It is hard to believe that it is already time for another Newsletter from Rockwood Park Backyard Beekeepers. I’m hoping your Spring is going well and that you have been better at swarm management than I have been. Even though there is very little happening because of social distancing, the bees continue to do their thing, so we need to stay on top of them.
Still no meetings this month (including the study groups) because Rockwood Park Nature Center is still closed to the public. Before we begin meeting again, the Board of Directors will have to discuss the best way to proceed and still comply with the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines. It is terribly frustrating for all of us to feel like unwanted drones being kicked to the curb! But, do not lament, we are still here to help. The FaceBook page for the club has been very active lately and if you have not yet liked the page, be sure to do so. It is a good source for information from our experienced beekeepers.
The club has a swarm hotline that occasionally gets requests to remove a swarm. Sometimes these swarms are easily removed, other times it requires an extensive cut-out. When these calls come in, I usually route them to a group of experienced beekeepers who are active in the club. If you would like to be added to the distribution list for swarm calls, please let me know. Even if you do not have the experience to go get the swarm yourself, you might want to tag along with an experienced keeper to see how it is done. But, please do not volunteer to do a job alone that would require more experienced beekeepers.
Looking Towards the Future
I usually use this space for listing events that should be calendared if one is interested in honey bees. Since we can’t meet or attend events, I’m going to use this space for something completely different. Beekeeping is more than just what to do right now. Sometimes it is what you do to prepare for the coming changes in seasons. Until we get back to calendaring events, I’m going to talk about things that we should be thinking of in the months coming up. This month let’s talk about how to store drawn comb.
First, what is drawn comb and why is it hard to keep? Drawn comb is simply built out comb that is ready for pollen, honey, or brood. It is very valuable for beekeepers and bees because it saves the bees labor and gives them a jump start when Spring comes. The problem with storage is wax moths (and other creatures) are attracted to it and can get into comb in just about any place you try to hide it from them. As the weather gets warmer, the more we will need to be concerned with wax moths.
The wax moths are particularly attracted to the protein left behind from larva’s molted skins in the comb where eggs, larvae and brood are raised. In addition to the wax moths, if comb is left in a dying or weak hive, small hive beetles and mice can be a problem. So, empty drawn comb should be removed and properly stored for the coming season.
First step is to know your enemy. The wax moth (both greater and lesser wax moths) damage comb by crawling, tunneling, and chewing through combs. Greater wax moths are usually found in larger groups and their smaller relatives, the lesser wax moth is a solitary insect. If your colonies are strong, they will usually be able to repel the moths. However, in weakened hives moths and small hive beetles can be a problem. An adult moth will lay between 300 and 600 eggs.
When you are ready to store your comb, place it in the freezer for three to four days. This freezing will kill any eggs or larvae left on the comb. Do not leave the comb in the freezer for more than four days or it can become brittle and crumble.
Once you remove the frames from the freezer, you have some options. One is to store the comb in a well lit space with the light on 24/7. Wax moths do not like light and will avoid the area. Another method is to seal the frames tightly in plastic bags. However, if you do not have a very tight seal, wax moths will enter the bag and you can have a big mess inside the bag come Spring. Some beekeepers store them in a protected shed outside. Hardware cloth that will keep out mice, rats and other small animals will be needed along with a good roof to keep the weather off the wax. As the weather gets colder, the wax moths become less of a problem.
Finally, what about mothballs? Yes, some beekeepers use crystals of para-dichlorobenzene (Para-Moth) in their storage area to keep moths out. If you use this method, be sure that you get the correct type of moth balls. Do NOT use naphthalene, which will permeate your wax and make it smell nasty for months. If you do use Para-Moth, be sure to thoroughly air the frames before using with your bees.
However you decide to store your frames, you want to have a good supply of drawn comb for your bees come Spring.
This Month in the Hive (May)
Now the hive is really buzzing. In a normal May, nectar and pollen should be coming into the hive thick and fast. This is the peak of the egg laying season for the queen. The hive should be bursting with bees. The brood nest will extend across 7-8 frames and may reach into 2 full brood boxes in the strongest hives by month end.
