Our Spring Beekeeping Checklist
Hello, dear readers and friends. It’s been two months since our last chat about bees and why I had given up on our hive. In short, they attacked me last August, and I did not think that they would make it to see spring or if they did that I would be willing to begin checking them again. I am happy to report that our hive did indeed survive the winter. There has been plenty of activity coming in and out of the hive, so I was confident that perhaps the queen had made it as there were no signs of swarming… at least not visible from the outside.
I probably have taken too long than I should have to crack open the hive this spring, but I finally built up the courage to do so this past weekend. The weather has been beautiful and warm paired with days that are extremely windy, cold, and rainy. Of course, on the days where the weather is perfect for a hive check I am not able to actually do the job. My fiancee, Kyle, is helping me keep the bees this year and I did not want to start the season without him. We finally found a day this last week to be able to check them together. Here is what we did, and what we found…
when to check the hive
Cracking open the hive for the first time in spring of your second season does not have to happen when the signs of spring appear, like buds and flowers. You can check your hive as soon as the weather is mild, around 50 degrees F, and ideal for checking as it would be before. No wind or rain, mild and sunny.
To check, you’ll want to conduct a similar search as always: Smoke and entrance and the top of the hive. Close the lid and wait 10-20 seconds before beginning.
determining how the bees fared
Are they alive? If you are checking in early spring when the bees have not moved out of their cluster, look for signs of life. If you put your ear up to the side of hive and knock on the wood, can you hear the buzz or hum of the bees? If you cannot hear them, then crack her open and look around.
Look for the Queen. If they are most certainly alive, it’s time to search for the queen or at least signs of her. This would be the simple act of removing a frame and looking for brood. If you see eggs and a brood pattern, then rest assured she is most likely around. If there are no signs of recent egg production, you must order a new queen immediately. Though you should only do this if your hive has enough bees around to care for the brood. If they are still in the cluster, it should be about the size of a grapefruit.
What We Found:
Honestly, our bees looked really, really good. Not the best use of descriptive words, but it’s the truth! I found lots of healthy brood and the hive’s numbers were fairly large for spring, at least that’s how I felt. Our hive was definitely no longer in the cluster so I could not determine the size by evaluating that. There was heavy activity around the entrance with workers bringing in honey, and the inner frames in the upper deep were covered with workers busily feeding the brood and cleaning out cells.
We did not see the queen, but I found a good pattern of larvae (I did not see many eggs, but I was having trouble getting a good look in the cells - they were much darker and deeper than last spring). My guess was that the original queen or perhaps a new queen was doing well. If I am being honest, I did not pull out every frame of the upper deep, nor did I open the lower deep. I pulled out two or three frames of the brood patch for fear of angering the workers who’s main concern is increasing the hive’s numbers and instead decided to focus on looking for honey.
feed the colony
How did the bees do over the winter? Did they maintain their honey levels? If you are checking early, a good winter supplement is a candy board or sugar brick. If you are checking in mid to late spring, you’ll most likely want to just start feeding sugar syrup again until the first blossoms appear outdoors. If there is still capped honey (white capping) then they should be doing just fine. If there is not a sign of capped honey at all, the bees must be emergency fed.
Whether your hive still has honey or not, you should supplement them with sugar syrup in the early weeks of spring. The feeding will stimulate the queen to lay eggs at a brisk rate. It will help get the worker bee’s wax glands moving. When you notice the bees are bringing in their own food (pollen baskets are full) then you can stop feeding them.
What We Found:
Honey supplies are low, though I did not look in the lower deep so there may have been honey stored over winter left in those frames. My goal is to check the lower deep next week when I reverse the hive bodies (read more below). What I did find was lots and lots and lots of pollen! Bee protein! This is extremely necessary for population growth in spring.
Because of the low supply of honey, I made some 1:1 sugar syrup with granulated sugar and my first pollen patties with a pollen substitute from Dadant. It smelled… interesting. I was not sure if I should supplement them with it or not (it’s kind of a controversial topic) but what the heck. Why not? If they eat in, then I guess they needed it. I may pop my nose into the hive tomorrow to check the top feeder and see how much sugar syrup was consumed.
plenty more to do
Reverse the Hive Bodies. Once you’ve made your initial spring check, you’ll want to reverse the hive bodies. In the winter months, the hive often moves upwards in the cluster to stay warm and feed off the honey supply they’ve made. Because there’s open space, this is now where they’ll raise their spring brood because the colony’s numbers have dropped. That means the lower deep is most likely empty. By reversing the hive bodies, you encourage population growth and honey production. During my next hive check, we will do this and I will go through the lower deep frames to see what’s going on there.
Putting on the Honey Super. There’s really not a lot of great information out there specific to timelines when it comes to beekeeping in your second year. I am having trouble figuring out what the next steps are with a honey super timeline, so just bear with me… this blog post is more a list I am reminding myself of! After reversing the hive bodies, I am going to look out for their speed in filling out the frames of deeps with capped honey. Just like in summer/autumn, once 8 of my 10 frames are filled out, I will remove the top feeder, stop feeding the bees altogether, put on the queen excluder, and top off the hive with a super. Then I will wait. I don’t want to feed them syrup because it will not be real honey. Once they fill up that super, I may put on a second one or harvest the first summer honey and then replace it so they can prepare for winter.
Medicate Your Bees. This I am not knowledgable on, honestly. This is something that I debate back and forth on, mostly because of the expense! I did not get a chance to take my mite board out because the propolis has it completely stuck… and I am not really sure how to get it out. Spring is the time of year to medicate your bees for any issues within the hive and/or to prevent future issues from arising. You can also medicate in the fall.
There you have it. Our hive seems appears healthy and thriving at this point in time. Do they have mites or other issues? Well, I don’t really know because I did not get a look at the mite board… but I would also assume that they would pretty weak after overwintering if the answer were yes. I’ve seen that not medicating your bees is considered a “natural approach” because, well, honeybee medication probably didn’t exist when early beekeepers began the practice. Am I taking a natural approach for holistic reasons? Not necessarily. I am taking it because it’s easier, cheaper, but more worrisome. I don’t know if I would even say that I am officially going all natural with this; part of me feels naive about it. I don’t know what the right thing to do is here. But, we will trudge on and figure it out.
My hope for this year is to just have the hive survive the season, maybe make some extra honey that we can try for the first time, and to not be left with money wasted. I will continue to document our experience in beekeeping year two! Are you beekeeping this year? Do you medicate your hive?
All I know is that I really love seeing Tad in his little bee suit and showing him the frames “way up close!”