Welcome to "Nature's Corner"
by: Ron Bogansky
April 6, 2013
Here we are after the first full week in April and it still does not feel like spring. Hopefully we are at the turning point and I hope it will begin warming up. Currently the maples are blooming and bees are doing their best to gather nectar and pollen. It has been pretty close and most colonies required some additional feeding the past few weeks. I remember twenty years ago my spring feeding consisted of going around sometime in mid March and pouring a ring of sugar around the hole in the inner cover. I would check back a week or so later and if any colonies ate the sugar then I would give them a little more. That was it, but those days seem to be gone.
At the last meeting I was talking to Herm Danenhower and he said something interesting that I have not thought of. With all the colony losses the past five years we also lost our northern stock. We have brought in packages and queens from the South and they just don’t seem to winter as well as our old stock. I used to select for queens that shut down when the nectar stopped and were very frugal using their winter stores. If a colony did starve then they were eliminated from the gene pool of my successful colonies. Huge single year losses really put a dent in our stock. This is all the more reason to start raising our own queens.
The biggest problem with Northern queens is they come later and everyone wants their bees early. As long as we want bees in April we will continue to rely on the South for our queens. Everything is perfect for a colony or a split to raise a queen in May but a lot of beekeepers don’t want to wait. Maybe it is time we really start to think this through. If we are using queens (and I am just as guilty) from other sources we really don’t know what we are getting. Am I saying we should stop getting packages or queens early and from the South? No, not at all, but I am saying when we do have a successful colony that winters well and produces honey, we should be doing our best to increase those genetics. It is been said in the past that swarm queens are not good because they have a trait for swarming. I say any colony that makes it through the winter and is strong enough to swarm, is a colony I want and I will take those queens and worry about swarming later.
I am expecting the daffodils to be blooming around the middle of the month as they usually run about two weeks after the maples. That is the time to really start working your colonies and getting them ready for the season. And once the dandelion starts that is when you should start adding the honey supers. If we follow Natures calendar rather than the one hanging on your wall, we will be working with the bees and things will go a lot better. They know more than us in spite of what we do for (to) them.
Hope you all have a great season!
February 23, 2013
According to Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication earlier this month spring was right around the corner. We have seen some fairly wintery weather since then so I hope I can do a better job. The last thing I want to say is that winter is over. That would guarantee bad weather. What I will do is share some data I have for the previous five winters. The average number of (measurable) snow storms we have had is 14, although last year there were only 5 so if you throw that one out the average is 16 and the highest (08-09) was 17. This year we have had 14 so far. In the previous seasons we have had 4 storms that happened after February. Two of those occurred on either March 1st or 2nd. The latest storm was April 1st in 2011. None of the March storms had more than 4 inches.
What does this tell us? Probably nothing, but if you believe in statistics we could see two or three more storms but they should not be all that bad, and we could expect them in the next two weeks. But if you recall some of the wild winters in the mid ‘90s, you can’t rule anything out. Also, although I don’t have actual records I do recall in the winter of 98-99 the first and only snowfall came on March 15th. It was over nine inches. I remember that winter because my first trip of the year was on the 15th and my flight was canceled so I had to scramble to get a later one. I do remember that the sun was already out by mid afternoon and the snow on the roads was melting. That is the good thing about March snow; it really does not last.
So if we assume that winter is almost over we should be thinking about checking our colonies and maybe adding a little insurance feed. You can’t feed syrup in the winter, so you either give them fondant, or the newly offered winter feed patties by some supply houses or even dry sugar. Pouring a small ring of sugar around the hole in the inner cover will give them something. If they ignore it or take very little, chances are good there may be sufficient stores. If it disappears quickly you may want to keep a close eye on that colony. Colonies with ample stores may still take the sugar and fool you, but I don’t ever recall a colony that had little honey reserves ignore the supplement feed. If we get lucky enough to have a very warm day around 60F you can give your colonies a little more than an quick peek. If you notice frames of honey away from the cluster don’t be tempted to grab one and stick it in the center of the cluster. That would be the same as someone tossing a bucket of ice into your bed. You can move it a little closer to the cluster but not in it. As long as we have a warm day every so often the cluster can adjust to the honey location. It is when we have a long spell of cold days and nights that the cluster can get separated from the honey and starve, although there is honey just two inches away.
Watch for the maples to bloom. They are the first good source of nectar and pollen in the spring. They usually bloom by mid March. To me it signals the start of spring and I take a sigh of relief that I just may have made it through another winter. Everything happens quick after that so be ready.
Speaking of getting ready for spring and the upcoming season. I will be offering hands on workshops for next level beekeeping. Designed for those who have bees, and understand the basics. We will go through some topics to provide experience to get you to the next level; whatever that may be in your individual situation. All workshops will be at my apiaries located throughout the area. Since it is hands on class size will be small. Contact me for more information.
October 29, 2012
It has been almost one year since the Halloween snow storm and now we have a hurricane that will deliver high winds and rain. This past year has been anything but normal. We had a mild winter which was easy on the bees but the weather in April and May was mixed up and plants were blooming quite early when your colonies were possibly at a lower population and we also had some rain during the blooming of some key honey plants. In my area the honeyflow came to an abrupt stop the beginning of June and by early July there was not much surplus honey on the colonies. Then in late July a flow started that did yield some surplus that we were able to harvest. But my hives only produced about half of what we usually get. I was pleased to see that we had a great fall flow and all of my colonies are quite heavy. Actually, if I would have had honey supers on I think I would have been able to harvest some. I would really like to see a normal season one of these years.
We are heading into another El Nino weather pattern. Depending on if it is strong or weak will determine how much snow we will get. In a weak pattern it is colder and we will get a lot of snow. In a strong pattern it is warmer and we get more rain than snow. Either way there will be more moisture than normal. Right now it is running neck and neck with a slight edge (56% chance) to it being a weaker pattern which means more snow. But the indicators are not dramatic in either direction. We may have a better idea by the end of November. But here is my crazy prediction for the year. A good nor’easter will hit between the 13th and 21st of February. So if you think you might want to check on any of your colonies you may want to do it earlier in the month. One thing for sure is that it is much more difficult to predict long range forecasts. We are seeing patterns that just don’t add up compared to older data. The climate is changing, as it has done for millions of years, and we are in a warm up period. I would not be at all surprised for another hot and dry summer again next year. A good volcanic eruption could change that but I think we are in a changing pattern that has been seen before but not in recent times. Who knows what the future will bring but one thing that is for certain is the weather will always change and always be difficult to predict.
