Spring is the busiest time of the beekeeping year.  It is vital that you make the time to manage the hive properly.  This will result in a greater likelihood that the hive builds to meet your needs of honey production and nucs.  It is also very important that you conduct proper swarm management.

Step 1:  In January/February – Take an inventory of your equipment, repair, replace or add to ensure you have what you need, and it is in good condition.

  1. Ensure your bees have access to enough stores.
  2. Check the hives for weight, ventilation and ensure they are in good condition.
  3. Apply oxalic acid treatment for varroa during a broodless cycle.

Step 2:  March and April – Spring brood build-up:

  1. Once the temperature is greater than 55 degrees you can provide syrup to stimulate the buildup of the hive and to ensure the hive has sufficient stores.  Small quantities of syrup that can be replaced daily (Overnight temperatures can chill the syrup to an extent it cannot warm to a temperature it can be consumed).  Syrup make-up – a ratio of 1 unit of sugar to 1 unit of water, by weight, is recommended to stimulate brood laying. A 5-gallon bucket will hold about 3 gallons of water and 25 pounds of sugar.
  2. Ensure adequate stores are available whether it be honey in frames, dry sugar/candy boards, mush or if the temperature permits syrup.  March is a time when hives may starve to death because of the increase in need of the growing brood population and heavy feeding patterns during the previous two months. Make sure food is always available for the bees during this time.
  3. Check for signs of nosema disease, varroa mites, hive beetles or mouse damage. Treat or repair as needed.
  4. In late March or early April, inspect the hives. Check for a laying queen, evidence of drone cells, and food reserves. Assess hives strength, equalize hive strength in the apiary and move frames with brood into lower box (if using two or more hive bodies).  If the bees overwintered in two hive bodies and all bees and brood are in the upper deep, the brood boxes can be reversed.  If reversing place, the brood box with the cluster of bees on the bottom and the empty brood box on top.  Be certain you have stores available above and to the side in reach of the cluster in case of colder weather.  Do not reverse the brood box if the cluster and brood nest is between the upper and lower deep.  Doing so will split the cluster/brood resulting in additional stress and brood loss due to the split in the cluster.
  5. When day time temperatures are expected to remain 50 degrees or better for the next several days in late-February, early March a detailed inspection of the hive can occur. During this inspection check the colonies for population growth, redistribute resources by placing all brood together in the bottom box (brood frames can be rearranged with brood in the lower box center, stores next to them and open frames and stores above), look for signs of disease. Colonies with less brood than average can be strengthened by giving them frames of sealed brood from stronger neighbors. This relieves congestion and discourages swarming. Clean out any dead bees and hive litter.  Replace damaged/old frames.
  6. You may need to redistribute frames and/or reverse the hive body’s as brood emerges more than once each spring.
  7. Once there is congestion at the entrance the entrance reducer can be removed.

Step 3:  April – Spring splits/nucs:

  1. Depending on availability of queens, or the presence of drones to mate a queen produced within the hive spring splits/nucs can made at this time.
  2. If hives are strong enough in the spring, splits/nucs can be made (six to ten brood fames). Warm, sunny conditions are best for splitting hives as the forgers will be busy and away from the hives and brood is less likely to be chilled.
  3. Spits/nuc boxes should contain one to two frames of honey and pollen, two frames of capped brood and an empty, drawn frame for the queen to lay. A small five frame nuc box is sufficient space for the nuc to grow.
  4. Since the nuc does not have a sufficient number of forgers and the nectar flow is not yet in place, feeding the spit is important. Do not let the feeder run dry.  Pollen supplements maybe added id necessary.

Things to Keep in Mind:

While there is no all-inclusive management advice, most operational strategies or tactics are easily adapted to fit the local circumstance. With that thought in mind, here some suggestions.

