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Warm spring encourages an early start to bee season

Brett Kent1 / 2
Yellow pollen coating the bees' rear legs signals to the queen spring is coming. (Brett Kent / For the Enterprise)2 / 2

Welcome back to the Beehive. What an exciting time of year to be a beekeeper. The warm temperatures these last few weeks have allowed me to open up my hives and get a good idea of their health. I have to say, I was very surprised.

About 60 percent of my hives made it through the winter in great shape. When I opened the hives, I saw that the queens have started laying eggs, which means we will be having newborn bees in 21 days.

Also, I watched as the foraging bees returned from their trips. I observed that their rear legs are loaded with bright yellow pollen. This is a signal to the queen bee, that spring and the nectar flow is coming, and it is time to ramp up the egg laying to increase the bee population within the hive. The pollen is used to feed the larva once they hatch from the eggs.

I know the bees are collecting pollen from the pussy willow bushes and the cotton wood trees. The bee's first opportunity for nectar is the dandelion crop. I have never been so anxious to get those darn dandelions growing.

After I did the hive inspections, I was so exuberant; I called my commercial beekeeper buddy, Gerald, who was down in Texas. Gerald told me that he had been busy starting 1600 "nucs." Nucs are starter hives. They are usually four or five frames of brood, which is unhatched bees, and a queen, and about 10,000 bees. As I was talking to Gerald, I told him that his beekeeping operation sounded really neat, and I bet he was having a good time.

Gerald told me that he wished that he were back in Minnesota beaver trapping. So, there you have it. The commercial beekeepers want to be beaver trappers and the grass is always greener, on the other side of the fence.

I told Gerald that I would be needing some new queens in the middle of April. Gerald and his sons graft new queens for their hives while they are in Texas. One of the reasons they graft the queens while down south is there are no drones, male bees, in Minnesota in the early spring.

Remember last fall in one of my previous columns, I wrote that just before winter, the worker bees kill off all of the drones, to save on the honey stores. So, if I were to graft new queens in Minnesota, the new queens would not be able to be bred, until the old queens start laying drone brood, which doesn't happen until later in the season.

If you know a beekeeper in Minnesota that grafts queens here, his nucs would typically not be available for sale until the first week of June. So, all in all, Gerald queens are getting about a month head start, by being grafted in Texas.

That month can be quite important because of our short beekeeping season. Well, I have rambled on enough for now, if you have any questions, please e-mail me through the Enterprise at ssmith@parkrapids As always, thanks for your interest.