Reminder: pollen is not nectar
As the sun climbs higher and shafts of spring gild the budding branches, it is easy to believe your bees survived the winter. Workers parade into the hive with pollen loads, new foragers orbit the hive in orientation flight, and all seems right with the world.
But here is a word of caution. Depending on where you live, nectar may still be scarce. Often, prolific pollen plants such as alder and birch are shedding great clouds of the stuff, but ample nectar sources may still be weeks away.
In addition, your honey stores are at their lowest. Each week that passes sees a further reduction in the remaining supplies, while the amount required on an average day increases. Brood production expands with the approach of spring and foragers are actively searching for nectar that may not exist.
Every spring beekeepers write to say their colonies remained strong throughout winter storms and robust cold, only to die during the first warm days of spring. Chances are good they simply starved—the pantry ran dry just before the nectar appeared.
Like many other beekeepers, I tend to relax and breathe a sigh of relief when the pollen starts to flow. And every year I have to remind myself that pollen is not nectar, and many types of pollen appear weeks ahead of the first nectar.
This post is simply a reminder to check on your charges, especially if you live in the northern areas. Move honey stores closer to your bees if they are still clustering, or give them syrup if you must.
Just think: if you make it past this sensitive period with healthy hives, next month you can start worrying about swarms. Ain’t beekeeping fun?