Spring Preparation for Success in the Apiary
Posted by Gypsy Shoals Farm on
As Spring arrives, beekeepers across the United States start getting excited about the upcoming high season. Your honeybees have been tightly consolidated and conserving resources just to survive the Winter. Let’s review a few very important things that the beekeeper needs to do in the Spring in order to set their beehives up for a successful season.
1. Check in on the ladies and say hello. On a day when the temperature is above 50F and there is no wind, remove the outer and inner cover to peek into the colony without removing any frames. Do you see the bees? They should be near the top of the brood box because the bee colony (cluster) typically moves up the inside of the hive body as it uses resources through the Winter months. If they are not visible, bang on the outside of the brood chamber. Do you hear them buzzing? If not, your honeybee colony probably did not survive the Winter and it’s safe to remove a few frames and do a more involved inspection.
If the temperature is above 60F, proceed to pull out a few frames and do a quick inspection of a healthy colony. Do you see honey stores (capped honey)? Do you see brood or eggs? Is the queen visible?
2. Start feeding sugar syrup if you aren’t already doing so. We keep sugar syrup available to our bees almost year-round in the South because we so rarely drop to freezing temperatures for more than 24 hours. It is true that they don’t consume it in great rates during the Winter, but it is available if they need it.
With that being said, it is important to begin feeding your bees sugar syrup in the Spring because the honeybee colony is about to begin expanding for the warmer months and the queen will lay eggs proportionately to the number of bees that she thinks the colony’s resources can support. If she knows that she has sufficient resources, she will increase her laying earlier in the season and provide you with a much more robust colony as she feverishly gets to work making baby bees.
To make simple syrup, bring 1 gallon of water to a simmer and add 8 pounds of sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and let cool. This will yield roughly 2 gallons of simple sugar syrup. At Gypsy Shoals Farm, we save our gallon milk jugs, bleach sanitize them and then reuse them to fill with simple syrup to feed the bees.
3. Give them room to grow. As Spring arrives and everything in nature expands again, so will your bee colonies. And fast!
- If you went through the Winter with one deep brood chamber, it’s time to add another on top of the one that your colony is currently living in. This will give them room to expand the colony upwards as baby bees develop and the colony population size booms.
- If you overwintered with two deep brood chambers, your bees have worked their way through the honey stored in the lower brood box and are living in a cluster in the upper brood box. Bees want to move upwards naturally. In order to accommodate this instinct (and hinder swarming), the beekeeper needs to remove the lower brood box and place it above the upper brood box. The bees still have the same two brood boxes of space that they had before. The empty one has just been placed above them now.
- Important: Do not forget to move your queen excluder as well. Otherwise, you will have created a lot of new space for the colony to expand upwards and in to, but not given the queen access to the space.
4. Be prepared for swarming at any time from March on. Spring is the high season for swarming as the colony expands, and often, outgrows the space they require. If you don’t want your bees to swarm, you must provide adequate space for the colony to continue growing.
With that being said, having the ability to capture a swarm and place them in a new brood box to start a new beehive is an extraordinary way to multiply your colony numbers without spending money to purchase honeybees. To be prepared you should have an extra hive kit (without the honey supers) available to place the nucleus colony in after you have gathered the swarm.
5. Supplement with pollen patties and Honey B Healthy. Simply put, pollen stimulates brood production. The increased production of royal jelly by nurse bees is the result of a pollen process. This increase in royal jelly production prompts the colony to create brood cells. As a result, the queen’s biological clock turns on and she obligingly fills those brood cells with eggs. Although pollen may be plentiful in the Spring, weather is often rainy and keeps the bees confined to the hive.
Honey B Healthy is a bee feeding stimulant made from the essential oils of lemongrass and spearmint. It encourages colony health and expansion in the Spring as an addition to a simple syrup mix or sprayed directly on to newly installed nucs. We swear by this product at Gypsy Shoals Farm for the notable difference we’ve seen in a colony’s success that has been provided this supplement.
6. Add honey supers by late April. The nectar flow is in full swing from mid-April to mid-June and your honeybees need somewhere to stash all the resources they are bringing back to the hive. If you need to do a varroa mite treatment after your bees have overwintered, do it before they start bringing in nectar and before you add the honey supers.
Connecting with your local apiary club or getting involved in a Facebook beekeepers’ group can give you the opportunity to learn from experienced beekeepers and get answers to questions when you need them fast. There is a lot going on inside the beehive during this critical time. Setting your bees up for success in the Spring will pay big dividends in the honey yields you collect in the Fall.
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