•March 22, 2017•
By Jerry Ginther
In the next few weeks farmers and gardeners will begin preparing the soil for planting, and with the vernal equinox behind us beekeepers will begin preparing their bee colonies for the anticipated nectar flow.
Noticeably, the hours of daylight have begun to lengthen even if warmer weather and other signs of spring are not evident. Those may be delayed for a few weeks. Vernal equinox actually means that on March 20 we experienced equal hours of daylight and darkness, 12 hours each. The day is designated as the first day of the spring, but as you’ve probably noticed, spring-like weather doesn’t always arrive on that day.
Preparing the bees and the hives for the spring and summer nectar flows is a labor-intensive project for the beekeeper. In regions of our country known for severe winters, many beekeepers wrap their hives with insulating material to protect them from harsh winds and help prevent heat loss from within.
In the spring this wrapping must be removed and each hive inspected internally to determine how well each endured the winter and if the queen survived. In rare cases an entire colony may perish, while others may lose a substantial number of worker bees. In the latter case where the colony may have become too weak to survive they may be exterminated.
Honeybees are usually wintered in two-story hives. The Langstroth hive has always been my choice. They contain 10 movable frames, which makes working with the bees very easy.
When the temperature falls below 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the bees begin to cluster on the combs to conserve heat. The bees at the center, next to the honeycomb, consume honey and “exercise” to create heat. While the bees on the outside work their way into the cluster to get warm and to reach the honey, the warmer bees are forced to the surface. In this manner the cluster is in constant motion. This action must continue as long as the temperature is below the magic number of 57 degrees.
The lower the temperature the more vigorous the activity and the more honey consumed. In colder regions a single story hive will not provide adequate honey storage to sustain the colony.
By springtime the colony will usually have worked its way into the upper story of the hive, having depleted the supply of honey in the lower section. This necessitates reversing the upper and lower stories. The lower hive body, which will now contain only the empty frames of comb, will be placed on the top. The bees will refill these during the summer. The bees and remaining honey stores will be placed on the bottom next to the hive entrance. This will now become the “brood chamber.”
The worker bees returning from the field laden with pollen for beebread won’t have to carry their cargo all the way to the top story. That is where brood rearing would have occurred had the hive bodies not been reversed. Beebread is fed to the larva stage of the developing honeybee, which goes through a complete metamorphosis.
When brood rearing is at its peak, the queen will lay more than one thousand eggs in 24 hours. This is necessary to rebuild the numbers of the workforce lost during the winter and to replenish the losses that will be sustained due to the heavy workload of summer. During those months, the life expectancy of the worker bee is about six weeks. Her short life is due to the fact that her wings fray and will no longer sustain flight. When she can no longer fly, she will simply crawl out into the grass and die. She will do that rather than die in the hive if she can. Some workers never make it back to the hive with their last load of nectar and pollen.
While the hive is open during the reversal of the hive bodies, most beekeepers will look for the queen bee to be sure she is present and healthy. If the queen has started laying eggs, her presence will be confirmed by sighting her eggs in the bottoms of the cells. The eggs are often easier to find than she is.
As the nectar flow gets more abundant, the beekeeper will add extra boxes called supers at the top of the hive for the surplus honey storage. When full, these supers will be removed and the honey used by the beekeeper. The bottom two hive bodies will be left for the bees for the next winter.
Bio: Jerry Ginther grew up in Sullivan, IL with a few brief departures over the years. He served two years in the U.S. Army, 1966-68, and later attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Jerry has a degree in Christian Ministry and is the author of Acquiring the Benefits of Biblical Wisdom, available in e-book format on Amazon.Com. He and his wife reside in Texas. Contact Jerry at JG@JerryGinther.com