As the cold temperatures of Winter begin to loosen their grasp, beekeepers begin to gear up for a new season. Spring beekeeping is an important time for new and experienced beekeepers. It sets the stage for the coming production months. Colonies that have been in a semi-dormant state emerge from the hives to look for early pollen and nectar. In this guide, we will explore the essential steps in spring hive management to ensure your colonies have what they need.
Each season of the year requires some type of beehive management. Our scheduled tasks mirror the annual cycle of colony life. Spring is a natural time of buildup as the bees prepare for the honey season. We want to make sure they are ready.
Getting Your Beehives Ready for Spring
As Spring flower buds swell and open, we see more and more insect activity. With some variety (due to different species), bees come out to look for food on the warm days of late Winter – early Spring. Before your colonies become very active is the time for you to get ready.
This is the time to perform an equipment check. Inspect your beekeeping equipment – especially that which is in storage. Replace or repair items that are not in good condition. Place equipment orders before the supply houses get busy.
Do you have old frames of black honeycomb? Or, if you know you have some frames of old wax in the hives – make plans to have new frames ready.
Rotating old frames (especially brood frames) out of the hive is a great step towards healthy colonies. Beeswax absorbs all type of contaminates – fresh new beeswax is much healthier.
Observing the hive entrance reveals some interesting tips on colony condition. However, to really know the state of your bees, you need to do a real hive inspection. On a warmish day, you need to do a quick check inside the hive.
How warm is warm enough to open the hive? Any attempt by myself to give you a temperature in degrees is an educated guess and will result in others saying – no that’s not right.
The general recommendation is to only open the hive with the temperature is at least 55-57° F. Even then, do not keep any frames containing young out of the hive for more than 30 seconds or so – bee brood are easily killed by chilling.
Seeing the queen on the comb is a great first step, but we need to do more than just find the queen bee. Queen bees often slow down or stop egg laying during the cold months.
Once, fresh nectar starts coming in during late Winter, new bee eggs begin to appear in the comb. Don’t panic if you can find her – look for evidence of her – fresh eggs.
If your queen is healthy and colony conditions good, the amount of brood in the comb continues to increase in number over time. In the early Spring beehive, evaluate the brood pattern.
It is more important that you see good worker brood in a tight pattern than the actual amount of brood present. The genetics of your queen (due to the race or type of honey bee) plays a role in colony build up (along with many other factors).
If conditions look good but you see no brood in a hive, or worse – only drone brood, it is time to get busy replacing your queen bee. Ordering a new queen may be the safest bet-assuming they are available when you need one.
Feeding and Nutrition for Spring Colonies
Foraging bees do a good job of finding needed food if it is available and the weather is good for flight. They will be collecting both nectar and pollen. They will also make use of some of the stored pollen-bee bread that was gathered last Fall.
Beekeepers must monitor the food stores in the Spring beehive. It is not rare for a colony to make it through Winter and then starve just before warmth arrives to stay.
If the beekeeper needs or wants to provide supplemental feeding for early spring hives, the most common methods are feeding bees sugar water (1:1 ratio) and/or giving them protein patties.
Brood Chamber Management
Expansion of the brood nest is normal as Spring progresses. Often my bees have worked their way up into the top boxes by late Winter. As nectar is gathered, they fill the top box with honey and the brood nest moves down.
The brood area of the hive also grows. Instead of a small area of brood on a couple of frames, you may have a deep brood box completely full of developing bees.
Or it may be approaching time for the honey flow. Your strong colonies will need room to store honey that you will later collect.
Honey bee swarming is a natural activity. It is normal for colonies to grow large and then split themselves to form two families of bees. This is great for creating more colonies but it is not always what beekeepers desire.
There are numerous strategies employed by beekeepers to attempt swarm prevention. Sometimes they work – often they do not.
If you want to increase hive numbers, you may split the beehives – before they split themselves. Creating small nuc colonies helps relieve some of the perceived congestion in a large colony. These new hives can be grown into full sized production units or later combined back with hives that need help.
Spring Check for Disease and Pest
It is not unusual to see some diseases like nosema or chalkbrood in the Spring hive. These are mostly stress diseases.
They often resolve themselves once good foraging conditions improve. If you have any concerns, contact your state agricultural agency or local beekeeping association for extra help.
Varroa mites are another issue. Regularly monitor your hives for infestations and perform varroa mite counts. Keep in mind that some varroa mite treatments are temperature sensitive or can not be used while honey collection supers are on the hive.
The Spring beehive with a few too many varroa mites can be a “dead duck” by late Summer – or before. If in doubt, do not wait. Mite populations will grow quickly as bee populations grow.
The timing of spring beekeeping chores depends on your location and climate. In general, do not open hives until daytime temperatures are above 55-57°F.
Regularly inspecting the hives for swarm queen cells, creating colony split and expanding the brood nest may reduce or delay swarming. But, it is often difficult to stop this natural impulse.
While not absolutely necessary, giving your hives extra food in Spring can jumpstart brood production.
Worker can access in hive feeders (like mason jar feeders) even when the weather is rainy and cool. However, if you start – you should continue until warm weather and ample food is available naturally.
Deciding whether or not to requeen your hive in the spring depends on her performance. If she is laying a good pattern, there is no need to requeen.
However, queens are not available all year – if she is several years old or has performance issues – Spring is a good time to replace her.
The arrival of spring symbolizes a renewal of nature and the reawakening of our bee colonies. By performing spring beekeeping chores, you are giving your bees their best chance at a healthy productive season. Approach the season with enthusiasm and continue to monitor your hives throughout the year.