Roe Valley Beekeepers Association
The management of your colonies from Feb/Mar to the middle of May will determine their success that year.
By February an observant beekeeper will be able to detect the signs of increasing activity in his hive, whilst it remains too cold to open it for visual inspection. Hefting of the hive will provide an estimate of residual food supply. Bees will be beginning to fly on warmer days, to provide a source of water, and to recover pollen from spring flowers. Cleansing flights will also be apparent. The flight pattern and bees posture should be observed to ensure that these are not robber bees emptying a dead colony. The collection of pollen signals the bees attempts to provide a protein supply to the hive and indicates that the queen has survived, is laying and that there is fresh larval brood. If hive weight appears light, a fondant emergency feed may be necessary. This will involve lifting the crownboard so as to place the fondant directly onto the top bars of frames, and this should be done quickly to minimise cooling, but will afford the first opportunity to see the brood.
From the beginning of March as weather improves there should be increasing signs of hive activity, which may also be apparent by listening/feeling for the sound of contented bees. At this time of year overwintered bees will have reached the end of their lives, and their numbers may not be sufficient to provide for foraging needs of the hive if the early spring build up is to occur. It is important not to overstimulate the queen at this stage otherwise chilled brood will occur, but it is essential that the colony has sufficient protein and carbohydrate stocks. Feeding of pollen is not usual in this area, but some feeding of the colony with sugar solution will be required. This should be with light syrup (1 kg sugar to 2 litres water giving a 30% solution). Although an external feeder would avoid the need to open the hive, it is likely to encourage robbing, and a contact feeder is therefore best. If on inserting this there is evidence of starvation, a 50% solution would prevent loss.
It is unlikely that the first colony inspection can be achieved before the beginning of April to avoid chilling the hive. When it is comfortable to remain outdoors in a short sleeved shirt without inducing pneumonia, the day has come to inspect. The first inspection of the yeaqr is its most important and the beekeeper will wish to observe the size and nature of the brood nest, so as to decide whether his queen is laying adequately, or will require replacement. The presence of brood diseases is easiest to detect when the brood size is small, and samples of bees may be taken for scientific examination by the Bee Inspectorate. Adult diseases and infestations should be sought, including an estimate of the varroa count, and whether there are signs of deformed wings, or of soiling of frames. The extent of residual stores will be seen, and the opportunity to begin cyclical changing of old brood frames take, by moving old frames to the marjins aiming to replace 1/3 this season. The ratio of eggs to unsealed brood to sealed brood present will give an indication of the speed of spring build-up.
At this point copious feeding of light syrup should now begin to encourage queen laying, and plans made for the season during winter implemented. This will include decisions about queen replacement, nuc creation or colony division and plans to availo of a spring oil seed rape honey crop, which may require hives to be secured and moved. In early May if all is well the colony should occupy about 2/3 of available brood chamber space.