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News From the President's Cell

By Susan Spruill, Toe Cane president

(July 23, 2018):

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign . . .

As I was sitting at my desk preparing notes for our upcoming July Beekeepers meeting, I suddenly realized I had not written a post since the end of March. March?!? What happened to the time? Keeping bees, happened. Any backyard beekeeper will tell you that Spring and Summer are crazy, busy times.

First there are the swarms. If you were lucky enough to have colonies survive the winter of 2018, then you had to be on the lookout for swarm activity. The last thing any beekeeper wants to see is a big ball of winter survivors leaving their apiary for a new home. If you lost hives during the winter, as I did, you would be on the lookout for signs that it was a good time to make splits to rebuild your colonies. That sign came to me in mid-April in the form of newly capped drone brood. No need to make splits until you know there will be drones to mate with the new queens. I made my first split of the season with the lucky find of the queen in my survivor colony. I moved her to a new hive box with a frame of capped brood, some attendants and honey. The rebuild was on!

Fifteen days later, while I was inspecting my survivor colony for new queen cells, I heard that distinct sound called piping. If you ever get the chance to hear it, you will never forget it. It was a sign that there is a newly hatched queen and she was ready to take charge. I continued looking through the hive and found the new queen and 2 nearly capped queen cells. I moved the queen cells to 2 new hive boxes, added some nurse bees, pollen and honey. I was now up to 4 hives and it wasn’t even the end of April.

On April 30th, I was on the phone with a fellow beekeeper making plans to help her perform a couple of splits in her apiary. She was one of the lucky ones who had managed to have all of her hives survive the winter. I was very interested in helping propagate those survivors and perhaps obtaining some of her bees for my bee yard.

While we were talking, I was standing on the porch, looking out over my bee yard, when suddenly I saw a cloud of bees pouring out of my survivor hive. It was a sign that the hive was swarming. “Hey, I’ll call you back.” I said. I hung up the phone and ran out to collect my swarm catching gear. They landed on a fence post. Lucky me. Within an hour I had collected the vast majority of the bees. The rest were marching across the pale blue bedsheet I had placed between the fence post and the hive box. Numerous bees were standing at the entrance with their abdomens point upward frantically fanning their wings; a good sign that the queen was inside. I left the new hive on the ground near the fence post to be moved after dark and I headed over to my friend’s bee yard. We inspected her 2 towering hives and made 3 splits. April had ended on a good note. Seven new hives from 3 survivor hives.

I spent most of May checking on the new hives and adjusting their sizes by moving frames of brood between hives. June was spent inspecting hives. I inspected my hives, dusted for mites and added supers. I helped my friend inspect her hives, dust for mites and add supers. I mentored two middle school students in their hive inspections. Young eyes are great! They can spot the queen right away and they don’t need a magnifying glass to see eggs.

I assisted another beekeeper in cutting a colony of bees from the eaves of a house. It is hard work! Hot, sticky and teetering on ladders, it took us nearly six hours to extract the equivalent of one 10-frame brood box of bees and brood. That same week I made an “emergency” visit to a new beekeeper who was sure her new colony had lost its queen because they were so “mean”. We inspected the hive, found a thriving colony, lots of open brood and eggs; a sign the queen had been alive and well in as recently as 3 days. The “meanness”, we decided, was the result of days of rain just prior to that inspection. Somewhere in there we also had our annual beekeepers picnic.

Now it’s nearly the end of July and that’s how time flies when you are beekeeper. But there is no time to rest. We still have to extract honey, monitor for mites and winterize our apiaries. Plus, there’s the Crafts Fair and the Honey Tasting Contest to plan.

I love being a busy bee.

Susan Spruill

2018 President, TCBA


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