I have two other bits of info I would like to share. If I asked you what agricultural product ranks third (in the US) in money and resources (water, fertilizer) spent to produce the crop, what would you say? Corn is number one which is no surprise. But coming in at number three is grass. Your lawn is the third biggest crop in the US. We don’t eat it, we can’t use it for fuel and in most cases we have turned it into a barren green desert. In a well kept, lawn there is very little life going on. Put you bee colony in the center of a huge golf course and they will probably starve, just as they would in the center of a huge corn field. What is wrong with clover, dandelion, and some of the other “weeds”? Last week two days after we had heavy rain I drove past a development and their sprinkler system was watering the grass. The ground was already saturated. What a waste! We have to get out of this huge single crop monoculture mentality. All the land we are living on today was once covered by forest and if you let a section of land go fallow it will regress back into a forest. Thirty years ago I read an article that was titled something like “Leave a Hardwood Forest to Your Children”. It played out a scenario that someone was injured cutting their grass and decided to stop mowing. It went on to describe how the land would change over the next 50 to 100 years resulting in a mature stand of hardwoods full of wildlife. I know some of you are shuttering at the thought of your neighbor not mowing their lawn. Honestly, I think it would be a big overall improvement. I am not suggesting that every inch of lawn should be replaced with a forest but each one of us can take a small section of our lawn and turn it into something else and I will argue better than just a patch of grass that has to be mowed weekly.
The last story I want to share is something I learned with regards to honeybees in eastern religions. In the Hindu faith they believe an individual (man or animal) that takes from others, either legally or illegally, will come back as a honeybee. They are not talking just about thieves, but also individuals that gain on the works of others. By returning as a honeybee they will know what it is like to work your entire life and then have what you produce taken away. So in theory, a bear or honey badger could come back as a bee. The punishment is short lived because of the short lifespan of the bee but it is hoped that the lesson will carry on in the next life. In learning this I know finally understand why some of my bees look like politicians. Don’t forget to vote as we would not want to run out of bees.
August 5, 2012
Saying we have had another strange season is sounding more like the norm rather than an aberration. Back in April I was glad we had a mild winter, that was easy on the bees, but concerned that everything would bloom way ahead of schedule. Everything did bloom way early. It was a wonderful bloom regardless of what plant you looked at. They were all awash with flowers. The rain in May seemed to always be during peak bloom of something and the colonies may not have been at full strength compared to the timing of the blooming. This combined to affect the foraging. Then by the end of May everything stopped (at least in my area). Colonies were losing weight in June.
This happened two or three years ago and I remember at the beginning of July thinking I was going to have to feed the colonies to get them through the winter. Then in the middle of July we started seeing a flow. It was widespread (reported happening from Monroe to York counties and beyond). I never did figure out what that honeyflow was made up of. The honey was a little darker than clover, but not really dark.
Sure enough this year around the 4th of July my colonies did not have a lot of surplus honey. I use queen excluders and run one deep hive body and two mediums or a medium and a shallow. I always place one of those mediums above the excluder. I have found that there is usually a little brood in there and the bees tend to accept the excluder better. This is the first super filled and it guarantees me that I will not have to be concerned as to how much honey I take as this will be on the colony for winter. In the beginning of July these supers were pretty much the only that were filled. A few colonies had stored honey but not like I would have hoped. Then about two weeks ago a good flow started and all the colonies gained weight. The weather was good for foraging, and I am betting this is the same floral source we saw a few years back. So it looks like we will get some honey. The sad note is that my records indicate that three of the previous four years have had a below average honey yield. Last year I got about half of what I normally get. The only good part is less hot hours extracting honey, and since I look at honey as the price you pay to keep bees, maybe I should consider it a “good” year. Any year you get bees through winter and make some honey should be consider good.
If you have not already started now is the time to think about harvesting. If you plan to treat for mites, and I can’t think of one good reason not to, you have to get the treatment on soon. It is important to go into winter with at least two full brood cycles after the treatment to ensure you winter young healthy bees. Before you harvest make sure the colonies will have enough honey for winter or start feeding after the harvest. I don’t like feeding bees and although honey is more costly than sugar I would rather winter them on their honey. I do supplement feed any colonies that are a little light and I do keep fondant for mid winter feedings if necessary. One last thought is to make sure the honey is concentrated in one area of the colony. Fifty pounds of honey in one spot is much better than ten pounds of honey concentrated in seven different locations.
April 22, 2012
I am glad to see the badly needed rain this week, but I really wish it would have been a week earlier. I noticed the honeysuckle and some other good honey plants are starting to bloom. The cool, rainy weather will keep bees from collecting, but we really need the rain. Everything is blooming very early this year. However, I did notice some similarity with a few flowers this year and in 2010. The difference is we had a 90+F day early in the month of April which probably pushed blooming. 2010 was a really bad year for honey. As I recall the main honeyflow had stopped by early June. I hope we don’t see something like that again for a long time.
A lot of my colonies are very strong for this time of year. I would not be surprised to see early swarms. I moved some frames of brood around, taking from the very strong colonies and giving some to others that could use a little boost. Hopefully we will have a more normal season with a good honeyflow and nice weather. But we hope for that every year.
Look for honeysuckle to continue for the rest of the month, followed by black locust, tulip poplar, and then clover. Autumn Olive is also blooming now. Other flows of interest would be basswood (usually in June), sumac, and catalpa. I usually do not get much tulip poplar because it is usually starts while the honeysuckle is still blooming. In the past twenty years honey suckle has really taken over in woodlots so it is becoming a major nectar source.
Again I hope we all have a very good season this year.
February 21, 2012
I am afraid to comment on the winter we are having so as not to jinx us. It is clearly much milder than what was expected. We are still in the control of a La Nina pattern which usually delivers milder conditions to our west. However this year a shift in the jet stream that would usually cut the country in half (east/west) has moved well to our east. This has resulted in a colder winter in Europe with snow showing up in places like Rome. What does all this mean? Who knows? Generally if we get past March 10th in our area it is downhill from there. You can always have a late snowstorm or a very early one as we saw this year, but generally things improve rapidly. All gardening blogs are talking about flowers pushing early so I would guess we should at least be ready for an early spring. One of my natural indicators of spring is the arrival of grackles (blackbirds). They are a nuisance because they come in large numbers and clean out my bird feeders driving all other birds away. I usually start seeing them in mid March but they arrived this past weekend.
