For the past two weeks, I have been recovering from pneumonia and was unable to get out and inspect my hives. The imagery below is a classic example of why is important to check your hives weekly just before and during a nectar flow.
The leaves on Black Locust trees around my house started to bud around 14 April. This means the nectar flow is less than two weeks from starting.
With the impending nectar flow coming, the impulse for your bees to swarm is very strong. When the bees swarm, more than half of the colonies’ foragers will leave with the queen bee. With only one true nectar flow in our area (from the Black Locust tree), if any of your hives swarm, it's very likely the remaining foragers will not be able to bring back enough pollen and nectar for storage to survive the coming winter without starving.
That's why it's crucial that you inspect your colonies every 7 days, 1 week prior to the nectar flow, during the actual flow, and probably 2 weeks to a month, following the flow. In our area, here in Northeastern Maryland, that would be from 15 April through 15 June.
The most important thing you should look for during a nectar flow is bee space and the presence of active queen cells. It's critical that the bees don't come close to running out of frames to store honey or to raise brood, for if they do, it will activate the swarm impulse or force them to fill the brood area with honey, causing the colony to become honey-bound. As seen above, most swarm cells will be found on the bottom of the frames. Usually, workers build them one at a time, so you will see how some are more developed than others. Below are two queen cells that are probably one to two days apart in age.
When you find queen cells like above, you can expect the mother queen to leave (swarm) with 50% of the colony between day 7 (shown above) and day 13 (shown below.) If you don't want to lose your colony to this swarm impulse, action must be taken quickly to mitigate this swarming impulse.
The best option to take is to locate the queen and remove her from this colony as well as several frames of uncapped brood, a frame of honey and a frame of pollen, and place them into another hive box. This will cause the existing colony to assume that their queen has swarmed. The original colony will now finish raising the queen cells to create a new queen.
If you choose to keep the Queen, you must destroy all other Queen cells, however; understand this most likely will only delay the colony from attempting to swarm again. The impulse to swarm can rarely be dampened.
Well, that's it for now. Email me if you have any comments or questions.