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Beekeeping in June in the PNW - 2022

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

We’re well into June! This June is a bit different than most. The below average temperatures and above average rainfall, in line with the theme of the beekeeping season thus far, have made it difficult for all of our girls (and those moochin’ boys) to get out of the hive and do the work they need to do. Watching my backyard hives, it almost seems like they have taken up the mentality of all PNWers and just brave the rain. I now have a live feed camera on one of the backyard hives to keep tabs on their activity (mostly while I’m stuck inside the hospital) and regularly see them out and about even during the torrential downpours of the last few days. Not that it will make any difference, but I wonder how effective their foraging is during this time…?

The natural inclination of a hive during this time of year is to swarm, which is the reproductive method of a honey bee colony. When a colony is large and healthy with lots of stores, they begin preparations to swarm (much to the beekeeper’s chagrin). The worker bees build queen cups that point down in the hive, as opposed to standard cells pointing parallel to the ground, which the queen lays fertilized eggs in. They try to stop the queen from laying by filling the brood nest area with nectar so she doesn’t have space to lay. Workers also minimize the amount of food they give to their queen, which helps her to slim down and prepare for flight again (the last time she flew was when she was only a week or two old for mating). Once the several to several dozen queen cells are capped with healthy larva ready to pupate into virgin queens, the ‘old’ queen and roughly half of the worker bees (even some nurse bees who have allegedly never flown) leave the hive in a massive swarm and find a place to hang out, literally. They hang in a tree, on a fence, or anywhere they are drawn to (beekeeper pun). They then send out scout bees to find a suitable cavity to move into. This process is studied extensively and yet remains mysterious. We do know that scouts will return to the swarm and try to convince others that their discovered location is the best. Other scouts then fly to it, check it out, and return with the same intent. Once the majority are set on a site by this democratic process, the swarm moves in. I’ve had 5 swarm calls so far this season. Each time, I’ve been able to successfully collect the swarm and start a small new colony of honey bees!

As a beekeeper, we try our best to control swarming. This can be accomplished in many ways, but typically involve tricking the bees into thinking they have swarmed, keeping young queens, and giving them plenty of space to work in. I’ve been very unconcerned about swarming with all of you hosts since all of the colonies started out as small colonies this spring and have brand new queens. Next spring this will not be the case and it will be a chore ‘keeping the bees in the box’.

The blackberry flowers are just opening and I fully expect the nectar to start flowing into the hives by 2-5 lbs every day. Keep in mind that nectar is composed of approximately 80% water and 20% sugars and it must be dehydrated (and regurgitated) by the bees to turn into honey at approximately 80% sugars and 20% water. There are so many factors that go into how much honey can be harvested in August that I won’t try and make any predictions on how much we will get. Just remember that they need approximately 80 lbs to overwinter successfully and most hives have zero to 20 pounds of honey currently. They have a long way to go! Let’s cheer them on as they work hard! Here’s to healthy bees,happy beekeepers, and plenty of honey for us all!

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