Getting Started: A Synopsis of Bee Management in Georgia
Beekeeping does not work by recipe, and an outline like this is no substitute for knowledge and experience. This section is provided primarily for new beekeepers or beekeepers new to the area and others who may want a synopsis of seasonal activities and expectations.
This is the quiet time. The beekeeper should make sure hives are inclined forward to permit moisture drainage.
If food stores are low (colony is very light when you tip it from the back), it is advisable to open hives on warm days and feed a heavy syrup of 2 parts sugar to one part water. Hive top feeders are advisable; entrance feeders generally are not. Division board feeders have the liability of causing many bees to drown. In an emergency situation in which the colony is near starvation, the best feeding method is to invert a gallon can of syrup, with one or two tiny perforations in the lid, directly on the top bars of the combs housing the clustering bees. The can is then covered with an empty super. This puts the food directly where the bees are with no risk of drowning. An alternative to this method is to substitute the inverted bucket with a one-gallon zip-lock bag. After placing the bag on the top bars you can make a 5-inch slit on top with a razor blade. The syrup wells up and the bees drink it from the top side (Fig. 1).
You may treat for varroa mites if you can retrieve 1-10 varroa mites with an overnight sticky sheet on the bottom board. Synthetic miticides are labeled for this use, but you can get good control non-chemically by dusting the top bars of combs with powdered sugar. When the sugar dusts the bees it excites a cleaning frenzy that dislodges many mites (Fig. 2). This method must be used in conjunction with screen hive floors. Floral sources: red maple, dandelion.
Food demands are increasing as brood production is picking up. It is now advisable to switch to a lighter 1 : 1 syrup. All mite treatments should be completed no later than the end of February.
Colonies may be preparing to swarm by the beginning of March, or even earlier in south Georgia. One of the primary goals of beekeeping is to keep this from happening. At this point the best preventive measure is to equalize colonies, taking brood from stronger colonies and giving it to weaker ones. Cutting queen cells, every 10 days at maximum, is another way to reduce swarming (Fig. 3).
Now is the time to note poorly-performing queens, those with little brood or brood with a patchy pattern (Fig. 4), and to target them for replacement.
Floral sources: red maple, spring titi, canola, blueberry, orchard plants.
The busiest time of the year. Swarm prevention and colony buildup are the goals.
Continue equalizing colonies and cutting queen cells. Sell or trade frames of brood if necessary to knock back extra strong colonies. Another use of surplus brood is the production of splits, or new colonies. Take 3-5 frames of bees, honey, and brood (minus the queen), place them in a new hive body, give them a new caged queen, and move the new colony to a new apiary site. Package bees are also now available for making colony increase.
With the availability of mail-order queens the beekeeper can now replace failing queens. Find and remove the old queen from the colony, insert the new caged queen between two center brood frames, but do not remove the cork from the cage opening. Return after 2-3 days and observe the behavior of the bees on the outside of the cage. Do not release the queen if workers are biting the wires of the cage (Fig. 5). But if the hive bees are trying to feed the caged queen (reaching through the wires with their tongues), then this is a good sign that they are ready to accept her (Fig. 6). At that point you can remove the cork. Check a week later to make sure the new queen is accepted. You will know this if there is an abundance of newly-laid eggs and young brood in the cells.
By mid-April most of Georgia is in prime honey production. Hive manipulations should cease and the beekeeper should be supering up for the various flows which are clover, tupelo, blackberry and other brambles, tulip poplar, and gallberry.
The main activity honey-wise in Georgia at this time is sourwood in the mountain regions and cotton in the areas of Georgia south of Perry. In some years these flows are significant. Sourwood begins within the first two weeks of June and may last through July. Cotton runs about mid-July to mid-August.
Most beekeepers remove all spring honey before moving hives to the mountains or supering them up for sourwood. Pollination may draw some revenue, especially with cucurbit crops such as pumpkin.
Hot, dry summers can be stressful on bees. The beekeeper can help by providing water in entrance feeders. If robbing gets started in an apiary it is important to tape shut all gaps and cracks that permit foreign bees to harass a colony.
Fire ants may get aggressive in drought conditions, and the beekeeper can respond with mound treatments of Amdro™ or similar fire ant baits. In areas with small hive beetles now is a good time to treat soil surrounding hives with the nematodes, Steinernema riobrave and Heterorhabditis indica, available from organic gardening catalogs.
Things are winding down in Georgia apiculture, but there are some important tasks remaining. Foremost is varroa mite management.
The beekeeper can discourage varroa mite population growth by using screen hive floors, regularly dusting bees with powdered sugar, keeping hives in sunny locations, and using queen stocks selected for varroa resistance. If in spite of these practices mite levels reach 60-180 mites on an overnight sticky sheet, it may be time to intercede with an acutely toxic miticide like Api-Life VAR™ or Api-Guard™.
Other late summer/early autumn tasks are feeding (with 2 : 1 syrup) if necessary and rectifying any queen problems present in the apiary. Weak colonies should be combined by killing the weaker of the two queens and stacking hives on each other with a slit newspaper between.
Stored equipment can be protected against wax moths by freezing combs and storing in moth-tight enclosures or stacking honey supers in a criss-cross fashion in open sheds. The penetrating air and daylight discourage colonization by moths. Some beekeepers store supers in enclosed barns with a lighted bug-zapper running constantly to kill emerging adult moths. This practice can eventually eradicate moths from the room.