Preparing your hives for the new season
After a long, cold winter spent huddled inside, everyone is looking forward to spring – bees included. For your hives, spring is a time of intense activity. Egg-laying, brood-raising, and nectar-gathering all start to ramp up after being almost non-existent in winter.
Your job as beekeeper is to make sure your bees have everything they need for a productive and healthy spring – followed by a bountiful summer honey flow.
Here’s our guide to helping your bees through the busy season.
August is too early for your bees to be doing much – but you can get started. This is a good time to check your equipment, make a list of anything you need, and order supplies. Clean and repair old frames and hive tools, wash your bee suit and check it over for rips, and read up on beekeeping basics.
Early prep means you won’t need to scramble when spring starts in earnest.
Feed and treat
September is a risky time for bees. Hives can get close to the end of their winter supplies, but still need to wait weeks or months for spring nectar, so they run the risk of starvation.
Choose a mild day to check your hives and assess their honey supplies. If they’re running very low, it may be time to supplement with stored honey or sugar syrup. But remember, if you start feeding, you must continue to do so until the nectar flow is well established.
A September hive check is also a good time to treat for Varroa mites. Whether you can see signs of infestation or not, it’s best to treat early and often.
Blossoms and brood boxes
As blossoms appear and the weather starts to improve, your queen will be laying eggs, your workers will be gathering pollen, and drones will start to appear. This is when you need to perform a full hive inspection.
Pick a warm day and open your hives up properly. Check the queen, look at the distribution of eggs and brood, and give the hive a general tidy up. Remove entrance reducers, sweep out debris, and rearrange frames if needed. You may choose to reverse your brood frames at this stage – this can help create a more even distribution of brood, which can help boost colony growth.
This is also a good opportunity to check for American Foulbrood Disease (AFB) and investigate and test thoroughly if you think you see signs.
An increase in population comes along with an increased chance of swarming. Although some beekeepers see swarms as a problem, they’re actually a sign that your hive is healthy and thriving.
Some natural beekeepers simply let their bees swarm, then capture and rehouse them. Others watch for signs of swarming and do their best to prevent it. Signs of an impending swarm include a high, active population, a lack of space in the hive, and a high number of queen cells in the brood – particularly if they’re full.
If you think your bees are about to swarm, you can reduce the likelihood by adding frames to the hive to give them room to grow, and improving ventilation by opening up the bottom board. You can also ‘trick’ the bees into thinking they have more space by reversing the order of the hive – bees tend to cluster in the top of the hive, leaving lower areas empty. By switching top and bottom boxes, you give them more space to move up to.
Split or join
One other way to deal with swarm behavior is by splitting a hive. If you examine your hive and find that it has a robust population, you can choose to split it late in September or early in October – before it swarms. Read more about how to split a hive here.
On the other hand, spring can also be the ideal time to consolidate your weaker colonies. If your hive inspections reveal a queenless hive or a hive with a low population, you can choose to combine these with stronger colonies to give them a greater chance of success. Find out how to join hives here.
From checking to feeding to splitting to swarming, spring is a busy time for beekeepers and their bees. But if you start preparing now, you’ll be ready to go when spring finally arrives.