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Honey Bees: Spring Honey Bee Assessment & Care

Penn State Research associate, Maryann Frazier, helped our PAWAgN group install bee packages and set up our hives for the spring.

It was another beautiful spring day out at the Penn State Apiary, for a field day on honey bees. PSU Research Associate Maryann Frazier and a few of her loyal lab assistants taught our crew the ins and outs of setting up a hive for the spring. The morning began with a Q&A session, before it launched into a series of awesome hands-on activities.

Maryann first went over the equipment that beekeepers might need to set-up their hive. She recommended three medium sized boxes to stack, with plastic shelves. The plastic shelves are helpful for cleaning the comb once it gets old- by scraping and power washing. She also explained that queen excluders- although often recommended- are not necessary to install. Once you have your equipment, there are two ways to get bees: catching your own swarm or ordering one. Catching a swarm is certainly possible, but it might be easier to simply order your bees through the mail. Bees come in nucs or packages, although packages are the most common, coming through the mail. Nucs are helpful ways of determining the quality of your new queen, but the presence of comb in the nuc makes the possibility of brood disease more likely than a package.

Everyone suited up and wandered down to Maryann’s hives. Fortunately for us, her packages had just arrived the previous day, and she needed us to install all of them. Before we paired off, however, Maryann delivered a quick demonstration. When installing a package:

  • Smoke the package to subdue the bees a bit
  • Open the package and remove the queen; check that she is alive, and un-quark her box
  • Place the queen inside the hive, but do not place her candy-side down
  • Dump the package of bees into the hive
  • Place an empty box on top, place food on top of the shelving, and cover
  • Make sure to check that the queen leaves her package and that the bees are not out of food
  • A sticky board may be placed at the bottom of the hive to test the mite load

 

After a delicious lunch, we discussed the issue of wintering bees. Most of our group had lost some of their bees over the winter, and Maryann gave us a few things to consider. One is that a good laying queen is necessary for the survival of the swarm. Another reason is that mite control is a big challenge, and currently there are very few effective treatments other than spraying. Another condition, one that Maryann described as very elusive, is that of hive location. There may be some microclimates that suit bees better than others- what that might mean is unclear. At the moment, what can be suggested is that bees should be kept in a place that is reachable, gets morning sun, is protected from the wind, and near a water source and forage.

As the afternoon peaked, we learned how to check for mites, by hand. Suiting up again, we lit a smoker and opened up one of the hives. Removing one of the shelves of comb, we took a half-cup of bees and dumped them into a jar of powdered sugar. Swirling them in that sugar for one minute and then shaking them onto the mesh top of the jar, a few mites popped out. Although this is just a small sample of your bees, it is possible to get a good sense of how many mites your swarm has, based on this quick test.

The end of the field day came quickly, but it was a great day full of hands-on learning activities. Everyone left with a smile, perhaps a few stings, and some new ideas to develop.