Bees have been more active then we would like because they will be burning up honey stores more quickly. Check you colony weight and feed if necessary. Make sure any new equipment assembly, or repairs to old equipment, gets done in the next few weeks as you may need it sooner than you think. The biggest problem with an early spring is the weather can still turn cool and bees may miss some nectar or pollen when they need it the most. I am also a little concerned with the damage caused by the October snow storm. Within 200 yds. of my home yard at least 50% of the maple trees were cut down and those that remain have lost a lot of branches. I look at the maple bloom as the first infusion of food to the wintering colony. I am not sure how this will affect the colonies.
I probably say this more than you want to hear, but you can’t use a calendar to manage your bees. You have to work with Nature. Below is an example of two key blooming flowers that signal things to do. Over 5 seasons there is a wide range of when they bloomed in a given year. You should start working your bees when the daffodils bloom and start adding honey supers no later than during or right after the dandelion bloom. You won’t make dandelion honey but the colony needs room to expand else they feel cramped and they may swarm. You can also add supers before that but don’t wait too long after. I like to put most of my supers on at the same time. This way the bees have room and I don’t have to keep running to add another one. If you don’t like that idea you can place extra supers above the inner cover and the bees will go up there if they need them.
Differences in blooming time between 2007 and 2011
Daffodil: March 27th – April 12th
Dandelion: April 8th - 26th
October 28, 2011 - Update
This is the time of the year I try and “guess” what kind of winter we are going to have. So I have shaken the raccoon bones under a full moon and here are my results. This should probably come as no shock since by the time you read this we will have our first winter storm under our belts. It looks like for this year at best we could see slightly above average precipitation and below average temperatures. This translates to a cold and snowy winter. I am always more concerned about the cold when it comes to the bees. Not because they cannot handle the cold, but because too many cold days in a row can lead to a stranded cluster just inches away from food. I think they need at least a warmer day or two every three or four weeks which allows the cluster to move and reform as necessary. Last winter I found a few colonies that starved while there was a lot of honey left. The pattern was repeated a number of times. The worked their way up to the top in the middle and then went left or right until they isolated themselves from the honey at the opposite side. I think a warm day that would have allowed the cluster to break may have prevented this.
Although there was a nice bloom of fall flowers, with all the rain it made it a little difficult for the bees. However I did notice a few colonies that were a little light seemed to have put on some weight this month so I guess the asters did contribute something to the pot. Although not as strong as other years I did notice the telltale smell of fall honey. That always makes me feel good as it is some extra insurance for the colony.
While still trying to enjoy what is left of the milder weather I noticed again for about the 10th year my praying mantis gathering.
On the south side of my honey house this time of year it is never too difficult to find a mantis hanging around. I always thought they were there because of the heat on the warm side of the building. There is also a large stand of fall mums that grow there. The other day I noticed that in addition to the warm wall and foliage for cover it was an excellent hunting ground for them. The mums are frequented by my bees and the mantis can eat whenever she likes. I guess her days are numbered with the upcoming snow but it was nice to see her on a daily basis and to know that her daughters should be around next year. Attached is a picture of one of the three that have been hanging around for the last two weeks.
Oh, and just remember if you get into a Halloween discussion to remind the person that without our bees there would be no Jack-O-Lanterns.
Sept. 23, 2011 - Update
September 23, 2011
I realize I have been a little lax and have not submitted anything since June. The truth is Nature has me a little depressed. As you all know July was so hot and dry that I enjoyed it about as much as February. Then there was an about face and we had rain, rain and more rain. I also mentioned earlier that I did not like the weather we had the first half of May as it was the type that in the past seemed to coincide with swarms. Below is a temperature graph that shows all of July was pretty much above normal.
The rainfall for August through today is around 23 inches. I don’t think I am the only one tired of all this water. I think there is the potential for a good fall flow, based on what I see blooming, but I am concerned that with all the rain the bees will have trouble foraging. However referring to what Herman Dannenhower mentioned at the August meeting that he noticed his scale hive could have a good weight gain with only a few good days of foraging I am optimistic. I have also talked to a beekeeper that has had a swarm this month. We also have some spring blooming flowers that have re-bloomed. I would say it is a pretty strange year. A lot of my colonies feel fairly heavy so hopefully it is nectar and not a leaky hive cover.
My honey crop was significantly reduced this year. Compared to the 1990’s I would say overall the last ten years have been much less. I really only had two of what I would consider excellent years. And two out of the last three have been poor. There is a little slant in my data because I probably had a few more producing colonies on average during the ‘90s. Our winter survival is clearly worse now than then and it has affected my yield.
As for the upcoming winter, it is a little early to tell, but there are a few signs that it may not be a bad one. Hopefully it will be easy on the bees. More on this next month.
There is always something in the garden that lifts my spirits so I have attached some photos of a fall blooming clematis vine that the bees love. Hopefully you will enjoy it too.
June 24th, 2011 - Update
Earlier in the month I mentioned that, at least at my home, it looked like there was a serious break in the honey flow. In looking at the Dutch clover in the grass this year there is not a lot of it. So I am still a bit concerned. I have not really checked my honey producing colonies. I don’t want to mess them up bringing in what they can. But my new colonies have built up well so I guess there is some nectar flowing. Last weekend we had so much activity on some deciduous holly bushes that were blooming that I thought there was a swarm in there. Again, there was a lot of activity on just a few plants which still concerns me. I guess we will find out in a few weeks.
I want to switch gears a little here and share a story. Last week I was in Washington D.C. on business and my colleague from Europe was with me. We had a few hours before his flight, so I took him around on a very quick tour. As we were walking past the south lawn of the White House, I saw the beehive that was added last year next to the First Lady’s vegetable garden. To my luck they were getting ready to work the colony. If you look in the background of the photo you will see a number of individuals, all suited up, and board on some sawhorses that they have to stand on. They were taking forever (I guess even beekeeping happens slowly in Washington), and we were unable to stay and watch. Not sure why there were so many people there to work one colony, but I wish I could have stayed to watch. As I recall the hive is located high up on a stand because of the family dog. I have always had dogs and they seem to get along ok with the bees. They often go near the colonies looking for mice or chipmunks but they usually stay away from the entrance when the bees are flying. I guess the presidential pooch is a slow learner. Maybe he should run for Congress.
June 4th, 2011 - Update
In some hallway conversation during the last meeting, I was reminded that my theory of swarms occurring after a prolonged rainy time in May would be tested. If the theory held, on Saturday the 21st we should see swarm activity. It was the first nice day in over a week, and I was away for part of the day at the Kielbasa Festival in Shenandoah. If the world was coming to an end, eating Kielbasa seemed like the right thing to do. I went with my daughter’s fiancée and as soon as we returned I told him I had to look for swarms. Sure enough there was one about 20 feet up in a Cyprus tree. These trees are springy and will not support a ladder. So I used a 12 foot step ladder and was just able to just reach them.
