It’s spring beekeeping time! March is wrapping up and I couldn’t be happier. In my last blog post, I went over what your bees were doing this month, and we covered some of the reasons March is such a scary time for beekeepers.This week let’s look forward to what’s coming up on your beekeeping calendar.
Your first order of business as the spring beekeeping season really gets rolling is to do an equipment check. There are a few things you’ll want to take a look at as soon as it’s warm enough for you to open the hive. Remember, the hive is the most important piece of beekeeping equipment. Winter weather can be rough on the ol’ hive. Snow can seep into micro-cracks and expand, causing fissures and other damage, or trapped moisture might rot the wood. For all of these potential dangers, the most important thing for you to do is give your hive a thorough once-over. On the inside of the hive, damaged frames should be replaced, and cracked comb can be removed.
Besides the hive, make sure you have a hive tool, a feather tool for sweeping bees out of the way when you’re inspecting or collecting honey, and that your feeder is in good condition. These basic tools are important for beekeeping year-round, so as the season ramps up it becomes more and more important to make sure yours are in tip-top shape. And once it gets warm enough, start using them! If your bees worked their way through all their stored honey over the winter or early spring, give them some food to last until the flowers start blooming. Use your hive tool to chip away propolis or honeycomb that’s blocking your access to the hive, etc. Spring is when you can jump back into the fun parts of beekeeping, so take advantage of that.
When winter breaks, your bees are going to be raring to get back into action. They haven’t exactly been lazing around the hive all winter, but now that they can safely leave the nest, expect a flurry of activity. The main things you’ll probably see are an increased number of bees zipping around on a daily basis. There are a lot of activities your lovely lady workers get up to, but the ones you’ll most likely notice are scouting and collection flights. Worker bees will set out to find the juiciest and most resource rich areas before returning to the hive and dancing their little butts off to let the rest of the hive know where to score. Then flights will collect all the goodies they need for the work going on inside the hive.
Inside is where a lot of fun stuff is happening. The queen is laying eggs by the thousands, workers are taking all the pollen, nectar, sap, and more to turn into honey, bee bread, beeswax, comb, etc. The organic gears of bee industry ever turn, and they get a lot done. Workers repair any winter damage you didn’t remove, they clean out any debris from winter (including any leftover dead bees), and they slather just about everything in propolis to keep it all together. If all goes well, your bees are going to have a real population boom on their tiny little furry hands.
And, if too many new workers join the ranks, they may even swarm and half will move off to a new site. Swarming is a big enough topic for its own post (check back in, next week 😉) but suffice to say there are ways for either dealing with swarming behavior or even cutting off that reaction at the pass.
So that’s what your bees are doing and what you should be doing proactively. The next question is what you should be looking out for. The worst of the danger might be over, but the next threat’s always just around the corner. March is when your hive is in the most danger of starvation, but if they still aren’t producing honey at a replacement rate come April you will have to make up the slack for them. Since you’re going to be keeping an eye on things so closely anyway, this is also a great time to check for parasites. If you haven’t noticed any symptoms of a Varroa mite infestation, make sure to keep your eyes peeled. If you have seen signs, take action as soon as possible.
Those are the two big internal things to watch out for. On the outside, red flags should be a bit more obvious. As spring, well, springs your bees aren’t the only critters that get more active. Scavengers and predators start creeping around, and your hive might be on the top of their hit list. Some, like bears, are after their honey, and they won’t give a second thought to smashing through the hive to get to it. Skunks are another troublemaker. They like to prowl around hives and snack on workers. Smaller vermin like mice might sneak into the hive to snack on honey, but a healthy hive should be able to run those off on their own. There are too many predators and too many ways of dealing with them to cover here, but do your research and be ready to take action when the time comes.
Spring is an exciting time to be(e) a beekeeper! There’s a lot going on and a whole lot to do. Make sure your equipment is in the best condition possible, be aware of what your bees are doing and what threats might be lurking around, and you should be just fine. Are you ready for the spring beekeeping season to really get started?