Got bees? What’s next?

Package installs, completed over the last several weeks by new beekeepers, starts a process that can become a rewarding but challenging hobby. The exhilaration of finally having bees in hives is intense. So now what?

This expensive collection of frames, foundation, supers, covers, bottom boards, bees, a queen, a smoker, and the beekeeper will require careful management. Having live bees next spring is my customary indication of success.

When one looks at the process needed to get all these parts working together in the time frame that nature is going to allow, it becomes a race against the calendar. What these insects can do is nothing short of amazing. Between now and late fall the hive needs to produce enough comb, brood, and stores to live for about five months with limited input from natural resources. Bees need protein, nectar, wax, water, and a clean, dry, disease-free home to thrive.

The hive’s first critical activity is comb production for storage of food and production of brood. It takes a week or two before there is sufficient drawn comb. If this is put into a time line, it is mid-May before the first comb is ready for solid brood production. Between larva cells and cells used for pollen and nectar processing, comb is in short supply. The hive becomes organized between forging bees and house bees. Eggs laid in these first two weeks will be emerging as new bees in about 21 days. So, a week to get comb for the queen to lay into and 21 days for bees to emerge means that the first new bees won’t be available until almost June. During this 28-day period, comb building and egg laying ramp up. The original bees are getting a bit tattered by all this work and resources are still in short supply. Raw materials are widely available but the bee numbers are low so there is still a resource dearth in the hive; not enough bees to cover brood production, comb production, and forging for increased raw materials needs.

Depending on the season, the nectar and pollen flow tapers off by mid-July, just as the hive is becoming strong. Lots of bees, brood, and nectar available up to this point. Then it stops. Hot, dry midsummer days are the normal weather pattern. With limited raw materials flowing into the hives, brood production slows and bee numbers start to drop. Mites continue to reproduce so more mites and fewer bees set the stage for hive death. Not cold weather in February or short days in December – but mites in July.

So what is one to do about this quandary? I feed sugar syrup using hive top feeders and protein supplement in an open feeder outside of the hives. I want to keep larval production strong. These are the bees that will live through the winter and tend to brood starting in late February.

I treat for mites just as soon as the honey supers come off. By mid-August, I try to have low mite counts, solid brood patterns, and a reasonable amount of capped honey in a 3-medium super hive. Some hives I leave at 4 medium supers.

If there is a Fall nectar flow so much the better for the bees.