April 20, 2023

What About Those Springtime Bee Yard Chores (122)

What About Those Springtime Bee Yard Chores (122)

Depending on where you live, spring chores were over a couple of months ago, or you’ll be finishing them up about the time you check this podcast out, so we’ll keep it short, sweet and important. You can make a quick list with a couple of...

Depending on where you live, spring chores were over a couple of months ago, or you’ll be finishing them up about the time you check this podcast out, so we’ll keep it short, sweet and important.

You can make a quick list with a couple of questions. Is there enough food? When was the last time you checked for mites? Do you need to treat? How old is the comb? Is it time to replace it? Do your bees have enough room to grow? Have you reversed brood boxes? Finally, just how old is that queen. Is it time to replace her before the summer nectar flows.

There’s more of course. Listen today and see what Jim and Kim are up to when it comes to spring chores.

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the comments below!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 122 – What About Those Springtime Bee Yard Chores


Kim: Jim, how you doing today? I'm sitting here looking out the window and we've had some warm weather, not a lot. We've had a lot of rain, way more than I'd like, but I'm looking at green grass. What do we need to do next?

Jim: In our bees or the weather? I can't help you with the weather.


Jim: With the bees, I know exactly what I need to do. If this is on your mind, you want to talk about it some in just a bit. I've got some odds and ends that need to be done.

Kim: Well, hi. I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: And I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I think what we're going to talk about today is what to do in spring on Honey Bee Obscura.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long-timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: You got a list of things. At least you got a list of things. I can't even find my desk anymore. [laughs]

Jim: I was amused when you said I have a list. A list is something I planned to do for the day, but then I never do anything on the list and I'd do other things I never dreamed I would be doing. I, as did you, just went through a really meaningful windstorm. I've read from the electric power company that they were wind gusts up to 60 miles an hour-

Kim: We had it here too.

Jim: All kind of things blew around in my bee yard. I went out and there were tops blowing off and I thought, "If you put them back on, they're just going to blow off again and maybe worse." One of the things I've got to do just as has an immediate need is clean up. I'm not a neat freak. Boy, I'll tell you. Look at any of my pictures that I publish. You can tell I'm not really concerned about ultimate neatness in my yard, but I've got to clean up enough to be able to walk and find things and be organized. You can't be stumbling over old frames and spell boxes so all that's got to be picked up that blew over. Just through the winter things got messy.

It doesn't have anything to do with ultimate bee management and varroa control and all that. It just has everything to do with being organized and being able to get your thoughts together to make that list you talked about.

Kim: Listening to you here, there's two things that come to mind right away. One is to get out to my bees I need waiters because the ground is so wet. We've had so much rain the last week or so, but the other thing is they make a thing for that to keep those covers on. It's called a rock.


Jim: I've never had this happen. I'm still stinging from it. I had bricks on the top. I had bricks. I didn't have rocks. I had construction bricks. That's the first time that I can think of, well, honestly Kim, I can never think of another instance where some tops blew off that had bricks on them. If you can see some bee yard humor here, now I got to pick up tops and bricks that are scattered all over and I got to get those bricks out of the grass before I find them with a lawnmower here in a few months. None of this is exciting for our listeners. I know. I know. What I really got to do, Kim, just as soon as I can, is address my annual, seasonal, I don't want to do this varroa control process.

I want to work bees. I don't want to work varroa. I'm always begrudged having to go out and do these varroa control things to get them suppressed so that the bees can build up enough that we can tolerate them throughout the season. That has to be one of the things I do first because the more they brewed up, then the more difficult it's going to be to put some kind of control on that to knock varroa down with all that brood there.

Kim: I got to do the same. I haven't opened a colony yet, either by the wind or by myself, but you're right. It's the time of year to stop them before they start growing the populations. I'm going to have to look into that. Which one of these chemicals do you choose? I don't know anymore. I'm going to have to go back and take a look, but before I get to varroa, what I want to do, this is a good time of year for me. I got my bees facing a field with a big berm in it. They're sitting next to a berm. I had that put in a bunch of years ago when they dug me a new trench out front and they put the berm up in front of my colonies or where the colonies are now.

Of course, you can't mow a berm. It's steep and rough, so you got to go in and weed-whack it. If you get there in time, you can keep it under control, but last fall, I didn't keep anything under control so I got to get in there and clear out the space in front of the colonies so that when they start flying, they can get out.

