We need to be watching the weather. Before we know it, the dandelions will be popping up and the nectar flow will full be on! Our surviving colonies will be busting at the seams packages and nucs will be delivered and we will need to be prepared to stay ahead of their growth. As a beekeeper, there's nothing worse than being ill prepared when your bees are outgrowing their hives.
I got caught like that once and vowed to not let it happen again. Unfortunately, I still find myself scrambling for one thing or another as I try to keep that balance of growth and stability in my bee yards. Here are a few bottlenecks I've found as I've learned how to be prepared.
Healthy hives are going to want to do what nature intends them to do; swarm. It's nature's way of ensuring that healthy bees continue to proliferate and populate our planet; in spite of what we humans do to either help or hinder them. Although a spring swarm is typically a sign of a healthy hive, I am not interested in watching 50% or more of my healthy hive fly off into the sunset after I've spent all of this time, energy and resources keeping them alive and well throughout the winter.
Having 10%-20% more equipment on hand than you anticipate needing is always a good practice. You want to stay slightly ahead of your bee's progress, being on the ready to add another box at just the right time. I think tending a fire is similar to tending the growth of your hive. In the same way that you wouldn't throw big logs on some newly lit tinder, you wouldn't place 3 or 4 empty boxes on a colony fresh out of winter. The bees would feel compelled to guard and maintain the over abundant comb surfaces thus causing them to spread their workforce too thinly and hinder their maintenance of more important components of their hive like the queen's freshly laid eggs and the brood.
Have your boxes assembled and painted well in advance. I used to frequently get them assembled but would not get them primed and painted. This caused them to prematurely age. One can assemble a box and throw it in the mix but, one shouldn't paint them and expect the bees to take to it with the smell of paint still present on the boxes. Ample time for paint to cure is a must.
Make sure you have a surplus of frames. This is where many beekeepers cut corners in their haste to keep up with the bees. They make the mistake of not filling their boxes with frames for the bees to draw comb on. Often times they plan on getting back to the hive in a day or two to fill in the frame slots once they've assembled more frames. A day turns into a week. Then, the beekeeper is faced with the consequence of "violated bee space." The bees fill in that empty slot or two with comb. Now the beekeeper is faced with the dilemma of what to do. The bees used a ton of energy and resources and the beekeeper feels compelled to remove it and put in the neglected frames. It's a setback to both the beekeeper and the bees!
Ensure that you have extra bottom boards. In a pinch, many things can be used as a temporary cover or lid for a hive. However, bottom boards serve a certain purpose which cannot be simply slapped together then replaced a day or two later when the beekeeper has caught up. The bottom board is not only the floor of the Langstroth style hive, it also typically serves as the hive entrance. Without that functioning bottom board, the colony cannot function well.
Feeding a newly split hive, package, nuc or a captured swarm is of utmost importance! Be sure you not only have an adequate amount of feeders. Be sure that you have a supply of 1:1 sugar syrup ready in the spring. You don't want to make your split then have to run into the house to prepare a fresh batch of sugar syrup then wait for it to cool, then provide it to the colony. Have it ready to go. Don't give your bees another reason to feel like the new home you're providing is not up to their standards!
Drawn comb is great to have on hand. Remember that springtime is when bees will be drawing new comb. Be preparing for future comb needs by harnessing the power of a strong comb building hive. A spring hive that is fed ample amounts of 1:1 sugar syrup will be stimulated to draw out comb. Bees typically will not draw out comb later in the season so, collect your comb frames while you can! Providing drawn comb to a split or a weak hive going into winter can make all the difference in the world to a colony trying to get up and running. It is important to provide to package bees as well. You can never have enough drawn comb. Well, once you do, melt it down and process it into that beautiful golden wax!
So remember, have your hive boxes assembled, primed and painted well in advance. Get those frames ready to install. Bottom boards are a must! Be sure to have several ready. Have 1:1 sugar syrup ready to go so your bees can draw out comb to provide you with that essential resource.
Stay ahead of the wave!