spring management

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?



Plenty of pollen. Public domain photo

Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


  • Yeap, in January my hives were full of honey, then last month on Valentines day I noticed that some only had maybe 2.5 deep frames of stores left. I have almost 75lbs of sugar in my 6 hives so far this spring and they are converting it quite happily into new brood with help of the pollen substitute. Great blog and very timely.

  • I am deeply concerned. My bees have not had a cleansing flight since early December. Yet we are still trapped into the depths of winter. Will spring ever give is a hint of its arrival? Just one day for a cleansing flight.

    It has been a long cold winter and I have had to resort to feeding candy boards and using the mountain top method.

    Come on spring….

  • I live just north of Seattle. I have been looking at the weather. I hesitantly fed some 1:1 syrup to my ladies about two weeks ago after some local advice. I know there is controversy regarding using syrup versus patties. I had honey stores, but since this was my first hive, I wanted to make sure I had enough. I am a little worried about the weather being cold in the evenings this week for syrup. Thoughts? I have probably stimulated some brood producing adding the syrup a few weeks ago. Should I add some more syrup this week even though the nights are in the 30’s. I plan to split the middle of April.

    I am glad I came across your blog. So far, it has been super helpful. I really like your search engine.

    Thank you.

    • Kristina,

      If the syrup itself becomes too cold, say 50 degrees or less, the bees will not drink it. If heat from the colony is keeping it above 50, they will drink it. No harm done this time of year except some extra moisture in the hive. When the syrup warms, they will eventually drink it.

      Brood production is increasing this time of year regardless of what you feed them because the hours of sunlight are getting longer. So again, no harm done. I wouldn’t worry about it, but don’t give them more until they’ve finished what they have, otherwise it will get moldy.

  • Hi Rusty, Can I get your input on what my strategy should be as we transition to spring with over-wintered hives? I am in Michigan and our hard winter is finally starting to end. And I think both of my 10 frame lang hives are going to make it.

    The current configuration of my 2 hives is 2 deeps and a medium each. I added the mediums with frames of honey in them last fall when it felt like the hives were getting light.

    I assume that I want to get those mediums off at some point right? After they start bringing in nectar?

    Then with the remaining 2 deeps for each colony, do I just leave as is or do I want to reduce down to one deep if the populations are low?

    I realize that I need to manage swarming. How does the number of boxes figure into that?


    • Frank,

      I don’t know if I can give you a good answer because there are multiple ways of doing it and one may not be much better than another. If it were me, I would reduce down to one deep if there are fewer than 7 or 8 frames of bees. Once there were eight frames, I’d add another deep. Then, when a major nectar flow begins, I would add a honey super.

      Another way would be to reverse the brood boxes and put the bees on the bottom. But if they have too much room to expand all at once, they may chimney up the center and not fill the lower boxes. For good overwintering, you’d like to have a solid fill in the lower boxes: brood, pollen, and honey.

      If the bees want to swarm, the number of boxes may not make a difference. You can re-queen, split, or open the brood nests to reduce swarming. Remember to look for backfilling in the brood nest. That will be your first indication of an impending swarm.

  • We’re new beeks as of April 2018. We’ve got a Warre hive. It’s got 3 boxes. Bottom box 2/3 built comb. Leaving all intact for winter. Our question is in spring after they’ve eaten their stores of honey, do we leave the top box in place and they will backfill with honey? Or do we put that empty comb box on the bottom?