Hive Inspections and Honey Harvest Plans

When thinking of Michigan and weather, the words unpredictable and widely variable come to mind.  For 2023, we started with a mild winter, a wet spring, and a dry summer.  WNEM (local TV station) noted that we had the fifth longest drought on record, mid-May through mid-June.

Someone’s rain dance worked and mother nature has blessed us with beautiful thunderstorms the past couple of weeks.  Pair that with the Linden/Basswood and Clover flowers coming into bloom now, and we have one heck of a nectar flow.

The past two weeks, at our hive inspections, we have had a few goals.

  1. Confirm our D-hive, a package we installed this year, is queen-right. This is because we did a reverse split the first week of June to manage swarming and we are very early in the window where we expect a laying queen.
  2. Confirm the E-hive, a swarm we removed from a neighborhood soffit, is laying eggs, settling in well, and upgrade them from a nuc to a 1-story 10-frame.
  3. Confirm the newly requeened J-hive has a queen and she is successful in egg laying.
  4. Monitor the T-hive for egg laying as the queen was rescued from a dying hive and given workers from a split off a strong hive.
  5. Inspect all hives for signs of European Foulbrood, as it was present in the apiary this spring.
  6. Ensure the bees have room… they are storing honey!

We went in the hive on Wednesday, June 28th and Wednesday, July 5th and this is how we faired and what we saw:

In the D-hive we saw honey coming in faster than we can give them room.  They received 2 supers earlier this season, a third super on June 28th, and a fourth super on July 5th. This should take some time to fill as super #4 is new equipment with 10 frames of undrawn foundation. Also, this hive has no queen (yet)! On June 6th we noticed the bees flying around the hive entrance in what appeared to be a pre-swarm.  Upon inspection we found queen cells on the bottom of frames and swarm cells which had larvae well on their way.  Despite having room, this hive has the momentum to swarm.  It was time for us to step in and manage the split so we did not lose bees to the trees!  We decided to take the mother queen and a few frames of larvae along with a few resources, this would allow the parent colony to requeen.  We left the 3 queen cells in place and vowed not to disrupt the process for 1-month (July 5th as the calendar worked out).  We did check the upper stories, the supers, and continued to provide space as they filled up.  Additionally, we watched the mother queen in the nuc (our split) carefully.  Sometimes she takes that momentum to swarm.  Luckily, she’s settled in well with no signs of swarming.

This time of year, we choose to work the hives in the morning and avoid the heat of the day.

July 5th we went into the hive understanding it was a bit on the early side to see a queen or egg laying.  This hive currently has a huge population of adult bees that are often bearding (or hanging out on the front of the hive) on these hot days and very active with flying traffic. However, the last capped brood from the previous queen have finished emerging and we are at risk of backfilling the brood nest.  We did see a lot of honey in the brood chamber, but we also saw 4-5 frames with room for laying and brood and we gave them an empty super with the hopes they move some honey up. 

We were hoping to see eggs, and we saw many shiny cells ready to receive eggs.  We looked long and hard and…. then we saw a queen!  Presumably she is a mated queen because her 16-days to emergence would have been on June 22nd.  More than a week has passed since then so we presume she is mated and hope that we are in the window where she is maturing ovaries and eggs and preparing to lay.  We will inspect again next week with anticipation of seeing her laying.

In the E-hive, we saw a busy dark queen with a beautiful laying pattern and larvae of all ages.  There are 2 frames of capped brood and not much real estate remaining with all the resources they are storing.  July 5th we upgraded this population into a 10-frame hive.

We felt relieved to see this young queen in the D-hive, although she has not laid eggs yet.

In the J-hive, June 28th had been 5-weeks since the requeening process had begun.  At this point if we don’t see signs of a laying queen will need make decisions to either buy a queen or combine as we do not want to deal with a laying worker scenario. However, we saw a cute little productive queen with 5-frames of solid eggs!  We did not see any larvae, so we know she’s been laying for 3-days or less.  And we watched her lay eggs as we worked, which is one of my favorite traits!  A preferable temperament in bees is when they are so calm they continue working right alongside us doing our jobs… right down to the queen laying eggs!

In the T-hive we were hoping to see a queen, eggs, larvae, good laying pattern, resources…we had all of that!  We also had a full hive, 10-frames of bees!  We introduced this queen 21-days ago and just like clock work watched as those first generation of brood emerged as we worked. This hive definitely needs room so we gave it a super.

 J-queen on 6/21/2023

Remember, dear reader, we are trying a different recipe for beekeeping this year. We are managing 1-story brood chambers. The plan is to harvest honey at the end of July, feed heavily in the fall and we are considering bumping some hives up to 2-stories so we don’t put all of our literal bee eggs in these 1-story baskets.

We examined the brood chambers of 3 of the 4 hives today. We saw excellent laying patterns in all. We are especially attentive to this after the European Foulbrood fiasco of 2023.  We saw no signs or symptoms of foulbrood, such as poor pattern, sunken cell cappings, dead or discolored larvae.  The hives all smelled of fresh wax and honey, nothing funky.  We are confident we saw no symptoms of foulbrood during this inspection.

Additionally, tis the season of large colonies and varroa mite explosions. Although both of your Dow Gardens beekeepers treated all of our personal hives, we are postponing treating the Dow Gardens’ hives.  Many were treated in May or early June, all underwent a brood break, and it’s hotter than chicken wings out there! There is risk in using miticide, especially those with formic acid for active ingredient, in higher temperatures. We decided the risk outweighs the reward and are delaying treatment for another week or two. We will likely sample these hives to get an idea of mite populations next week, but are hopeful that relying on brood breaks as a non-chemical IPM technique to minimize mite outbreaks.