As the vernal equinox approaches, I like to remind beekeepers that spring can be tricky. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to lose a colony to starvation.
In spring, several different things happen all at once to overwintered colonies. Most experienced beekeepers know what to look for, but it can be a little overwhelming if this is your first spring as a beekeeper.
Your colony is growing
Most colonies go into winter with plenty of honey, and the bees eat their supply as the winter progresses. But after the winter solstice, the queens begin to lay at an ever-increasing rate, making the colony larger. More bees require more food, so the remaining food is consumed faster and faster.
Such irony. As we approach spring, the food stores are at their lowest level just as the number of bees increases dramatically. In the past, many colonies have fought their way through winter winds, freezing temperatures, increasing pathogens, and long hours of darkness only to die of starvation just days before the first nectar flow. Don’t make this mistake! If you have any doubts about their food supply, check on your bees soon.
If your bees didn’t have sufficient honey for the entire winter, you may have already begun feeding them on a regular schedule. If you have been feeding once every two weeks, for example, you may need to increase that to once a week or even more. I can’t emphasize enough that if the colony is healthy, its food requirement will explode. Check your colony for food.
Don’t confuse pollen with nectar
That sounds silly, right? But just because you see early spring bees bringing in loads of pollen, you shouldn’t assume they are also collecting nectar. Lots of plants, especially trees, shed gallons of spring pollen without producing a drop of nectar. It’s easy, especially as a beginner, to see load after yellow load of pollen coming in and assume all is well. Check your colony for food.
Warmth is deceiving
It’s easy to be lulled into complacency by warm breezes. On warm spring days when the sun is out, so are the bees. They zip around the bee yard, looking robust, but it may be an illusion. They can’t eat warmth and sunshine. So even though it makes them playful, don’t assume they have enough. Check your colony for food.
Starvation is on us
So many bee ailments are hard to control. Mites, viruses, brood diseases, temperature extremes, predators, and pesticides are difficult-to-control moving targets. Even experienced beekeepers can fail to manage all the assaults on their bees. But starvation is different. Starvation is easy to avoid and food management falls squarely on the shoulders of the beekeepers. So by now, you know: Check your colony for food.
The early vernal equinox
The year, the spring (or vernal) equinox occurs on March 19. Apparently, this is the earliest it has arrived in over a hundred years. As I’ve lamented in the past, the worst aspect of the spring equinox is its proximity to the summer solstice. In other words, the spring equinox is the halfway point of the lengthening-day cycle. Only three months later, on June 20, the days will begin to get shorter and your bees will start preparing for winter.
Honey Bee Suite