In this part of the world, beekeepers want to have plenty of bees in the hives when the blackberries bloom. I saw my first blackberry blossom last week, so it was time to assess the status of the hives.
Only one of my three colonies managed to make it through the winter. To replace the dead colonies I purchased two five-pound packages of California bees from a friendly local beekeeper. I put these bees in the dead-out hive equipment on April Fools day. They had a California attitude from the beginning. On cool days, the California girls were sleeping while my struggling Oregon natives were out working. When they finally got moving the Cal gals were persistent about trying to rob from my weaker colony and, if I left the door open, they were quickly into my storage shed for any pickings they could find in vacant equipment.
The new bees have cleaned up the old equipment and seem healthy with no signs of brood diseases. Mite drops through the screened bottom boards are almost zero at the moment. A good sign, but I know that most of the mites are hiding out in the brood.
Usually I leave plenty of honey with the bees in the fall. I use two deep chambers for the brood nest, and in the fall there is usually at least 50 pounds of honey with the bees when I put them to bed for the winter. This year, when my two colonies succumbed to a virus associated with the Varroa mites, they were still heavy with honey. So when I installed the new bees, they knew what to do. Turn all that honey into bees! That’s the hive’s job in the spring. This year the large surplus proved more important than usual. With the long cool wet spring, the bees have just about gobbled up all of the stored honey. But the hives are heavy with bees! Honey supers are in place. Now all we need is some sunshine and our major blackberry honey flow will be on!