A big thing to watch for in the spring is signs of disease in your hives. Cool, wet springs often bring brood diseases such as sacbrood, chalkbrood, Nosema/dysentery, and European foulbrood (EFB). Sacbrood is a viral disease where the larvae turn brown and pointy. Chalkbrood is a fungal disease where the larvae look like black, white, or gray mummies. Nosema apis is a microsporidian parasite that can cause dysentery (diarrhea) in bees that can be seen as tan to brown streaks on the tops of the frames and around the hive entrance. Bees can also get dysentery from too much ash in their diet or too much moisture in their hive. EFB is a bacterial disease that causes the larvae to look yellow, twisted, and “skeletal.” Treatment of these spring diseases includes feeding sugar syrup, taking care of moisture problems in the hive, and sometimes requeening the hive. Varroa testing and treatment should also begin in the spring.
In the early spring before many plants are blooming, beekeepers may also want to feed their colonies. Feeding pollen, the bee’s source of protein, can encourage your queen to lay more eggs. You may also want to feed 1:1 sugar syrup to encourage comb production if you have undrawn foundation frames. Sometimes feeding too much sugar syrup may induce a swarm if the bees choose to store the syrup in the brood chamber (called backfilling) and the queen runs out of space to lay her eggs.
Spring is the time of year where honey bees, like most animals, reproduce. Though the queen lays eggs throughout most of the year to replenish and boost the population of the colony, the true, natural reproduction of the honey bee colony is a swarm. If you hive survived the winter, has a laying queen, and has pollen coming in, you will need to watch for signs that your colony may be ready to swarm. Since swarming causes the loss of bees and introduces a non-native species into the environment, beekeepers try to prevent swarms either by giving their bees more drawn comb or by splitting their colonies. Another technique that may be useful in the spring is called reversing. This is moving an empty box of frames from the bottom of the hive to the top. The bottom box may be empty (no bees) because the bees move up to the top of the hive during the winter. This is also a good time to replace frames of old, dark comb from the empty box with fresh foundation frames.
There are almost an infinite number of ways to feed your bees. You can feed them inside or outside of the hive using a wide array of commercial or homemade feeders. Here I will go over just a very small number of feeders and their uses. There is no “best” choice. There are pros and cons to each and it is all in what works best for you. Some hold more syrup and don’t need to be filled as often, while others are easier to fill or to keep clean. One constant over all ways to feed you bees is that feeding inside the hive ensures that particular hive gets the nutrition and is less likely to attract robbers, pests, and bees from other hives which also means it is less likely to spread disease than community feeders outside the hive.
There are two forms that pollen or pollen supplement/substitutes can take. One is a dry powder and the other is a moist, doughy pollen patty that has the pollen part mixed with sugar syrup. Typically, the patties are fed on top of the frames inside a hive and the powder is fed in a feeder outside the hive. One drawback to feeding the patties inside the hive is that they can attract pests like small hive beetles. One drawback to feeding the powder outside the hive is that you will need to purchase or make a feeder and it will attract pests and bees from other colonies outside of your apiary.
Sugar syrup can be fed from either an open or closed container. For example, frame feeders go right in the hive in place of a comb frame and have no lid. One drawback to them is that the bees may drown if you do not have something floating on top of the syrup. Also, since they are open, they can get dirty with debris, mold, etc. Top feeders are similar in that they are open feeders inside the hive, only these are larger and go between the top box and the inner cover. Again, the main disadvantage of a top feeder is bees drowning, but most commercial top feeders have designs to prevent this. Mason jars with very small holes poked in the lids are by far the most common feeding method for hobby beeks for sugar syrup. These can be placed inside the hive or outside the hive. Commercial beekeepers typically fill 5 gallon buckets with holes in the lids with sugar syrup and either place these over the hole in the inner cover or on stands outside the hives.
More Information: https://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/
As a beekeeper, it is often said that you also have to become a botanist and a meteorologist so that you not only know what is blooming in your immediate area and when it is blooming, but also to know your local weather patterns so that you are aware of situations that may prevent your bees from accessing what is in bloom. Both the plants available for your bees and weather conditions during the year are hyper localized based on a number of factors including geography and whether you are in an urban, suburban, or rural area. What is blooming in your area in early May is likely very different from what is blooming just a few miles down the road. It is important to keep this in mind to know when your colonies need to be fed.
Honey bees get all of their nutrition from flowers, so when there are no plants in bloom, bees must rely on either their food stores or the beekeeper to survive. When there are no nutritional resources available in the environment, this is called a dearth. Typical times for a dearth in MI are the winter, late summer, and late fall, but there can also be a kind of dearth in the spring if the weather is too cold and wet for bees to access the blooming trees, shrubs, and plants.
The 2 nutritional sources for bees are pollen and nectar. Beekeepers may need to feed either pollen, pollen substitute (a protein rich fake pollen), or pollen supplement (a protein rich substance containing some real pollen) in times when pollen is scarce but the bees are rearing a lot of brood, like in the springtime. Some beekeepers will also feed 1:1 sugar syrup as a nectar substitute in the spring until the bees stop taking it which indicates they are getting adequate nectar from the environment. Typically, 2:1 sugar syrup is fed if there is a fall dearth to help bulk up winter honey stores. Since bees will not take sugar syrup in the winter, many beekeepers put dry sugar or fondant in their hives over the winter to ensure their bees won’t starve. NOTE: Never feed sugar syrup with honey supers on. This will lead to sugar syrup “honey.”
More Information: https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/beekeepers/feeding-honey-bees/
Jen Haeger is a new master beekeeper and board member of A2B2.