It was a nice swarm and they are building up nicely. This past Sunday I had another swarm. I was getting ready to leave and took a walk down to the bees and I was there just in time to see them start. I waited to see where they would land, and it was the same tree but about 5 feet higher, almost at the top. I knew I could not reach them and we were going to a picnic. I came up with an idea but when we returned home a few hours later they were gone. Win some and lose some.
I did notice something that has me a little concerned. The locust and honeysuckle are finished and most of the blossoms were blown off with the last bad storm. The next day I noticed a lot of activity around some empty supers. In fact I first thought a swarm had entered. I left it go for a day and then looked at it. It was not a swarm, but robbers. The completely ignored these supers for the past month. Now they are piling in. That tells me, at least for my area, the honey flow has stopped. I do not see much clover blooming yet and because clover blooms better in dry weather I am concerned. In wetter weather grass does better and chokes out the clover. Time will tell, but if you started bees from packages I would give them some sugar water. If they don’t use it then there is still nectar coming in, in your area. I still don’t expect a really hot summer but things have been so crazy this year; who knows?
May 7th, 2011 - Update
As usual I will start by a comment on the weather. The recent rain has caused issues for some of us. I finally got into one of my yards just a few days ago. There was still standing water on part of the field causing access issues. April pretty much did what was expected following a La Nina cycle; cooler and wetter. I don’t think we will have a hot dry summer like last year and it may be a little cooler but not cold with (I am hoping) ample rainfall. Now that NASA is almost through with the shuttle launches the weather should be much better. J
The cooler temps and rain has also confined the bees a little and I noticed a few colonies had swarm cells. Since I am a firm believer it is almost impossible to change their mind once they are thinking swarm, I divided these colonies to replace some of my losses. All this rain will have a positive effect. My records show that April showers do bring May flowers. In years when we have good spring rains the honeyflow is much better than others. The colonies I checked the past few days are storing a lot of nectar. I wish I had my supers on a little earlier. But I had half of my colonies out for pollination so I had to wait a little. The honeysuckle is starting and we should see locust and clover in about two weeks or less.
The last thing I want to mention has to do with moving colonies. As I said I moved some for pollination. I have had a bad back for years. I can’t lift a colony myself. If I am just moving a few colonies I try and get help. But there are times when help is just not around. When this happens I use a hand truck to move the colony to the truck and I built a portable A-frame winch system to lift it in and out of the truck. It is simply two 2”x4” (these were recycled from a wall we took out) hinged together at one end with a small removable cross piece. On one of the boards I have a hand crank winch attached. I first used a come-along but it was awkward. I keep making refinements and maybe I will switch to pipes for the assembly down the road for easier transport and storage, but for now the only upgrade I am going to add is two pulleys as a block and tackle (gun lift design). The reason for this is the weight on the winch jams the cable as I crank it so using the B&T will reduce the lifting weight. Once I get it to where I like it I will either post pictures or bring it to a meeting.
March 29th, 2011 - Update
At this past month’s meeting someone asked the question about a calendar for beekeeping. You can have general calendar like you see in some of the supply catalogues but they are not very specific. They have value to a new beekeeper to give them an idea of what should be happening but by their very nature they can’t be specific.
In order to really do what has to be done, when it needs to be done, you must be aware of the natural calendar. I once heard a long time beekeeper state that April 15th is the day you have to split your colonies. I have looked inside a whole lot of beehives in my day and I never once found a calendar hanging on the wall. The growth of the colony in the spring is affected by many factors. Most of the factors are triggered by three physical occurrences’; length of day, daily temperature and rainfall. I can write an entire paper explaining this but for now you just have to take my word for it.
An example of how each year is different can be seen in the bloom time of flowers and trees. In our area I look at the maple trees as the indicator of the start of the season. They are the first good (and early) nectar and pollen source of spring. Let’s not debate this; I know someone is thinking skunk cabbage or some other favorite. If I look where most of my bees are located I have a better chance of finding maple trees than skunk cabbage. I like the maples because if we are lucky enough to have good weather during the bloom they are a good “shot in the arm” for the colony and I start to breathe a sigh of relief.
In the past 5 years the average bloom for maples (where I live) has been 3/27, 3/26, 3/12, 3/17 and 3/15. There is over a two week difference in the timing in just a five year span. That could be a huge difference if you are feeding colonies and you decide that on March 15th you stop feeding every year. It is kind of silly to try and make our bees, or nature for that matter, respect our human ways of planning and dependence on a clock.
Earlier this month we had some really nice weather followed by colder temperatures. Everyone had the urge to work their bees, but if you did certain things you could have done more harm than good. That is why we need to follow the natural calendar and not one that is driven by dates. I will say here and now what I have been saying for years. The time to start working your bees is when the daffodils bloom. This will vary, just like the maples, from year to year and is very dependent on location. I also use the start of the dandelion as the time to start adding honey supers. This is not quite as critical as the daffodils but it is a good rule of thumb. Using this as your guide will help you do what is necessary at the right time. I have found this simple system to work and it has nothing to do with a date on the calendar.
February 19th, 2011 - Update
I was recently asked how much food the bees would need at this point in time to get through the rest of the winter. This is one of the hardest questions to answer in all of keeping bees. The reason for this is because it is relative question. The amount of honey left may be enough but it depends on so many variables which include strength of colony, location of cluster to honey, ambient temperatures, arrival of spring, etc.
I went through all the colonies at my home yesterday. This is the first opportunity I had to look at them since mid September. I lost a few and they still had plenty of honey. In fact there was a regular feeding frenzy going on with those hives being robbed. Since there was so much activity at each colony the only way I was able to tell which hives survived was to find fresh honey in cells. This is what the robbers brought in. Usually robbing is a bad thing but in this case it was boosting the stores of the strong colonies. (I did not see any signs of disease in the dead colonies) I did find a few weak colonies. In each case I found signs of starvation although every colony had plenty of honey. In every one they came up to the top and went left or right and then depleted all the honey on one side and began starving because the cluster could not move to the other side. It was just too cold for too long.
I gave some of the colonies fondant and when the weather gets above freezing during the night I will give them some syrup. Yesterday I would have given them some heavy syrup and they would have stored it quickly. Now it is a little too cold for that. As we get closer to late March, depending on what I find I may give them some light syrup. This will stimulate brood rearing so it is important to watch colony strength. Once the maples bloom I feel a little safer and will only feed if they are out of stores or we get a cold spell during which they cannot forage because as the colony is expanding it consumes more food.