Jim: Good point. What a guy named Jim too would do would be, on that berm, plant wildflowers and then tell everybody it's a wildflower garden and let it go crazy up there instead of having to trim it back down. I don't want to sound like I'm an old guy, but that weed-trimming thing isn't enjoyable as it used to be and invariably the weeds just grow back.

Kim: Well, that's what they did last year. I got rid of them in the spring and then once in the summer, I pruned them back and then last fall got all messed up and I didn't get back to it. They can barely get out. There's so many weeds that you can't see the entrances mostly on any of them out there.

Jim: You got to knock it down some. They will work it out themselves, but it just makes life easier for them and for you. I made a bold statement. Don't worry about the grass, just let it go and work on things that are more important. What I found out, you can't walk in one foot tall grass carrying a deep full of honey without running a real risk of you and that honey falling. I had to go back and change my mind on that. I have to cut grass periodically just so I can able to walk carrying a load. Grass-cutting is in the future for me. We're not to that point at all. I got to clean up. I got to clean up. I got to do something about varroa.

Kim: Well, you just touched on a good point, is over the course of the summer stuff falls on the ground, it doesn't get picked up, and then a little bit more something else falls on the ground, doesn't get picked up, and pretty soon the grass is around it and you can't see it. One of those bricks that blew off the top of your colony, it gets covered with grass here in the next couple of three weeks. One day you're going to go out there and you're going to find that brick the hard way.

Jim: I was serious about that. I've never hit a brick. I've hit other things, but I don't want to take my old mower and add to my problems by having to fix a mower because I tried to cut a brick. The other thing that needs to be done fairly soon is reversing deeps. Are you a deep reverser, broodiness reverser?

Kim: No and it's because I don't have deeps. I have everything in eight-frame mediums, but the concept of moving the population of bees from the top of the hive to the bottom of the hive works the same way.

Jim: That's what I was thinking. You have to reverse, maybe not deeps, but you have to reverse the equipment. Well, it's a shame that if I did the varroa thing right and I had the yard reasonably cleaned up and my queens are functioning nicely. All I've done now is encourage swarming by not taking care of that. I don't want to do all these other good things just to watch the bees all fly away here in a few months.

Kim: I guess that's pretty much what I'm going to have to do. One of the things I want to think about later this summer that I'm going to have to get ready for now is moving that hive stand I've got a little. It faces a berm and the berm, to get in and clean up the berm, which is about probably 3 feet tall, to get in there and clean that up-- When I say it faces it, the hives are sitting right on the edge of it. The hive stands right on the edge of it so I got to get in and clean up that berm before it grows up or moves the hive stand. How do your hive stands work? You got one colony per hive stand?

Jim: I tried to tinker with the whole concept of hive stands. As you know, nothing about hive stands is standardized and you can really get some nice pieces of equipment. In fact, it's probably a good time to hear somebody who could really come up with some nice hive stands for you. Let's take a break and hear from them.


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Jim: I have, as I sit here thinking, probably five or six different kinds of hive stands. I don't mean to be too obvious here, but one of the hive stands that I use a lot that's worked well for me has been the hive stand by Bee Smart, that has got two different models. Through the years they've evolved. Those work well. I've got a lot of hive stands that various people built, a lot of my Amish friends are clever and they will knock out their concept of a hive stand design. I've got a really nice unit that I picked up, that's an adjustable stand that you can link to the two befores, there's two of them, determines if you can put two or three or maybe four colonies on that stand.

That's an adjustable stand. I did an article a few years ago and there must be 25 different hive stands. When worse comes to worst, put them back on cement blocks, like we did for the last 10,000 years. How did we get off on hive stands? You brought this up.

Kim: I got to move my hives. Do I just take them off the existing hive stands, move the hive stand to where I want them to be and put the stuff back on or do I want to explore this a little bit further and maybe change how I do this? I'm looking at one hive per stand or maybe several hives on a hive stand. They all have pluses and minuses.

Jim: They certainly do. The main thing that I've always wanted was them to stay level. Since we're totally off the subject, one of the things I did is I used the platform, the heavy-duty plastic platform that typically goes under air conditioner compressors that sit by your house. It's about four feet square, maybe three and a half feet square, heavy plastic. It levels, it sinks into the ground in a reasonably level way. If I had endless money, I would probably have those things under my beehives, but I don't have endless money, they're not cheap, they're big to handle. The three I do have do a great job with a beehive sitting on it.

