A bee hive is stocked with packaged bees. Credit: Courtesy of James Cowin

Though it doesn’t feel like it, spring is in the air and my bees will soon be building up fast.

I will do everything I can to boost their population as early as I can by feeding them with sugar syrup and pollen patties as soon as it’s warm enough. That usually starts in early March.

By mid-April, my colonies will be buzzing with bees and most will need me to add more room to accommodate them and give them more room to expand even faster. I will want a good weather forecast for that as adding more room makes it harder for bees to keep the inside of their home warm. If you add too much room too fast they can get chilled and start to decrease in population rather than increase.

For those colonies that are healthy but still too small to add room to, I will boost them by adding combs of bees and brood from the strongest hives.

Another trick is to place the small colony on top of a large colony. Between them I have a couple of sheets of newspaper and a queen excluder. The queen excluder is a wire grid that has openings large enough for worker bees to pass through but is too fine for the queen bee to pass through. This is important to stop the queens from killing each other.

Bees in the strong lower colony, in need of more room, chew away the newspaper slowly over a week or so. This gradually allows bees, air and chemicals called pheromones to pass through and mix together. The bees then believe they are one big family and do not fight with each other. Now that the small colony on the top of the multistory colony has all these new bees from below joining them, that queen gets really busy laying many more eggs and now both top and bottom colonies grow quickly. I can then separate them again after a couple of weeks and they are ready to each have more room added.

By the time we get into May I will start to split these large colonies into multiple small colonies called nucs that I plan to sell. I make these nucs by taking the original overwintered queen and three to four combs containing bees, brood (bee larvae) and one to two combs of honey and pollen. This five-frame nuc is now ready for sale.

This leaves the old colony with multiple combs of brood and honey but no queen. So, the remainder is split with each nuc box filled with two combs of brood, two combs of honey and pollen all covered with bees, and one empty frame for expansion. I will then place a new caged queen into these new nucs.

I will be buying my favorite variety of queen bees, a Canadian breed called Saskatraz. Each queen is in a cage that has its exit blocked by a plug of candy. It will take a few days for the bees to eat through the candy to release their new mother from the cage. During this time her pheromones and theirs are mixing and they gradually accept her as their new queen. She will then start to lay. After three weeks these new nucs will also be ready for sale.

In addition to growing nucs I also have bees sent to me from down south in screened packages. Each package contains a caged queen and about 12,000 bees. This is about the same number of bees as would be in a nuc but there is no comb or brood. These packages get sold straight on to customers looking for a  less expensive option. To me the $50 to $60 more for a nuc is more than paid for by the ready-built comb and all the brood they contain.

Anyone wanting nucs or packaged bees from me should check out my website  beewhisperer.us

For anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping as a hobby I will be having a workshop from March 13-16 (recorded version available for several weeks after this date). Find out the basics of beekeeping and see if this is the hobby for you, registration is only $10 per person at beekeeping247.com/beginner-beekeeping-workshop-march-2023.

Peter Cowin, aka The Bee Whisperer, is founder and former President of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association. His activities include honey production, pollination services, beekeeping lessons, sales of bees and beekeeping equipment, and the removal of feral bee hives from homes and other structures. Check out his website beewhisperer.us or go to “The Bee Whisperer” on Facebook or “Beekeeping with the Bee Whisperer” on YouTube. He can be reached at petercowin@tds.net or 207-299-6948.