Finally, sun and a few warm days in the 50s. We seem to have turned the corner from winter to spring. The snow has disappeared! I am seeing a few bees up in the maples gathering pollen. It’s time for some beekeeping!
But before jumping into the joys of working with the bees it is time to do a review of what occurred in the previous winter. The first step in that process is to analyze the deadouts. My apiaries lost 8 hives. One loss occurred last October and appeared to be from becoming queenless and then being robbed out; no evidence of varroa. Three (3) exhibited the symptoms of a SMS bacterial infection. Two were obvious cases of starvation. Two were indeterminate. Have you analyzed your deadouts?
March 31st also is the end of a beekeeper’s winter and is the time to calculate winter survival statistics for the last time. My hive survival worked out to 85% and nuc survival to 86%. Hive survival by queen types was: Purdue Mite Biter-91%, Saskatraz-86%, Georgia ltaians-50%, miscellaneous queen types (mutts, carnis, MH)-83%. However, I expect to lose several more hives and nucs in April as some hives that seem to have made through winter just slowly dwindle away. These spring losses are probably due to old queens that just can’t shift into the high egg laying mode again.
The big unanswered question is what were the prime contributors to the good results: mild winter weather, good mite control, queen types? Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for this. I do know my apiaries have a larger percentage of mite resistant queens than most other apiaries. The statistics reported above show the mite resistant queen types had higher survival. Also, my mite control process is slightly different (I think slightly more severe) than that used by others. But short of running more scientifically controlled tests I can’t isolate the primary factors. At any rate I will be using the same mite control process next winter and continue to increase the percentage of mite resistant queens in my apiary. I have no control over the weather.
The high survival rate of both hives and winter nucs has allowed my beekeeping operation to be classed as a “sustainable” for the first time. In other words, I will be making NO purchases of packages this spring to replace winter losses. Can I repeat this next winter? Time will tell.
On to beekeeping!
Probably the first tasks in your apiary is removal of mouse guards and winter wrap and cleaning out of the deadouts. While doing this its also possible to do a preliminary cleaning of the bottom board using a hooked rod. Be sure to reinstall the entrance reducer on its smallest setting.
With the warmer weather tree pollen will be available. When this happens, the bees will forego any pollen substitute in preference for the real thing. Real pollen is preferential to the manmade substitute, so by mid April there is no need to give the bees pollen patties.
Although warmer, nectar is still not available in any substantial volume. Some beekeepers give their hives a shot of 1 to 1 sugar syrup to promote brood rearing. Don’t overdo it; one (1) gallon per hive is sufficient. If given too much syrup the bees will fill the brood nest area, which will slow or prevent the population buildup needed before the natural nectar flow starts in late May. Without a large workforce the bees will gather less nectar for themselves and you.
If we get a 60F or warmer day in April, it’s time to verify the hives are queenright and raising brood. If you encounter a weak or lagging hive a frame of bees and brood can be moved from a strong hive to the weaker hive. This leveling or equalizing aids the weak hive and may also prevent a strong hive from swarming. Unfortunately, the weather prediction for the next two weeks does not show any 60F or warmer weather. For that reason, you should also not perform any hive reversals until warmer weather arrives.
It’s still too cool to disassemble hives. Doing so may chill the eggs and brood and result in killing them. It’s better to wait for shirt sleeve weather.
For those of you getting packages or nucs in April, plan ahead and get the hive(s) set up before the packages or nucs arrive.