I also took a quick look at another yard. It was late in the day so I did not open any. There are seven colonies there and everyone survived. These are on a hill and get no protection from wind. Some were still very heavy and others were lighter. I will be taking fondant back for everyone just for insurance.
I think my raccoon bones are failing me this year. If we lived about 150 miles north of here my early forecast would have been dead on. The transition zone is further south than I first thought it would be. I am in good company because all the professional meteorologists did a lot of back pedaling in January. Generally the first La Nina winter is a bit closer to average than those that will follow. So I am still sticking by my thought that the next few winters will be colder than we have been seeing. But let’s stick with this year. I am still thinking winter will not hold on much longer (maybe I am just hoping at this point).
Based on the records I have been collecting over the years I will say this. The best years for honey are those that have average to above average rainfall in March and especially April, with just enough rain in May to keep things growing (one inch per week but not over many days). If we get a week of rain in early May be prepared for swarms on the first sunny day after that. I guess April showers do bring May flowers.
I once knew a beekeeper from California. He is now tending hives in a better place. But he would say if there was a high number of spring drowning victims in the Russian River he would get ready for a bumper crop. Good moisture equals good honey flow, as long as the rain is not during the flow.
January 15th 2011 - Update
Well we are halfway through January and the cold does not seem to want to quit. I missed the White Christmas prediction by one day. However if the storm that passed to our south a few days before Christmas would have been a little farther north it would have stayed around long enough for Christmas. Early in December I was expecting the temperature to moderate a little in January, but that did not happen yet, and I think the cold will be around for a few more weeks, based on what it happening in the far north. Maybe in February we will see the warming trend and the really cold weather will move more to our west.
I would really like to see a warm day or two just to be able to check on the colonies. I took a walk down to the beeyard in mid December when I was finally off crutches. This was the first time I was near any of my colonies since mid September. The first one I checked was dead. In a slight panic I went to the next one but there were bees. They were down pretty deep and the hive is still heavy. There was also a lot of honey left on the dead one. I have no idea what to expect come spring.
During the second week of December, I went to the one yard where I have a bear fence. I wanted to bring in the charger and battery. Since I was still on crutches Carol thought it would be a good idea, against my protest, to come along. This was on the second Saturday in December, and they were calling for heavy rain the next day. The bees are in the back of a farm field and if it rains I can’t get to them. When I got out of the truck and looked up there was a hunter in a treestand just about 200 feet away. Guess he was not too happy with us. I keep the charger and battery housed in an old hive body. There are always mice in there. Not this time. There was a pile of leaves and a chipmunk living inside. Looks like he kept the mice out. I lifted the battery and charger out and then Carol put them on the tailgate. When we got back in the truck it smelled. Carol’s gloves reeked and so did my hand. It smelled like our goat stable in spring when I was taking out all the dirty straw. It appears chipmunks are not very sanitary and like to pee all over their home. Maybe that is what keeps the mice out. Although I washed the battery down with soap and water it still smelled for a few days. Even in winter there are always surprises while keeping bees.
Next day in church I saw the man who owns the farm. He said the hunter wanted to know who the crazy guy was walking around in a field on crutches was, during deer season no less. He also said they had taken a deer just a little while before we arrived.
December 4th 2010 - Update
Let me start by saying we just may have a white Christmas. I mentioned a little in my earlier predictions that I thought December would be colder than normal. It looks like that is shaping up to being correct. In mid November when the executive board was trying to decide on a meeting date for our December meeting, I mentioned I would be there if we don’t get snow.
I am thinking that December will be cold and maybe snowy with a chance for a decent snowfall (~ 6 in) in mid month. Any snow we do get will most likely stick around until Christmas. I am not saying we will get a lot of snow this month, but any we do get will be here awhile. So December will be below normal temperature wise.
The good news is I think winter will turn the corner right after it gets started. This is a La Nina year which means most storms will be out of the west. There is always a chance for a Nor’easter but there should not be many of them. At worst this will be a normal winter and there is a very good possibility it will be much more mild than normal. That is once we get past December. It is still a little iffy for January and February but whether it is normal or milder, winter will not hold on very long. We could see an early spring. Europe, western Asia and to the very north of us will not be as lucky, nor will the Midwest. They will see cold and snow, which they are already experiencing.
If you want to write something down in your journals that you can think about for a long time, here is my very long range prediction. There are always outlying years to any trend, but in looking a what has happened in the last 10 years globally, and taking into account solar activity, I think we will start seeing some cold winters down the road. By 2013, I think we will start to see winters like I had as a child in the 60s and early 70s. Back in my small hometown (Freeland) we had a thermometer on the bank. I remember quite often in the early evenings (around 1970) the temperature in single digits or even below zero. I also remember the day I started working for Air Products (2/12/79) the temperature was – 21F that morning. Those were quite different from the late 80’s and 90’s. I think we are heading back that way. If I am correct, it will be interesting to see how CO2 causes global warming crowd will respond to that data. I also remember as a child, my mom had a rule. I could not go swimming if the temperature was not at least 70 by lunch time. I would get a season pass to the swimming pool that would cost $10 versus $0.50 a day, so you had to go at least 20 times to make it pay. I can say I did not lose money but did not get too many free days. I know back home is always cooler than the Lehigh Valley, but I think it is safe to say we will be seeing the weather we saw as kids (you younger folks need to talk to your parents).
I do need you all to write this stuff down because God knows I will forget what I said by then.
Have a Merry Christmas, and I look forward to seeing you all in January.
November 4th 2010 - Update
Since I spent the last 6 weeks stuck inside, I can’t comment too much on nature other than I am missing my favorite time of the year to be outside. October usually is a month where most of the bee work is finished, same with the garden. It is a beautiful time to be out and start watching the fall foliage in nice autumn temperatures. So let’s look at those temperatures for the past month.
October started off very cool the first week then went in the opposite direction the following and kept doing this all month. Then it finished with a Nor’easter and also an extremely strong storm to our west and north. That storm recorded the lowest barometric pressure ever reported over North America. Pretty strange to say the least.
There were 15 days with below average temperatures, 3 right at average, and 13 above. It gets interesting though because 8 of the below average days were greater than 5 degrees with one being 15. The extreme on the warm side was about the same with 8 days at greater than 5 degrees. The warmest week was the last week and the coldest was the first. On average the overall month was slightly cooler. I did say last time that there would be a short cold snap early in the month. If we switched the first and last weeks we would have been very close to normal.