A strong hive may collect and store as much as 7 pounds of nectar per sunny, bright day. The bees will combine the nectar with enzymes they produce and place the nectar in honeycomb cells to evaporate the nectar and age it into honey. Honey will be capped when it reaches 83-84% sugar. A strong hive working on a good nectar flow in May can cap as much as 80 pounds of mature honey during this month.
If the queen has over-wintered with the hive, then watch for signs of swarming. Look for queen cells. Make certain that the queen has enough room to lay 800-1000 eggs per day, and that she may do so for the entire 21-day cycle for production of a worker. This will mean that a queen in peak fertility will need at least 1 deep and 1 medium super for brood production. (Many beekeepers provide 2 deep brood boxes for this purpose.) If the brood production area has become honey-bound (more than ½ the brood frames are more than ½ full of honey), then provide a larger brood nest or remove honey frames and substitute foundation. Watch for a failing or disappeared queen. If all the brood is drone brood, then the queen is failing, or has disappeared and been replaced by laying workers. If this occurs, you should combine the queenless hive with a queenright hive or take other steps to requeen the hive. At the end of May, look out for wax moths. These 1/2 inch wide, gray moths sneak into the hive at night and lay eggs in corners and other places where the bees are unable to remove the eggs. The adult moths will be harassed and forced to leave a strong hive, and eggs will be covered with propolis if not removed. In a weak hive, the eggs will hatch and begin a path of destructive chewing and defecating through the brood combs. Combine weak hives, reduce the size of the brood box, or reduce the entrance to discourage moth entry to weak hives.
Tasks to Be Performed
If you reversed the brood boxes earlier in the year, you may need to do so a second time in May or June. Consider doing so if the lower brood box is nearly empty of brood and the upper brood box is crowded. Make certain that each hive has more than enough supers to store the honey harvest. Order queens for July hive splits. On strong hives, remove the mouse guard if you have not yet done so, unless you are using a mouse guard made of 1/2 inch hardware cloth, which does not obstruct air or bee movement.
[original unedited publication: https://buzzwordhoney.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Northern-Virginia-Honeybee-Annual-Cycle.pdf]
What’s in Bloom (according to Maymont)
1st Week: Horse Chestnut, Empress Tree, Tulip Poplar, Amur Honeysuckle, Buckeye, Dogwood, Pearlbush, Azalea, Photinia, Viburnum, Cherry, Cotoneaster, Lilac, Iris, Peony, Candytuft, Violet, Tulip, Pansy, Daylily Wildflowers, Deutzia, Spirea
2nd Week: Tulip Poplar, Empress tree, Horse Chestnut, Amur Honeysuckle, Buckeye, Pearlbush, Cotoneeaster, Iris, Peony, Daylily, Perennials, Annuals, Wildflowers, Deutzia, Spirea, Azalea
3rd Week: Tulip Poplar, European Linden, magnolia, Azalea, Rhododendron, Cotoneaster, Weigelia, Water Iris, Peony, Honeysuckle, Rose, Daylily, Annuals, Perennials, Wildflowers
4th Week: Tulip Poplar, Magnolia, Tree Lilac, Rhododendron, Smoke Tree, Rose, Azalea, Honeysuckle, Yucca, Daylily, Annuals, Perennials, Wildflowers, European Linden, Mock Orange, Weigelia, Water Iris, Abelia, Laburnum, Mountain Laurel, Privet, Calycanthus
Other Interesting Things
Speaking of the greater wax moth, did you know that the greater wax moth has ultrasonic hearing? Scientist have proven that the greater wax moth has the best hearing of any creature on the planet.
That is it for this month. I was worried that I would not have enough substance to issue a newsletter this month, but it seems that I tend to ramble when it comes to bees. I hope that you and your family are safe and healthy. I hope to see you soon so we can talk bees in person!
Until next month,