Spring

The Idea

Willow.

Spring brings a burst of new life, energy and expansion. Like the plants, a colony awakens to partake of new resources and channels it’s activities toward swarming, which is the colony’s way of propagating itself.

A natural beekeeper follows this progression:

  • unwraps hives
  • feed hungry hives
  • provides water
  • revitalizes equipment
  • manages comb

The Details

Unwrapping

Beyond food, warmth is almost everything to a spring colony. At some point, the winter wraps, which insulated a colony from winter wind and cold, inhibit spring’s warmth. It’s time to get the wraps off and let a little warmth in.

Once the hives are unwrapped it’s easy to access hive:

  • activity
  • weight
  • equipment condition

Feeding

Food, water, and warmth demands are greatest in the spring:

  • brood rearing ramps up
  • clusters break
  • normal hive activities resume
  • forage is limited
  • nights are still cold

Insuring that hives have enough feed is the most critical spring activity a beekeeper must do.

Need to feed a hive? Check out the feeding page.

Water

Honey is not the preferred food for either brood or bees. Nectar or diluted honey is what they want. And it takes water to:

  • prepare brood food
  • maintain broodnest humidity

Bees recycle hive condensation but that’s usually not enough. Foragers take great risk gathering water:

  • during bad weather
  • from marginal or inappropriate sources

So make it as easy as possible for the bees and prevent future hassles by providing a water source that’s:

  • nearby
  • warm
  • clean

Equipment

Winter is tough on equipment. Spring is a great time to switch out damaged equipment. There’s:

  • less weight
  • fewer bees
  • can be incorporated with feeding or comb management

Comb

Spring is a great time to do most comb management chores:

  • there are fewer bees
  • more empty comb
  • causes less disturbance
  • most time for the bees to recover

-bW

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6 Responses

  1. Dennis Magnusson says:

    Dear Sir
    I have a question about the bee swarm behavior.
    This Saturday 14th May 2011, I had a swarm taking my warré hive as a home. Plenty, +100, of bees climbed in and out of the hive. Traffic to and from was heavy.
    The bees stayed the whole day, 15th of May.
    Yesterday evening (15th of May) I gave some sugar syrup (zip look bag on the bottom of the hive).
    This afternoon (16th of May) I went back to see how the hive activity was doing. I had a big lump/ball of bees sitting on the adjacent wooden wall and there were plenty of fanners (pheromone I think) that was sitting at the entry with the backside in the air. In fact, there were fanners everywhere. There was also a big movement of bees walking into the hive entry. At the same time plenty of drones was entering and was looking like they were fed by some worker bees. Some fighting broke out and totally of 5-8 bees was killed.
    Being my first hive I did not expect this and I don’t know if it is normal actions when a swarm chooses a hive!
    I am not sure if was not a second (stronger) swarm that took over the hive. Maybe in some combination with robbing, due to that fact that I put the sugar at the bottom 5 cm from the entry. Or could something happen inside the hive that trigged a movement like this?
    I have another hive, a long hive, and 20 meter away from this hive and there are just a few bees flying around, no swarm. I use the same lure (home made) but with no result.

    When I looked at the warré hive few our later it was lots of buzz and activities but no fighting.
    I would be glad to know if this was the rest of the original swarm, just waiting for the final decision or if something happened. It was 2 days, almost on the hour, since the first big group of bees arrived.
    Yours
    Dennis Magnusson

    • -bW says:

      Hi Dennis

      It could be some variant of classical swarming. But I doubt it. It more closely resembles colony usurpation. That’s the way some kinds of bees spread their genetics without going through the hassle of swarming. Is it common with the black bees in France?

      Usually a small colony will abscond. The bees behave much as you have described. They kill the resident queen. And in a few days, the resident hive accepts the usurpation queen as their own.

      It’s a trait that’s common with Africanized bees. And I’ve personally watch it happen in Tuscon, Arizona.

      But it does occur with other races of bees as well. Wyatt Mangum, a columnist for the American Bee Journal, is watching and documenting this phenomena in his observation top bar hives. He’s written one article, with photos. And I think he will have more to say on the subject.

      I suspect it’s much more widespread than commonly thought. Personally, I’ve found it’s hard to find something unless I know what I looking for. 😉

      -bW

  2. Tim says:

    Dennis,

    I tried the comb management link above but it doesn’t work. My question is this, In the spring when the bees move away from the brood nest, can I cull older brood comb by simply cutting off the bars? If so, do I simply move all combs to the end and place empty bars on the opposite end? Does that effect comb size?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    • -bW says:

      Hi Tim

      Thanks for the heads up on the links. I’ve made some changes on the site which has broken them. And I didn’t catch it.

      Replacing broodnest comb? It’s a subject that I’m pondering as well. Traditionally, only a few combs were replaced every year. They can be replaced directly or rotated toward the back of the broodnest. Used for honey storage comb. And harvested at the end of the season.

      Looking to minimize disruptions and work, I wonder if letting a colony start over in a clean hive would be a better approach?

      It’s certainly better from a disease prevention standpoint, as starting a new comb in a virus/disease filled hive would just produce a new virus filled comb.

      Switching out an entire hive would be a closer fit to the natural processes. But it might not be practical for a beekeeper with just a hive or two.

      Just Some Thoughts -bW

  3. Tim says:

    Dennis,
    I see your point. If one started with a new hive, could the old one be cleaned with bleach or torched to kill any possible threats and then be say to use again? Just a thought.

    Thanks for your work and tips.

    Tim

    • -bW says:

      Hi Tim

      That’s my hope. I scorched, bleached and reused my conventional hives that perished from CCD.

      So far, it’s good. The bees look great. Before scorching, it only took a brood cycle or two before the decline was noticeable.

      I’m thinking, for a tbh without any disease problems, a thin strip of old comb could be left as a starter strip. But I’m still pondering!

      -bW

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