Spring Tips for Stronger Bee Hives

What you do in the springtime for your hives sets the stage for the success of the season.

For well over a month, established bees have been out looking for water, pollen and nectar with some days being more productive than others depending on the weather and bloom times.

Order pollen paddies online to feed your bees from us here.

And while the health of your hives at this time of the year is partly determined by how they were put to bed for the winter, there is a lot you can do now to strengthen colonies or start anew.

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Assess Winter Hive Losses

By now you should know which hives made it, and which didn’t. The greater question is "why?" Was there enough honey storage in the hive, and was it accessible to the cluster?

Read about our first attempts at beekeeping here and see if you can relate.

There are times when you open the hive in the spring, and you can see where the cluster was just out of reach of the honey supply. Checking during a warm spell during the winter can often avoid this issue, but there are simply some winters when it’s not possible.

Did the queen lay well into the autumn creating enough young bees to start the spring with a healthy-sized hive?

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Some years, if the weather becomes cold early in the fall, or you don’t feed long enough into the season, laying numbers decline so by the time the warm weather rolls around, there’s a definitive lag in the population until new bees emerge. If a cold snap hits, this can be the death knell to the hive.

Regardless of what happened to your hive, now is the time to clean it out, disinfect it, if necessary, and make a note of how to prevent it in the future.

Bee Feed: Sugar Water (Feed) to Kick-start the Hive

If you ask 10 beekeepers the same question, you most likely will receive over a dozen answers. Whether to feed the hive and/or the best way to do so in the spring is definitely one of the hot topics, but many beekeepers believe offering the hive supplemental feed in the spring stimulates brood production bringing the colony to greater strength by the time the full nectar flow rolls around.

We've got bee feed specially designed to kick-start your bee hive if you want a premixed solution.

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A common ratio for feeding sugar water in the spring is using 1 pound of sugar to 1 pound of water, sometimes switching it to a 1:2 ratio later in the season. Boil the water, then add the sugar and stir until it completely dissolves. Obviously, you’ll want it to cool before feeding it to the bees.

Follow these tips and tricks for inner-city beekeeping. 

You can feed with an entrance feeder (also called a boardman feeder), which is easy to change when the syrup is gone, but entrance feeders are notorious for encouraging robbing from hives. Other options include frame feeders placed directly inside the hive, or even baggie feeders set on top of the frames.

How long you feed is another matter of preference. Some people choose to feed in the early spring to aid the colony, while others continue until the nectar flow is strong enough for the bees to ignore the sugar syrup in preference to the natural supply.

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Hydration Breeds Strength... aka, Supply Water

Many of us take water for granted, but there are some semi-arid regions where the bees have to work way to hard to find an adequate source.

If water isn’t available in a pond, lake, or stream situation, they will resort to congregating in your neighbor’s garden pond, bird bath, or even pet bowl.

You can provide a ready source of water by setting a shallow dish filled with pebbles anywhere from 50 - 100 ft. from your hives to allow them a safe area to obtain water.

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Make Room for the Colony and Capture Swarms

One of the craziest times of the year for the apiary is May and June when the colony population increases exponentially. Be ready to add hive bodies or supers as their needs dictate.

This is also prime time to capture swarms.

Have your gear ready to go at a moment’s notice since waiting for the paint to dry on a hive body wastes precious time when a swarm is hanging in a neighbor’s tree.

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Stage a Queen Bee Coup

If a queen is old, not producing like she should, or dead, it’s time to add a new one to the hive. If you know early enough in the season, you can often order new queens from mail order facilities.

We stock all the tools you need to expand your hobby hives or get started beekeeping.

If the colony is weak overall, you could also order a new package of bees, kill the old queen, then add the new workers and queen.

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If bee numbers are strong, encouraging a hive to make a new queen by removing a few frames of active brood comb with the workers, and placing them in a new hive might encourage them to draw out queen cells and raise a new one.

But only do this if you have a strong surplus of bees. This is a riskier maneuver since it’s not always successful, but if you can produce a new queen early in the season, she should have ample time to build up the colony numbers before the nectar flow passes.

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Treat your Bee Hive for Nosema

Nosema is often problematic in the late winter and early spring.

It messes with the bee’s gut and can significantly weaken overall hive health so some beekeepers prefer to be proactive and treat for it using Fumigilin-B in a sugar syrup to head off problems.

Just be sure this is completed before you place any honey supers on the hives.

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Protect Your Bees and Your Beehive from Predators

If you live in an area where black bears or grizzlies call home, take the time to install an electric fence to discourage them harvesting any honey (or bees!) before you have a chance to do so.

A simple solar charger and wire strands placed where they can’t crawl under or through without touching one will do the trick in most situations.

Need an electric fence set up? Find out which one is right for you.

If the bottom strand of wire is placed close enough to the ground, it’s also helps to keep raccoons and skunks away from the hives.

Caring for your bees in the spring is a peaceful and rewarding time of the season, even if it is busy. New bees abound and the possibilities are encouraging for a good honey year with solid colonies.

Do your best to make them as healthy as possible now to enjoy the benefits before the flowers fade and the evenings chill once again.

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Amy Grisak is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in gardening, cooking, and sustainable lifestyle topics, as well as a particular interest in anything to do with the beautiful Montana outdoors. Her articles appear in the New Pioneer, Rodale’s Organic Life, Camp Cabela’s, Hobby Farms, The Farmers’ Almanac, Horticulture, the Great Falls Tribune, and many more.
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