As for the future, it really looks like we may have a normal winter around here. It will be colder in the first half and then begin to break a little early in the second half. As opposed to Europe where they will have another long cold winter and should see a “Dickens Christmas” in England. The rest of the US will see a bad winter in the upper Midwest and northern New England. To the south of us it looks to be mild. And we are right in the middle of the transition. One report has two mid winter Nor’easters hitting but I am thinking that is just a guess.
So let’s expect a cool December and hope for that early spring.
Sept. 26, 2010 - Update
In my last report I said I would start looking toward our winter weather. It seems to be a bit more difficult this year. I can say that I don’t think it will be extreme in any direction. I think it will be pretty much average in temp and snowfall. It seems PA is right in the middle of the transition zone. Just to the north it will be colder with above average snow, and just to the south is warmer and much less than normal snow. So for now calling it average is a safe bet. I think if anything our area may be slightly warmer than average. But that could result in a few nasty ice storms.
We may see a short cold snap in early October, but this can still be negated by tropical storms. I do think early December will see some unseasonable cold. I don’t like this because depending on how long or how cold it can affect colony survival. We have seen this at least twice in the past few years. The good news is I am thinking January will be warmer. At this point I am not sure after that so stay tuned.
I think we are seeing a fall flow but it may not be a real strong one because of the lack of rain. At the last meeting we were discussing colonies that need feeding. IMO, there are always some colonies that need help but overall this year we had a good long harvest. I am wondering if we are taking more honey than we should. Let’s do the math. If 70-80 pounds of honey is supposed to last 6 months then how did a colony use that much up in one month? I got little surplus from my splits and packages although a few did produce. But all of them are very heavy. I did notice a few colonies that did not store much honey below the excluder so these may require some help. I am not saying I will winter any better than anyone else but I don’t think starvation will be quite the problem it was last year.
I also want to give some feedback on my moving the excluder into the brood nest. As of now I think it was a great success. My brood chamber consists of one deep and two mediums or one medium and one shallow. The deep is usually in the middle. In the Spring I moved the top super that still contained brood above the excluder. This had two goals. First to get the bees going through the excluder and they did because they want to get to the brood. Secondly when all the brood hatches they will fill this one with honey. Regardless of how much is stored in the remaining brood chamber, I have guaranteed them one full medium super and it is on top which is where they will be heading anyway. I also did this on a few of the packages I installed; only I moved the super up later in the season. And the few colonies that are a bit light are all colonies where I did not do this. I don’t know how it will affect the winter but I am probably going to do this on all colonies next year. It did have one additional advantage. During the harvest it was always the last super above the excluder that is the hardest to clear of bees using a fume board. With this system that super does not need to be cleared. I agree I left a lot of honey behind and could have replaced it with much cheaper sugar but I am willing to do that if I get better winter survival.
I had my surgery this past week and figure I will be house bound for quite awhile. I am not really coordinated on crutches and going from one room to the next is difficult. There is no way I can feed and December will be the earliest I will be able visit any of my yards.
Lastly the smell of ripening fall honey is strong in near the colonies. I wish I could get there to smell it. I also may be rethinking my idea that it is aster rather than goldenrod. I smelled it earlier and the asters are just getting under way.
August 30, 2010 - Update
It has been a while since I submitted anything and depending on if you only read this in the newsletter, it may be awhile before you see it.
We are definitely on the wind-down of the season. Hopefully you have all your honey harvested and your mite treatments on. The bees need at least two brood cycles, after the mites have been eliminated, in order to go into winter with young, healthy bees. Two brood cycles is about six weeks.
Depending on where you live the goldenrod and asters should be blooming or close to it. This is referred to as the “Fall Flow” although it is quite finished by the first day of Autumn. Because of the mite treatment schedule we usually miss this flow. The honey is generally darker than what we had from the Spring. The past few years this flow has varied. Last year was hardly any and the year before it was strong. This should be looked at as bonus food or added insurance and you should not rely on it. This means you should have left ample stores on the colony or start feeding. Something else that is interesting with this flow is there is a distinctive “sour” smell in the apiary during the evening when the bees are ripening this honey. Many will attribute it to the goldenrod but I think it is from the Aster. Goldenrod blooms first and I don’t notice it until the Asters start to bloom. It is a bittersweet smell because while it indicates that the bees are getting some additional stores it is also the signal that another season is over and there is possibly a hard winter ahead. It is a little too early for me to start my winter weather predictions. Maybe next month.
Since I did not have an update in awhile I will run over a bit on this one and also step out of the box. I want to comment on selling honey. First let me say this is my opinion and you are free to do what you want with your honey. But remember what you sell speaks to the industry as a whole. If you make certain claims about your honey most individuals hearing that will apply it to all honey and may ask another beekeeper why their honey does not have that property.
The reason I bring this up is I recently was at a local farmer’s market and on one of the stands was a basket of honey containers with a sign in front saying the honey was “organic”. This was not a beekeepers stand and the items at this stand were not associated with a beekeeper. There was no label on the containers. I asked the person at stand where the honey came from. She said it was local. I then asked what she meant by “organic”. She said it did not have any sugar or corn syrup added. I told her that is not organic, it is just pure honey – by the way which all honey should be. She insisted that the beekeeper had a certificate that said the honey was organic. I don’t fault the vendor but I am wondering the motives of the beekeeper.
I checked and in the US there is no official organic standard for honey. So I am not sure what the certificate was. It may have been that the land where the hives are located is an organic farm, but common sense will tell you that the bees are going to fly all over. I can’t believe there is anywhere in the area that would be 10 square miles of certified organic land, or a similar size piece of land away from any agriculture or use of chemicals. Even in the northern counties they spray for gypsy moth. I keep bees at the Rodale Institute Organic Farm and I would never presume to insist my honey is organic. I guess I could send out a sample and if no chemicals are present I could make that claim but I have mirrors in the house and have to use them every day.
Although I don’t can’t say for sure this honey is not organic. It is quite suspicious. And the fact that there is no label is just plain wrong. You can sell you honey yourself any way you like. But if you are putting it in the public it should be labeled correctly. Not doing so just attracts the inspector. Once they are thinking about honey then they may look around at other stands. It was reported that there is a problem with this in the southern counties. There were at least five other stands selling honey. None were beekeepers but all the honey was labeled and there were no unsubstantiated claims. But I am sure they were asked if their honey was organic. And if they correctly say no then the customer is somehow lead to believe it may be inferior, or contaminated, or something else. You should be proud of your honey and want to have it associated with you. We will not sell our honey wholesale in jars that are not labeled. Occasionally customers want to put their label on. I simply say no and give up the sale. It is my honey, and it gets my label. But that is just the way I think. It is not just about the money.
