It is GO time for beekeepers, whether it be newbees or seasoned beekeepers, there is work to be done, hives to be installed and/or maintained and swarms to be caught!
For NEW beekeepers, you are most likely picking up your NUCS or Packages these past few weeks. We are entering a honey and nectar flow here in the northeast US and time is of the essence. For packages being installed in hive setups without drawn comb, you may be open to risk of the colony absconding as there is no where for the queen to lay and the colony to settle in, deposit food and so on. If you have done this we advise to FFED FEED FEED! Simple sugar syrup in a 1:1 ratio is ideal for worker bees to build comb. ONLY USE GRANULATED SUGAR! Do not use organic sugars, syrups, sugar in the raw and so on. We want our bees to be healthy, but the bee digestive system, can only handle simple granulated sugars or you will be giving your bees dysentery and doing a great disservice to your hive. If you have a package installed in a hive with drawn comb, they should be filling it quickly with resources.
If using a package you will need to install your queen which comes in a queen cage inside the package of bees (usually about 3 lbs of bees). Depending on where you are picking up your bees and how long they have been on the road (mostly down south) the colony may be well on its way to accepting the queen and can be released within a couple days. If you are introducing a new queen completely to this colony, inserting the queen cage for colony acceptance for 3-5 days is a better option. You will notice how the colony reacts to the queen cage and if they are attacking her, or are gentle etc. There are many videos out there on installing your queen cages. Packages of bees are very gentle because they are not protecting brood, eggs and resources etc. They are almost like a swarm out there in a tree, super gentle just waiting to find their next home. NUCS on the other hand are a bit further in the colony building process and so installing them is a bit different.
NUC installations are relatively easy. You are placing the frames in the same order and orientation they were in their nuc box, into the hive setup, closing them up and calling it a day. If the weather is still cool and the bees can not access resources, feed your bees the same 1:1 sugar water ratio until the nectar flow is on. In our area it is currently great weather with a nice flow going with temps reaching the 90s this weekend. There is no harm in feeding your bees because when they can access the real stuff, they will stop taking the sugar syrup and so you can remove your jars or feeder until the next dearth.
Established hives are a bit different. If you are coming into your second year or more, and we are in the flow, you are probably considering queen excluders and honey supers at this time. Once your brood chambers or supers are about 90 percent full, add the next layer of your setup.
You may also find that this time of year, swarms are about. Many beekeepers build swarm traps, make splits in their own bee yard and use the swarm cells to create new colonies. Having a plan for your spring maintenance and an idea of what you would like to do ultimately in your bee yard is key to being prepared. Bees will always eventually swarm.. usually when the colony hits about 60k bees. To give you an idea, each chamber of the hive usually has about 15 to 20k bees. Mating season for queens and drones is ideal for splits, queen rearing and utilizing swarm cells to create new colonies. Be sure to have all of your equipment ahead of time, ready to go and maybe an extra set on hand in case you are interested in making emergency splits or catching a local swarm.
May through July here in NY is a great period of pollination contracts, honey collection, colony and queen rearing and catching swarms, so we highly advise joining local clubs to stay tuned in. Follow local groups and pages to see what's happening in your area. Once you get into a flow things will calm down a bit and we start to hit a dearth in August September when things dry up a bit and robbing starts. More on that later!!
A few more helpful images for beekeepers of all levels!!
Find The Queens! Here is a great image of a queen bee. Don't confuse her for a chunk drone bee!
And for those looking to plant for bees!!