Pandemic and swarm brood breaks

To say this has been a vastly different beekeeping year for me is somewhat of an understatement. Beekeeping problems and solutions are what keeps the process stimulating.  Normally my year starts in November when I can no longer do anything that will add to my overwinter success. The honey stores are set, the bees are healthy (or not). They are on their own until late February when I can have a look on that first warm day of the month. My February management options are limited but I just need to see bees.

So, I spend the cold, dark winter days worrying about my bees and visiting the hives just for the thrill of seeing a few bees fly. I also pass the time building frames and getting equipment ready for the blast of spring beekeeping. This past January spring fever kicked in and enticed me to order frames and foundation in quantities that kept me occupied for January and February. My goal was to fill all my available equipment with new frames so I would have lots ready for frame rotation and building the nucs I planned to produce.

All was normal until my queen supplier kept putting me off far longer than normal. At the same time there was talk of this new virus sweeping the world. Because the virus did not infect bees, I did not think too much about what impact it would have on my beekeeping. Following the recommended procedures would not be an issue as I normally check hives on my own. Perfect social distance – the bees and me miles from other people.

Was I ever naive! One of my bee yards is located on property that was closed except for essential personnel. Fortunately, bees are considered agriculture and their care was deemed to be essential, so I could continue managing my hives. It is my training yard, so training was not allowed.  

I had planned to make nucs with the purchased queens but eventually gave up on buying queens. I had encouraged my hives to grow early in the spring anticipating nuc production so by early April the hives were packed with bees and brood. Spring was beginning to bloom!

No worries, I had plenty of new frames with wax foundation, so I just expanded the hives by adding space into the brood area. In no time I was running short of frames. I did what I always do – placed an order for more frames. Surprise, frames were backordered with no availability schedule. Frame manufacturing plants were closed.

Bees do what bees do and they started swarming. No problem, I thought. I will just capture these swarms and use the existing frames and equipment to build more hives. The bees swarmed more this year than ever, and I quickly used up all my available equipment. Right after swarming slowed, the nectar flow hit.  So now I have every available frame and super filled with bees. Some were big swarms which are drawing and filling foundation frames fast because I had used five frame nuc hives. Some are hives that swarmed once but had multiple queen cells that I used in other hives. Others were in the process of reestablishing the brood after a short break.  Just about any situation one could imagine.

I have always felt that one can’t have too many bees, but I was getting close. By early May any hive with no brood got combined into hives with brood. This opened some equipment but not many frames. I was able to purchase full size supers from a local bee supply company that went out of business which allowed me to move five frame hives into full size hives. Hives continued to strengthen as the new queens became productive. By the end of June nectar flow slowed. The top supers were capped, and things settled down to a more normal pace. I was able to stay a bit ahead of all this by moving frames into the new supers, moving bees around strengthening the weaker hives and adding space to the stronger hives.  

I extracted earlier than normal and put the supers back on the hives. These supers are filling slowly starting from the end of the spring flow. July was very dry, but it has been raining in August, I am in hopes that there will be a reasonable fall flow boosting winter stores.

I did not purchase queens, I expanded my hive numbers with swarms, got new queens in many of the hives and produced a good honey crop. I am headed into fall with strong, productive, mite-controlled hives. I learned a lot from this experience.