That was more than enough. Next month I will be back to normal topics and the weather. I hope your harvest is great and your bees shine.
June 26, 2010 - Update
The only thing I will say this time about the weather, in case you have not noticed, is “it’s freaking hot out”. Carol and I were in southern New York this week and the early morning temperature on Saturday was in the 50s. That was refreshing. It reminded us of back home 30+ years ago. On our return we came down through the central part of the state. We were traveling on route 44 northwest of Williamsport about 11 in the morning and as we were driving along, out strolls a black bear.
Rt. 44 is pretty remote but the bear was near a small hamlet. It seems bears like to hang out with us, looking for pic-a-nic baskets I guess.
We came home and I checked some of my colonies. I pulled a little honey last week and some more today. I extracted a few buckets worth. As I was extracting I got to thinking about my methods. This does not have a lot to do with Nature but I hope you enjoy it. I used eight drawn frames in a (10 frame) honey super. Most beekeepers use nine. My thoughts on honey and extracting are that they are the penance we pay to keep bees. Everyone thinks it is the stings. I like to work bees but hate to extract honey.
I have somewhere between 80 to 90 supers maybe 100, most which I run with 8 frames. There are a number of reasons for doing this. I am pretty sure that you will get just as much honey using 8 frames as nine. It is cheaper; in my case I save the price of maybe 100 frames. But the most important reason is less time extracting. I have a 12 frame extractor. It takes me between 20 and 30 minutes to uncap, scrape and get the frame ready for extraction. About 2 minutes per frame. I could go a little faster but I try to only take off the cappings and not the “fat” comb that extends out on the frame. I also scrape off and save any propolis. If I have to uncap and extract an additional 100 frames, that comes out to about three and a half hours of extra time in the honey house. It takes me about 40 hours to harvest my crop so if I can save 10% of that time I am happy.
I try and get the most with the least amount of time and equipment when it comes to honey work. I have mentioned a few times that when I build frames I do not reinsert the wedge in the top bar. I just staple the foundation directly to the frame. This yields about two extra rows of cells on a frame. Don’t laugh, in an operation my size that equals one extra super of honey with no extra work (actually less work when building the frames) or equipment.
I guess I should say something about Nature. I think we are nearing the end of the honey flow. It has slowed down. I still see clover and possibly some farm crops like alfalfa, but we are winding down and will have to wait for the fall flow which actually comes in late summer. I expect to be feeding my splits and the packages a few times in July and August to ensure they have ample stores and young bees going into winter. I never was a big fan of feeding but after this past winter I am starting to see the importance.
June 7, 2010 - Update
I always start off talking about the weather. It has really been strange the past few weeks. I was on vacation last week. I usually take off the week of the Fourth of July, but it is usually too hot to work outside. So this year I decided to take the week after Memorial Day, and what did we get? Hot, humid, July like weather. Even I am starting to think there is something to all the global warming hype. Not really, I am sure it has more to do with my luck than anything else.
The bees are really bringing in nectar. I have a lot of White Dutch Clover in my yard but I am not seeing a lot of activity on it. Maybe it had something to do with the temperature. Some flowers stop producing nectar when the temperature gets too warm. There are a number of other sources blooming now so I guess they are finding what they want.
In addition to clover, you will find sumac, ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) in full bloom and basswood is starting. Last year if you recall we all produced a darker honey in July. I still don’t know what the bees were finding and I wonder if we will see it again this year. Otherwise I would expect the flow to finish up by the end of the month. The exception to this is if there is a hay field nearby that is overdue in cutting. Sometimes you can get some nice alfalfa honey if you are lucky. I hope your supers are full.
May 15, 2010 - Update
I have given up trying to figure what is happening with the weather. April was way too warm which caused early blooming of everything by at least two weeks. The black locust was blooming at my place on May 3rd and I never saw it bloom earlier than the 15th and the 20th is more like the average. Everything else is early too. What had me concerned though is the cold snap the past ten days. I thought it would slow down the later bloomers a little but I am still seeing everything still come in early. I am worried that we will have an early end to the flow as colonies reach their peak strength. Unless the clover blooms for a few weeks I am not sure what they will work in June.
Although the bees are getting in flights I still think they are in the hive more than they would like to be, so I expect to see some swarming this next week. I did find queen cells in my strongest colonies and had I not had a bunch of purchased queens to use I could have raised some nice ones of my own. I still may set up a few two queen colonies, using the swarm cells. I also noticed them packing a lot of the nectar in the brood area. This could be because of the cool temperatures which are causing them to stay more clustered.
All I can say is watch out for swarms and let’s hope the later bloomers like basswood and sumac carry us through June.
April 5, 2010 - Update
Well it looks like another crazy Spring weather wise. While everyone is enjoying the weather, let’s put it into perspective. We have just finished a pretty cold winter. March was up and down, and now we are well above normal temperatures for the beginning of April. By the time you are reading this you should have already gone through your colonies and started getting them ready for the season. The daffodil bloom was at least a week earlier this year. We have to be concerned that if things start up too fast and then some bad weather sets in, it could really trigger swarming.
Although I have never read this anywhere, I think the weather can affect swarming. I have noticed a few seasons where colonies are building well and then we get a lot of rain or cool temperatures over the period of 10 days to two weeks in late April and especially early May which keeps this rapidly expanding colony confined. The first few nice sunny days swarms are busting out. I have noticed this with my bees and with the number of swarm calls I receive. When this weather patter sets in (fortunately not very often) I actually plan a vacation day on that first sunny day to catch swarms. It has been pretty accurate so far. I will be talking about swarming at this month’s meeting.
In my colonies I am seeing some very strong and some about right for this time of year. If you have a colony that is really doing well, now is a good time to remove one frame of capped brood and give it to another weaker one. It will free up some room in the brood nest of the strong colony and give the weaker one a boost in its population as the new bees emerge. It is hard to describe what to look for when doing this. That is why it is so important for new beekeepers to try seeing as many different colonies as they can. It is the only way you are going to learn how to judge these conditions. You should always try to attend our April meeting at the club hives. It is very rare that you can get a number of experienced beekeepers together to work colonies and give advice. I honestly cannot understand why some folks will want to “have” bees and then are reluctant to do what is necessary to “keep” them.
