The last season brought some things that no one around here had seen before.
Winter of 2011 - 2012 was the warmest for wintering bees that I have ever seen in almost 20 years. The warm winter made overwintering bees a cake walk. It seems that if the bees had 40 lbs of honey they were able to survive.
Most queens starting laying early in January. The only cold spell we had was in Feb for about three days. This did kill a few colonies caught with no honey and brood on the frames. Starvation still was an issue in colonies that went into winter short on stores. Early feeding saved many colonies.
The early laying put populations on a steady rise. By March colonies were building up nicely. Pollen patties were being devoured at a steady clip keeping the spring build up on course. Late March and early April there was natural pollen coming in.
April put colonies three weeks ahead of schedule. Package bees arrived on schedule and the weather proved nice to install them and get the bees up and running. Dandelions were coming out in mid April around the metro area. The fruit bloom started in late April with apples finishing in the first week of May. A hard frost hit in early May severely damaging the fruit crop in MN. The early fruit bloom left many colonies with no pollen coming in for three weeks in May. This dearth in pollen contributed to swarming, queen laying issues and supersedure. Beekeepers that put on pollen patties saw the bees gobbling them up.
Swarming started becoming an issue in late April. Overwintered colonies began bursting at the seams. This caught many beekeepers off guard. Swarming began early and went on into June. Colonies were being divided three weeks earlier than normal starting in late April into early May. Luckily queens were available for most of the divisions.
Package bees progressed nicely through May into June.
The main nectar flow started three weeks early around the first of June. Overwintered colonies that were strong began packing the honey away. Package bees still had not fully developed yet and were not able to reap the nectar at this time. The weather was fine and moisture was ample.
Overwintered colonies put away large amounts of honey around the metro area. Beekeepers in the north had to contend with large rainfalls and beekeepers south of the metro had drought conditions to deal with. Wisconsin beekeepers had very dry conditions that contributed to a poor nectar flow. Minnesota beekeepers in the central part of the state heading straight into South Dakota had a good to very good nectar flow.
The nectar flow was steady through the first three weeks of June then the weather dried up and so did the nectar for many of us. Package bees were up and ready to go by then but the dry conditions kept the nectar flow at bay.
July came and the dry weather continued. Swarming came out again keeping swarm chasers busy for a long swarm season.
The crud was in many bee colonies across the country. This was probably a virus. Luckily the crud responded to a couple of treatments of Terramycian.
August did produce some Goldenrod honey for many colonies. The honey did have a higher moisture content than the June crop had.
Sept did prove a surprise. Being that the over wintered colonies had an early build up, mites started to rear their ugly little heads. Mite treatments were going on over the the fall months. Some colonies experienced mite damage in August. Mite treatments applied in Sept and October on these mite damaged colonies proved ineffective as the bees started to abscond in late Sept and Oct. Mite damaged colonies were too far gone to save. Beekeepers that treated in August had good luck keeping the mites in check. The mite build up in packages was mixed. Some packages needed treatments but most seemed to have lower mite counts.
Winter stores in many colonies were light. Feeding went on through the fall. Beekeepers that fed early were able to get ample food in their hives. Cooler weather made late feeders struggle to get their colonies up to proper wintering weight. They had to resort to putting on candy boards or feeding dry sugar.
Late fall weather was warm even into December. The warm fall made for low consumption of winter stores that will hopefully bring the bees through winter.
While the last year was challenging with the weather most of the bees are in great shape and with a little luck and a normal winter, 2013 looks to be a good one.