  1. Nucs are the ideal cold weather abode. Start your packages or early season splits in a five-frame nuc box. Once it is queenright the new colony will literally explode. The secret is heat retention. Use a solid bottom and keep the entrance reduced as needed. Once the small colony is in need of additional room, add space vertically in the form of a second five-frame box. If there is incoming nectar, don’t hesitate to use foundation in the second box. Nucs are ideal comb production units.
  2. Starvation and late winter and early spring emergency feedings are avoided if adequate honey reserves, candy boards and if necessary pollen substitutes in the late winter and early spring. Generally, pollen is readily available from maple and other plants beginning in February.
  3. The following conditions are seen in good productive colonies just prior to the first nectar flow:
    • Good productive queen
    • 15 to 20 frames of bees (7 to 10 pounds)
    • 8 to 10 frames of brood (capped and uncapped)
    • 20 pounds or more of reserve honey (4 or more frames)
    • Continuous supply of pollen and/or pollen substitute
    • Adequate space for incoming nectar and expansion of the brood nest
  4. Skillful management of the honey bee hive applied during the productive season goes a long way toward facilitating the optimal conditions for the nonactive season.
  5. Swarm prevention includes monitoring the hive to insure adequate expansion space is available for brood rearing and resource storage.
    • Dividing, or performing splits, to strong colonies is also a great swarm-control measure prior to the main nectar flow.
    • Swarming is the greatest management challenge in April and May. Any colony that swarms will cut into your honey production, so swarm prevention is necessary for maximal production from each hive. Splitting of colonies has the added benefit of interrupting the Varroa Mite life cycle.

Swarm Prevention Methods in the spring usually reduces swarming. April and May are generally the swarm-prevention months. Providing plenty of room in a colony for brood-rearing and the ripening and storage of nectar is essential. In early spring, the queen is normally in the uppermost hive body, which limits the size of the brood area. With the reversing of the hive bodies or manipulation of frames in the brood chamber.  Generally, the brood nest and remaining stored honey coming out of the winter cluster will be located in the top brood box, while the bottom brood chamber will contain empty combs (or with some stored pollen) that were left after the bees had eaten stores and moved the cluster upward during the winter. Rotating these two chambers moves the empty combs above the developing brood nest, which gives the queen space for laying eggs. Honey bees like to expand the brood nest upward as the colony grows. This rotation of boxes should only be done if the brood nest is located in one box. If it is spread across two boxes, rotating the boxes will separate combs of brood from one another and create stress on the bees as they try to thermoregulate two sections of brood during cold spring night. Caution: Do not reverse the hive bodies until the weather has settled and there is little chance of a sudden big drop in temperature. Equalizing the strength of your colonies also helps prevent swarms and makes management easier the rest of the year.

Following are ways you can strengthen weak colonies:

  • Change their positions with strong colonies in the same yard.
  • Add sealed brood from strong colonies.
  • Add queenless booster packages.
  • Unite two weak colonies.
  • Combine a queenless colony with a queenright colony.

When exchanging bees and brood between colonies, be sure the frames do not contain the queen and that the colonies are not diseased. When adding adult bees to an existing colony, separate them with a sheet of newspaper to let colony odors mix and to keep fighting to a minimum. Such precautions are not necessary for frames of brood. You will not gain much by adding unsealed brood to a weak colony, since the colony probably does not have enough nurse bees to care for the extra brood.

Replacing Queens

Queens should be replaced if their brood production is lower than average. To requeen a colony, first find, kill and discard the old queen. Remove the attendants provided with the new queen, then insert the queen, still in her cage, between two center combs in the brood nest. After 2 days examine the cage. You should see one of two behaviors from the hive bees outside the cage: (1) rejection – the bees will be tightly clustered on the cage with many of them biting the wires of the cage or (2) acceptance – the bees will be freely walking about the cage. If bees are rejecting the queen, return her in her cage to the center of the brood nest and check again the next day. Persistent rejection behavior indicates that another queen is running free in the colony or there may be a queen cell. It helps acceptance to regularly cut out natural queen cells the workers may be constructing throughout the brood nest. If bees are accepting the queen, you may remove the cork and allow the queen to release herself.

With a new queen, you can also make up a new colony by taking frames of brood, honey and bees from a strong colony (leaving behind the old queen), placing them in a new hive body with a new queen then moving the new hive to a new location. This controlled “splitting” of a colony lets a beekeeper manage the swarming process; congestion and the swarming urge are relieved in the strong colony, and the removed bees are housed in a managed hive instead of lost.

Contributed by Tim Scheer

Posted 2.18.19