Here is the average blooming over a three year period for some of the flowers we are interested in. Unless the weather turns cool I think they will be a bit early this year. Again, these are based on my records and if you go a little north (or up in elevation) or a little south the times will vary somewhat.
Get supers on.
Long strong flow.
Iffy, depending on weather.
Varies year to year.
In my last article, I said I expected one more snowstorm in March. There were two Nor’easters but it was not cold enough (otherwise we would still be digging out) for snow. Technically on March 30th we had a coating of wet snow at our house and just a little north of here they had a few inches. So I will take that as a confirmation of my forecast. I still expect a fair amount of rain this Spring, but things could always change.
March 22, 2010 - Update
Talk about a beautiful weekend. I think it was one of the nicest first days of Spring I can remember. Right on schedule (after at least 3 days of +60F) the maples are blooming and the bees were able to bring much needed pollen and nectar. I hope you all were able to look in on your colonies. As the temperatures are going to return to more normal and cooler temperatures for the next week or so, I think it is a little early to really start tearing colonies apart. Watch for the main daffodil bloom for this. I did check some of mine and still gave some supplemental feeding where necessary. I also did not want to disrupt their work too much for the few short warm days we had.
I think we are mostly out of the woods and it looks like the North will be having near to slightly above average temperatures into April. I am still thinking it will be wet with some frequent storms passing through. The temperatures in the South are going to be a little cooler, as they have been most of the month. I am not sure how this will affect queen and bee production. Queens may not have as many opportunities for mating flights. With all the colony losses, I expect demand to be high. In my opinion this is not a good recipe for success, where producers will be pushing the bees to meet demand and Mother Nature may not be cooperating.
After the daffodils is the time to judge the colonies for strength and health. Not every colony will be strong enough and some may be too strong. You may want to do a little equalization in anticipation of the dandelion bloom. I like to have my supers on by then. Although they will not be storing any surplus at that time I like to let them know they have plenty of room and maybe they do not need to swarm. We will be discussing swarms at the next club meeting.
I did start going through my colonies that did not survive. While there were a few with little or no bees the majority just plain starved. These were strong (some too strong) and would have produced well had they made it. Most of my colonies went into winter with ample stores, but it seemed they “burned it up” much faster than I expected. After discovering this, my biggest problem was getting through all the snow to feed them and I lost a number of colonies between feedings. That really hurt.
I have to ask myself if I did not judge the stores correctly or did something else happen. I harvest in August and always leave the fall flow as insurance. I did smell aster/goldenrod curing in one yard so I assumed it was coming in only a little later than usual. I have more questions than answers and can only try it again this year and hope for a better outcome. Although I think that is the accepted definition of insanity.
March 8, 2010 - Update
We just had our first really nice weekend of the year. The bees were flying and the temperature in the mid 50s was about 10 degrees above normal. They really needed this time. I visited all my colonies and peeked in each one to add some fondant. By the end of the day my gray sweatshirt was covered with brown spots. They did not get too many chances for cleansing flights this winter.
Looking at the weather, as I said before, I still see a cooler and wetter than normal spring. In looking at what caused the very cold winter we had it appears like those conditions are changing and the chances of getting additional snow after the 21st goes way down. I am still a little concerned between the 15th and 20th where we could still see some below normal temperatures, and if that combines with one of the moisture laden storms passing through we could see some snow, especially on the mountains. So right now it is a role of the dice.
Blooming: The first real chance of a good nectar flow will be the maples. Here are the observed bloom times for the past three years.
In each case there were at least 3 days where temperatures hit 60 or higher right before the bloom. Please also note that there is usually a 3 to 7 day window from when the first buds open and full bloom. Maples can be a problem, though; if the weather turns too cool there will not be much foraging. So once the bloom starts keep an eye on the temperature. Dandelions, which are really our first dependable flow, will follow maples by 3 to 4 weeks.
March 1, 2010
Now that we have a website in addition to our newsletter I am going to try and maintain a column dealing with Nature’s affect on bees. I will try to get something out the first of the month for the newsletter and possibly weekly updates for the website. I have long believed that bees like the rest of nature do not follow a calendar like we humans do. I have been interested in the natural world since I was a child and have always pursued hobbies that are somehow are affected by Nature. This column will be a little longer than those in the future, if you will permit me to give you some of my thoughts.
If you look at any part of agriculture, weather plays a critical part. We are dependent on it and can do nothing to control it. The best we can hope for is to predict it and make changes accordingly. For agriculture, both long and short range forecasts are important. All I can do is look at what happened in the past when certain conditions are met and take a shot at what I think will happen. This column will not be about mites, or the latest problem to hit us. It will just be my best guess, and yes it is only a guess, of what we should be doing at a given time based on conditions. It should also be noted that what I say applies to where I live. Conditions 30 miles north or south or 1000 ft. up will affect what I say. You will have to adjust accordingly. We also have to remember that weather conditions are only part of the equation. There are many other factors that come to play. So you can read this for entertainment or to possibly influence your planning.
One quick observation before my forecast: Many years ago a wise beekeeper said there is a difference between a beekeeper and a beehaver. It is easy to “have” bees in your backyard but “keeping” them is a whole different game. In my 20+ years I have seen many folks come and go in this club, having become disgusted with their problems and quitting. If I can give you one piece of advice, listen to those that have been successful and take what they say (which will be different and sometimes conflicting), ask questions, and apply it. Let me leave you with my favorite quote in beekeeping. “This will be my 1st season keeping bees for the 23rd time.” Meaning that every year is different, but that is why beekeeping is an art and not a science.
Predictions and things to watch for:
I think we will see a cool and wet spring. The first week in March should be a little closer to normal (but still below) with temperatures in the 40s (great for a change). Further south will be cooler which could affect queen rearing in the southern states. The next two weeks will still be cool with a slight warming toward the end of the month. I still think we will get one more good snowstorm maybe around the 21st or a little later. The good news is the snow won’t last and there should be at least some warm days.
Watch for the maple bloom. This is a good source of nectar and pollen if the weather is good for flights. There can be as much as a ten day window from year to year with this bloom. Also watch for the first daffodils to bloom. This is by far the sign of the beginning of the season. You should be digging into your colonies when they start to bloom. Look for flowers away from buildings which may act as a heat source and push some to bloom earlier. I like to look for some out in the open. Prior to this time you should just be monitoring stores and feed if necessary. There is no need to tear into the colonies too early. It does more harm than good.
Good luck on your first season no matter how long you have been doing this.