. I treated with Formic Pro again to be safe, and fed the hive going into fall. So far the bees seem to be flying okay. We’ll see how they are after our winter weather in the coming weeks.

Pandora

A swarm from Pandora, this one on April 19. The bees just gathered outside the hive. ©Erik Brown

This hive was a split from Saturn in 2019, and is named for a satellite of the planet Saturn. I reversed boxes in the spring and added supers, and then it threw at least three swarms in April. Tiny little things that tended to gather on the sides of other hives. Also a swarm that gathered under the screen bottom board and started building comb. I probably should have combined some of these, or maybe moved the hive a short distance away. Instead I tried to create new hives from each one, with some success. Perhaps the queens were damaged and couldn’t fly away, so the swarm simply followed her out of the hive. I’m not sure. Either way, there were a lot of them.

After all this activity the hive did not produce any harvestable honey. It also had mite issues, 9% (26/300) in May which I treated with Formic Pro, and 3% (9/300) in July which I treated with ApiGuard. It took down a lot of syrup in August and September, so hopefully it will pull through the winter.

Io

After my early swarm, there were a number of queen cells in Jupiter2 when I moved her to a full-sized hive on March 29. I made this nuc then, with two foundation frames and one comb frame, one brood frame (with queen cell), and one nectar and pollen frame from Jupiter2. The hive did amazingly well and just kept growing all year.

Io and Calypso bearding on August 4, 2020. ©Erik Brown

In the summer I realized that I needed more comb and food if I wanted to overwinter so many hives. So I started using this hive as a comb builder. I fed it pretty continuously starting in July and built it up to four 5-frame medium nuc boxes. Every week or two I would cycle out capped frames and place them in other hives, and gave this hive more foundation to build out and fill with sugar syrup. It was a pretty good strategy to build stores for the winter, much better than trying to feed all the hives in the fall. I harvested honey from other hives in early July, so having this hive generating capped frames of sugar syrup really helped build up my other Langstroth hives for winter.

Catching a swarm from Calypso on May 1, 2020. I was able to extend the pole and catch the swarm you can see up in the tree. ©Erik Brown

Calypso

Another moon of the planet Saturn, Calypso wintered over in 2019 and entered the spring of 2020 in pretty good shape. In mid April I found a lot of queen cells, which I used to populate my 3×3 medium castle (a 10-frame medium box with dividers to make 3 hives with 3 frames each). She swarmed anyways about a week later. It turns out I really do not have good swarm prevention strategies. Something I am thinking about for the 2021 year.

When I was checking mites in May, Calypso had 6 mites per 300 bees, or 2%. Since I was treating other hives I put 2 Formic Pro strips in this hive as well. When I removed the strips in June I saw the queen but not much brood. She might have been a virgin as a few weeks later in July this hive was full of bees and brood and a little aggressive. Her mites were only 1% (3/300) but I treated with 2 Formic Pro strips anyways. She is buttoned up for winter like the other hives now, and we’ll see how she does.

Mars2

This hive holds the early swarm that came from Jupiter2 on March 17. It has two deep boxes, the only deeps I own, and a single medium on top. I couldn’t quite get this hive to build out medium frames, as it seemed content with two deeps throughout the summer. I checked for mites in June and August and both times found less than 1% (2 and then 1 out of 300), so I never did treat this hive. I did swap in some built-out sugar syrup frames from Io to fill the medium box, and in October the hive was doing quite well with good stores in the deep frames. So I assume this hive is fine.

My Langstroth hives on April 2, 2020: Pandora, Io, Calypso, Mars2, and Mercury. ©Erik Brown

Mercury

Another 2019 hive that came through the 2019 winter. I rotated her four medium boxes in March, and in May she was up to 6 boxes total. Mites in April were borderline (4/300) and then 8% (26/300) in June when I treated with two Formic Pro strips. I harvested a single box of honey (8 frames) in July and she seemed to do okay going into the fall. Mites in August were less than 1% (2/300) so I let her go into winter on her own stores.

Nuc #1

This nuc came from my 3×3 castle that I made from Pandora at the end of April. It took until mid-June to see a good bit of brood, so my guess it just took some time for the queen to mate. I added some frames from another castle nuc when I was trying to requeen Saturn (to no avail) so this nuc had a good population of bees going into August. I couldn’t find any mites when I checked on August 1, and I added four honey frames from Io in October to help with winter stores. So far this hive always seems to have bees on our warm days.

Two nucs (#2 left, #1 right), insulated so they can share heat. I’m not sure if it is smart to put the two hive fronts side by side like this. I’m a little worried that the bees may drift into one and the leave the other to die. ©Erik Brown

Nuc #2

This nuc has my only new queen from 2020. Our club purchased queens from Olivarez Honey Bees in the fall as part of planning for a spring intermediate class. When they arrived in April 2020 the pandemic was going strong, so we simply handled out the queens to each participant. I accidentally set up this hive with the entrance was blocked from the inside, and didn’t figure this out until three weeks later. So the new queen didn’t really start laying until May. Mites were good in August (<1%, 2/300) and I gave her some frames from Io to help with winter.

We’re supposed to get some warm weather next weekend, so I am hoping to make sure this hive is alive and has food to take it into the spring. Of all my hives, this is the one I really do not want to lose, since it brings some new genetics into the apiary.

Other Hives

I did have other Langstroth hives this year. I sold one nuc to another beekeeper, and tried to combine one with Saturn when she was failing. I have records for 4 others that either didn’t make it, absconded (from a swarm), or were robbed out when I tried to feed in the fall.

I almost feel that the 10 hives I have is too many, as it is difficult to keep up with all of them on evenings and weekends. I would be more comfortable with less, knowing I can expand a few in the spring and then contract back down in the fall. I’m thinking about how to manage hives this year to keep the swarms down. Last year was just so swarmy it was too much.

As the day lengthens, so the cold strengthens

Today’s proverb comes from the book God’s power and providence by Edward Pellham. I found this in my Facts on File Proverbs book. In 1630 Pellham and seven other sailors were inadvertently stranded on the Greenland coast. They survived the winter and were rescued a year later in 1631. Pellham wrote an account of their experience, with a rather lengthy title that begins “God’s Power and Providence shewed in the marvellous Preservation and Deliverance of Eight Englishmen left by mischance in Greenland, anno 1630, nine moneths and twelve days, with a true relation of all their miseries, their shifts, and hardship ….” Somewhere in the book, according to a proverbs site, is the quote “The New Year now begun, as the Days began to lengthen, so the Cold began to strengthen.”

When I saw this quote, I thought of my bees out shivering in the cold during our first snowfall of 2021. Bees recognize that the days are getting longer after the winter solstice, and they begin to raise young brood to get ready for the coming spring. Hence the title of this post. February is a key survival month since the bees are trying to expand and cold weather can keep them from collecting food. Once a give lives through February in Virginia they are usually okay.

May you prosper and find honey.

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