At this point in the year your bees should be building up rapidly. Strong colonies will be reaching 70,000-80,000 bees by June for maximum honey production. May and June in Indiana is the time to be monitoring for swarm cells and managing space in the hive. If you have frames from the previous year already drawn out with wax then your colonies can be even more productive. If all you have is bare foundation, the bees will draw it out rapidly during the spring and summer nectar flows. Don’t forget to periodically monitor for mites and treat if desired.
When you check your hives in late spring you’ll periodically need to check the brood nest for pests and disease, but your main concern is swarm cells. If you have not been able to stay ahead of the swarming impulse by adding empty frames of foundation or drawn comb, your hive may decide to swarm. Once the swarm impulse arises it is very difficult to prevent. Going through the hives every 7 days and removing swarm cells as you find them is one option, but there is a possibility they have already swarmed or will swarm anyway. Either situation leaves you with a queenless hive. The best option is to provide hives with space to grow into by adding extra supers when they need them and adding an empty frame into the brood nest. The bees will quickly draw out the foundation placed in the brood nest and that will give the queen more room to lay. If they insist on making swarm cells despite your best efforts, then take the queen and 4-5 frames of brood and stores and start a second hive. Do not transfer any queen cells with the hive. The original hive will think it has swarmed, hatch a new queen, and go on about the business of making honey.
Your overwintered colonies should be strong enough to remove the entrance reducer by May. If you installed a new package or are dealing with a new nuc then leave it in until they have one brood box full of bees. Just remember smaller entrances for smaller hives.
If you want to expand your apiary without having to purchase bees, May through June is the easiest time of year to make increase. For beginners a walk-away split is the best method of splitting bees. If you have a frame with at least 10 frames of bees and stores, simply split one hive into two. Give each hive equal resources and make sure there is a frame with eggs in both new hives. The queen will end up in one of the boxes and it doesn’t matter which. The queenless half will raise a new queen from the eggs. If your queenless half never ends up with a mated queen for some reason it can always be combined back with another hive at the end of summer.
During the honey flow, it is time to add another super when the one on the hive is 6-7 frames complete. You can set the empty super on top or between the partial super and the brood chamber. Keeping ahead of the bees during a honey flow is important for maximizing production and swarm prevention.
Never feed or medicate a hive when your honey supers are on. You don’t want to taint your honey with sugar water, insecticides, or antibiotics.
Late spring/early summer is swarm season! Swarms are a great source of free bees, but smaller swarms occurring later in the season may need to be combined with one of your weaker hives. Swarms from feral bees or other apiaries may be infested with pests or disease. If possible, set them up in a hive at least 3 miles away from your home apiary in a quarantine yard until they prove themselves healthy. Traditional wisdom says to combine all small swarms after July 1st and every swarm after July 15th. I have had a late July swarm that I fed 2 gallons of sugar water end up filling 2 ½ medium boxes with all new wax. They went into winter the same size as my spring splits. The beekeeper evaluating the swarm is responsible for choosing whether to combine or quarantine and feed.
July 1st is a typical honey harvest date in Indiana according to the Indiana Beekeepers’ Association. Harvesting at this time helps you keep the lighter spring honey separate from the darker, more robust fall honey, which is harvested at the beginning of September. Which honey is “better” is a matter of personal preference and you may have customers ask for one or the others. If you spent your spring starting new hives and splitting overwintered ones you may not have a honey harvest to speak of. It can be hard to wait over a year for a honey payout on your investment though, so don’t be afraid to take a frame out for your own personal enjoyment. Crush the comb, strain out the wax and debris, and enjoy it over a bowl of ice cream (my favorite!) or however you prefer. You’ve earned it!