Beekeeping is a fluid art. Existing in that flow can be both fantastic and frustrating, usually at the same time. Reading the weather, the bees, and your own self admits you into the club of beekeepers that have existed for thousands of years. Many years may pass where you feel as if Mother Nature has given you a gift of honey and strong hives, only to have it pulled from you in a matter of weeks. Do not fret though. Keeping bees is not a win-or-lose battle from year to year, but a measure of commitment throughout the years. For many of you, March will be the first time you look in your bee-loved hives this year. In our operation, it is a source of excitement and dread. But what is done is done, and the spring represents a renewal of life and the continuation of the cycle.
Here are some guidelines for starting the bee season on the right wing:
Removing the dead. When you have had the chance to pop your lid for an early spring inspection, you may find that some of your hives have died. You may find a hive full of honey and no bees. Deciphering why the hive died can be a useful learning tool for the upcoming season. It is often best to take honey frames away to conserve for a rebuild in the upcoming months. During cold, wet winters (like the one we suffered this year), you may find bees that look to have starved but are surrounded by honey. Cold temps can restrict the bees movement and can cause some or all of the bees to starve. Whatever the state of your dead hive, it must be cleaned out and checked for drone comb, broken frames, and rotten boxes, lids, and bottoms.
Dealing with live hives. Hives that have made it through the winter by this time should have eggs and brood. The rearing of bees requires lots of honey and pollen. You may place your extra honey combs in hives that are under weight, or you may feed them a light 1:1 feed (sugar:water) to help them along. If your hive requires feeding and you have no honey frames, keep a watchful eye on them for starvation. Pollen supplement can be added to help them when rainy weather restricts them from foraging. Combine weak or queenless colonies when the weather permits you to do so. Know what your treatment strategy is going to be for the upcoming season; mites and disease can quickly become a nightmare if left unchecked.
Planning. Planning is the most important thing that a beekeeper needs to do in early spring. Queens, packages, and some supplies need to be ordered in advance of the upcoming season. Staying ahead of your bees is the best strategy.
Watch the weather from here on out. Warm up in February then followed by a cool down could greatly reduce your hives honey stores. Getting your mites in check sooner rather that later needs to be a top priority. Many of challenges of beekeeping are out of our control. We can only facilitate our colonies the best that we can, and the rest is left to fate. Knowing what you can influence is the biggest part of the equation, and experience is the only real solution.