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Spring Beekeeping Management: What to Expect

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A photo of a bee inside a purple crocus flower.

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So the weather is warming up, and you can hardly wait to get in and see your bees again! Winter has been long, you’ve missed them, and you’re hoping they’ve survived the winter! What should you be looking for in the early spring, and what can you do to help them get ready for the busy summer season?

The Queen!

When you begin to inspect your colonies in the spring, you must verify that you still have a laying queen. You don’t necessarily need to see the queen but look for evidence of a queen.

Do you see eggs? Is there larvae? Does it look like a good brood pattern? These are great indicators that your queen is alive and well.

Photo of black plastic foundation with honey bee eggs.
A frame of eggs.

It’s even better if you spot the queen so you can verify she’s alive and well. However, eggs, larvae, and capped brood are all you need to know your queen is there.   

Photo of a queen bee and her attendants on top of a hive frame.

Are you only finding drone brood? If you only see the “popcorn” brood, then you could have a laying worker situation, or your queen may have run out of sperm. If you do have this issue and it’s early spring, you may not necessarily be able to find a mated queen to replace her. Mated queens, depending on your location, may not be available until later in the spring when there are more drones in the environment. Your best approach may be to paper combine them with another colony that could use some numbers. 

Photo of a frame with some drone cells.
This frame shows just a few capped drone cells.

Brood and Resources

If you have confirmed you have a healthy colony and queen, then take note of the brood pattern. If she’s laying a beautiful, full pattern, then your bee population is about to explode! You want to be mindful of your bee population so you can stay ahead of them before they start to think about swarming!

Photo of a bee frame of capped brood.

Now look through your colony’s resources. Do you see pollen and nectar? The bees will need plenty of pollen and nectar to grow their brood. Try lifting the entire hive from the bottom. Is it easy to lift? This is an easy way to find out if they’re light on food. As they are brooding up, they will go through more food to have the energy they need to forage. It takes a lot of energy to forage for pollen and nectar!

As you head into late spring, more and more resources will be available to your bees. However, if they are pretty light on resources, you may need to feed them some 1:1 sugar syrup to help them along until your vegetation bursts!

Space

Now that you’ve inspected for the queen and resources, it’s time to think about their space. Does the queen still have space to lay? If not, then it may be time to add a box.

You don’t necessarily have to add a brood box–you can give them a super for resources. 

Pay attention to the brood chamber–are the cells empty, or are they shining back at you because they’re backfilling the brood chamber with nectar?

Photo of a frame of bees filled with shiny nectar.
These cells are full of nectar!

Do you see drones? Drones are a sign of a strong hive, but don’t get too ambitious and make an early split–you need drones to be saturating the environment before you can make splits. Otherwise, your queen will struggle to mate successfully. 

Most poorly mated queens are early spring queens! If there are not enough drones in the environment, then it’s much more challenging for a queen to have a successful mating flight. So you don’t want to rush to make early splits!

Queen Cups

During your spring inspections, you will see queen cups. Don’t panic, these are common. These are often just practice cups. If you look closely, it is likely an empty cup. You can crush them if it makes you feel better. If you do find an egg, then it is charged and your colony is getting ready to swarm!

This is a close up photo of an empty queen cup on a honey bee frame.

If you see a queen cell on the face of the frame, then you have a supersedure cell. This could mean that your queen is failing or missing. Once again, if it’s early spring, you may want to do everything you can to delay these until there are plenty of drones. 

Photo of large queen supercedure cell in the center of a frame of bees.

Conclusion

Spring can be both exciting and frustrating. You’re excited to get into your bees again! But it’s frustrating because while you’re ready to go, you can only do as much as your local resources will allow! How is the pollen and nectar flow? Are your colonies making drones yet? Do they have enough resources to get them through to the nectar flow?

Your bees have almost made it through the cold, and they’re ready to burst for the coming months! Don’t worry, you will be crazy busy with splits and swarms in no time. Enjoy this calm before the swarm!

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