All the hives in the bee yards have now been opened. In our area this means the protective winter cases have been removed (that helped protect the bees from the cold, wind and snow). Also the hive reducers which narrowed the hive entrance to help maintain the heat have been removed.
The food reserves in each hive have been checked and a sugar syrup feed to those bee colonies that have insufficient honey reserves to last until the spring flowers provide a new food source.
The hives have been checked to ensure each one has a healthy Queen and that she is laying eggs in a regular pattern throughout the brood chamber. Since it is our practice to have a double brood chamber ( 2 hive boxes) for the Queen to use in laying eggs, and the colony to feed and nurture the developing brood, it is normal to reverse the two hive boxes. In other words, to switch the bottom and top supers. This is done at this time because the Queen works her way to the upper part of the hive laying eggs as she goes. By putting her down at the bottom she continues the process of laying eggs in the now empty cells since the brood has hatched.
If there are some weak hives, (that have a small population of bees) the bees will be combined with another weak hive to ensure one strong healthy hive. If a hive is very weak, it will be combined with a strong hive.
These activities are part of the first comprehensive inspection of the season. The hive is being checked for capped brood and the brood pattern which helps determine the health of the Queen. If there is a low amount of capped brood or erratically spaced brood throughout the hive, the Queen may have to be replaced.
The frames in the hive ( 10 frames per box) are examined for swarm cells. Eggs will be laid in Queen cells, the larvae will hatch in 3 days and later sealed on the 9th day and the new Queen will hatch in 7 days later (16 days in all). The old Queen will leave with the swarm of bees around when the Queen cell is sealed.
It is at this time the bee keeper can exercise several options to control swarming. One is to remove the old Queen and hence the prime swarm cannot leave the colony and the soon to be hatched Queen will take over the hive. Alternatively, if the old Queen is young and healthy, the new Queen cells might be removed. It is very important to control swarming if at all possible since the loss of a significant number of bees weakens the hive and reduces the overall honey production for the year.
Testing for varroa and tracheal mites is undertaken and medication applied if necessary. The hive is also inspected for infection by the small hive beetle and American Foul Brood and medicated if necessary.
Under the regulations of the Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture, beekeepers must wait 30 days after the last treatment of any kind before adding any additional supers to the hive. This permits the disappearance of all chemicals from the hive before the bees start to store honey in the upper supers.