That's got nothing to do with what we're doing for spring maintenance. Now either I've lured you off the subject or you lured me off the subject, but we need at some point, Kim, to open those bees. One of the things I've gotten to do when I'm reversing is just checking for food stores and any other disease issue, how's the queen productivity looking? This brings me to, for me, a troubling point. On those nice days and every day that comes along here in Ohio it's not a great bee day. Would you agree with that?

Kim: Yes, absolutely.

Jim: Today might come around but right now it's not a great bee day, it rained all night. If the day comes around and those maples that are in bloom right now are able to do their thing and lure bees to them for pollen and some nectar sources, is it a good day for me to go out and disrupt them and check brood patterns and be looking, pawing through a hive checking queen productivity on that rare day when the bees need to be out working too? My question to you and anybody who wants to have an opinion, whose task have priorities? The bees or the beekeepers?

Kim: I'll tell you what I think about that because I've wrestled with that too. If you go out there on that one nice day we get this time of year and go through and do all the things you want to do, you're going to mess up that colony maybe for a half a day at most, probably less than that. If you don't do it now and they run out of food because you didn't check or varroa gets out of control because you didn't check or all sorts of things can go wrong if you don't check soon enough. To me, I sacrifice a couple hours of their day versus the rest of the season.

Jim: That's a great point. It's a great way of looking at it. It's short-term loss for long-term gain in theory, because we have to assume that good days are in the future, that it won't just be raining every day or cold every day but I feel so guilty, Kim, on those rare nice days. It was 60 degrees yesterday. Bee pollen was coming in and bees were flying and they didn't care if I was back there, they were distracted, they had things to do. I thought, "This is the day that I'm supposed to fire off my smoker and disrupt all of this and go in and check brood and reverse brood boxes." I didn't do it. Am I being lazy? Am I being considerate?

Kim: I've done both, I've been lazy or I have put it off because in my mind I've got other important things that need to get done. There's been some years where I've been really aggressive about this and making sure things get done on time, the right way and all that. Over 30 years, it balances out.

Jim: I thought you were going to say nobody died, famous Kim Flottum euphemism, "Nobody died." It balances out. Right?

Kim: Yes, it does.

Jim: Jeff and I just recently, thinking of things balancing out, did a podcast on painting beehives. If you're going to paint, you can pay all summer but then the spring is probably a good time to do it. You get a good start and the weather is not so hot yet and the bees were in a good mood. It really depends on what things we should be doing right now. Number one, I've told you, I need to control varroa. Number two, they got to have food. Number three, everything else, Kim Flotumm said it balances out. A lot of that is true. Beyond the big issues, the smaller issues that come up, you need to decide how neat you want the yard to be, or whether or not you're putting pollen patties on.

The elephant in the room we haven't discussed, Kim, is what we should be doing for packages and splits if we're going to be getting any. It's too late to go in that but right now while you're back in that V yard, essaying dead outs and weak colonies the packages you should be ordering then that opens up an entire different arena for work that needs to be done to prepare for those new bees coming in.

Kim: Back up a half a step, I think you nailed the priorities here in a good order. The first thing it needs to get done is varroa. The second thing is food and the third thing is room. If you're consistent every year, if you take care of varroa now and then maybe later in the late summer, if the population doesn't build up too fast. Take care of varroa. Check for food so that when the queen starts laying, there's enough food to feed all that brood she's going to make. The third thing is make sure you got room to stop swarming so that when all that food you gave them and they built up and then they take it and leave. I think you nailed it on priorities there.

Jim: That's a great list. I think I'll do every one of those things just as soon as it stops raining and I become a young man again, I'm going to go out and do every one of those. I'm going to do that Kim. I'm glad and you know I'm impatient. Listeners and Kim, I'm impatient. I know a lot of you've already been through spring and already have some swarms. Others of you have still got feet and feet of snow. I'm ready to go now. We've talked about it, we've talked about it, we've talked about it. I want to go out and do something with my bees and it's just not quite time yet.


Kim: I'll let you. I'll just get out of your way and let you go. Next time we get back, we'll talk about one of these things or maybe more of something else.

Jim: I'll look forward to it.

[00:19:10] [END OF AUDIO]