Updated: Apr 19
Spring has sprung and its GO time for beekeepers! This time of year in the northeast, beekeepers are assessing their overwinter status. Did your bees make it through? Are you seeing cleansing flights? Do you still have food stores, bee candy or fondant left? If you lost your hives, were you able to diagnose why?
A check list for a dead out could be one of the following:
Do a mite check with your dead hive to see what the levels were?
Do you see the queen, or maybe you were queenless in fall and did not realize it?
Did an animal get a hold of the hive, or mice move in?
Do you see an abundance of beetles or mites in the hive?
Do you see moisture build up, mold, condensation points?
Did you have proper air flow?
Did you have enough food stores? Could your bees access the food?
Was your colony large enough to over winter and stay warm and/or move about the hive in cluster to get to the next food source?
Do you see any fermentation in your comb from feeding syrup too late into the season?
Do you see wax shavings at the bottom of the hive? May indicate robbing.
These are a few things we can learn from for the next go around, so diagnosing your colony loss is key to moving forward without repeating your mistakes.
If your hives are alive and well, we need to keep an eye on their food stores. You can add some extra bee candy, sugar patties, or fondant into your hives to get them through March. You can put a pollen feeder out for the bees to forage pollen substitute. If you would like to have a dash of pollen in the hive, we recommend winter pro patties that have a bit of pollen but are not as potent as pollen patties, which can be used in a few weeks come April if you wish to get the queen laying a bit sooner and provide that protein source. We recommend only using small pieces of pollen patty at a time to avoid attracting hive beetles. Once you start feeding pollen patty's , understand that your population may begin growing quickly and if there are no available food stores (natural or supplement) you may run into issues. Some people prefer not to feed at all, and let nature do its thing. It all depends on how you keep your bees, how old are the hives, are they established, and what their current resources and climate are.
Soon we should see some dandelions and this is an exciting time for those who keep bees. We let our lawns grow with weeds, wildflowers and dandelion to feed our colonies with natural food source and as much of a polyfloral diet as possible.
Newbees who will be getting their nucleus colonies soon, should be getting ready for the season, choosing the equipment style and size, painting and prepping any equipment that needs to be assembled and ready for their colony to arrive. Do you know how to install a nuc or package of bees? Do you have the hive placement picked out on your property based on what is safest for bees? Do you have sunlight, water source, wind block, etc?
Now think about what you are going to do once your bees come. You DO want to feed syrup of some kind to get the colony building wax and resources to over winter. New York is a relatively short season and so we do recommend working with nucs over packages in the northeast if you are brand new and do not have any built comb or resources for your new colony. We should already be thinking a season or two ahead. Everything we do now is to prepare us for the year ahead. Simple syrup with granulated sugar can be made in a 1 to 1 ration in spring to feed the colonies once temps are at about 60 degrees consistently. (DO NOT use organic or brown sugars, juices etc. ONLY granulated sugar or a specific bee syrup or you can give your bees dysentery). When the natural nectar flow is on, you will notice the bees take less or none of the artificial syrup and you can remove feeders during the flow. Syrups can be made with sugar, nutrient additives to your syrup specifically designed for bees, or bought completely made up and ready to go, for example Pro Sweet Feed.
More spring maintenance includes removing insulation, quilt boxes, candy boards etc. Full cleanup / spring inspection of the hives should only be done on a warm day, when its roughly 65 or above for several hours. It is safe to clean out the bottom of your hives if you are not ready to do a full inspection. Remove your brood chamber, clean out your bottom boards, create fresh air slow for your bees and keep them healthy and hygienic. When bee traffic becomes regular daily, you can remove your mouse guards from winter as long as your population is guarding the entrances and temps are not so low at night, they can not protect openings. If you notice your bees have moved up into the top of your brood chamber, feel free to rotate your boxes so that your bees are in the bottom chamber as they are unlikely to work their way down. However if your populations are booming, they should spread out and utilize the space. Bees tend to work their way upward through the hive. You may even need to remove empty boxes or supers so you don't have too much space for your bees to protect. Extra space invites beetles, wax moths, mice, and robbers.
When you are ready to do your full inspection, we recommend a mite count at the start of the season, get a count of your brood frames, honey frames, pollen ration and how many frames of bees you have. Keep notes on the status of your hive and what may need to be done on your next visit. If you plan to treat for mites, plan ahead. Which treatments do you prefer this time of year. Do you need to apply them early so the treatments are removed before you get your honey supers on? Again, having that 3 month plan ahead sets you up for 6 months ahead.
Are you planning on splitting your hives this season? Are you interested in swarm prevention? Would you like to try catching swarms for your apiary? These are all things we should be considering and getting ready to go at a moments notice in February and March. Every season brings a different climate/calendar of events. Do you know how to inspect for swarm cells? Review swarm cells vs. supercedure/emergency cells. Are you seeing "practice cups"? Do you know the difference between drone brood and worker brood? What does healthy brood look like. If you follow our Facebook group "Blooming Beez", we will show you what disease looks like as well as cell types, photos, video and so on. Feel free to use the search bar to check on a particular subject. Example : search "mite treatments" and you should see all of the discussion boards on mite treatments, YouTube videos and tutorials as well as polls on who uses hat and why.
I have attached here our March 2021 indoor meeting slides for info on swarm cells, supercedure cells and queen cells.
For more inquiries and getting ready for Spring, please join us for the monthly Blooming Beez - Bee Club meetings at Wagon Wheel Farm!