Many of the local old timers in Appalachia joke that we don’t have your typical four seasons. We have twelve. They are, in order:
Spring of Deception
Devil’s Front Porch
2022 weather data collected by North Carolina’s State Climate Office seems to prove the local OG's correct. These twelve seasons, whether perceived or real, present a problem for the WNC beekeeper, especially in the spring. Spring is the season to ascertain the previous winter’s hive losses, commonly called “dead outs” and prepare the apiary for the coming nectar flows. This includes splitting hives, or buying nucs ( aka 'nucleus colony') and packages to replace the ones lost. Getting the timing right can be problematic.
Just like most years, we split hives in the spring to cover winter losses. I take several brood frames with nurse bees and capped brood from strong, over wintered hives and place them in another hive box. The next day, I introduce a six week old mated queen. The previous year's queen remains in the original colony with empty frames of foundation. The result is two hives and the bonus affect of reducing overcrowding in the overwintered hive; overcrowding is a major factor of swarming. Because we suffered more than normal winter hive losses, we also purchased several nucs and ten new Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica) queens.
The question then becomes when to expand the number of hives to maximize their chances of survival. Too early and the hives can perish in a Fools Spring or Spring of Deception because the nurse bees may not have the resources to produce the necessary heat to survive. Under these circumstances many beekeepers will attempt to feed their new charges sugar water. This will fail because bees can’t metabolize sucrose below fifty degrees. We purchased our nucs and new queens at the end of March. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and cycled through several cold spells. However, we keep a reserve of ten full honey supers from the previous year to supplement hives with low reserves, newly split hives and nucs. So, this year, when we installed our nucs and split our hives, we had plenty of resources available to weather the two cold springs that occurred.
During last week’s hive inspections, all 55 hives —overwintered, nucs and splits were healthy, strong and ready for the upcoming 2023 nectar flows. We expect nothing less than another award-winning year at Killer Bees Honey.
Photo: A new queen in her queen cage being introduced into a split.