spring management

The perils of spring for bees

While it is natural to sigh with relief when spring finally rolls around, in truth, spring is one of the hardest seasons for both bees and beekeepers. The perils of spring are many.

Spring colonies that have overwintered face a particularly daunting set of circumstances. For example:

  • By spring, the number of individuals in a colony is greatly reduced compared to the previous fall. Fewer bees are available to perform the many colony chores, including keeping the brood nest warm and raising a new crop of young bees.
  • Bees weakened by cold are more susceptible to disease. Springtime temperatures can be erratic and unpredictable, and if the bees suddenly becomes chilled, they may be more susceptible to diseases such as chalkbrood.
  • If the colony is infected with mites, the mites are concentrated within a smaller population of bees, so the chance of a mite-vectored viral infection is high.
  • Food stores—both honey and pollen—are low so poor nutrition, or even starvation, is always a possibility.
  • Bees weakened by poor nutrition are also more susceptible to disease. So as the winter progresses into spring, the bees are more likely to succumb to a pathogen like Nosema, or to a condition such as dysentery.
  • Many of the bees are old, having lived through the entire fall and winter. By spring, some of the bees may be 200 days old. These bees are not as strong or resilient as young bees.
  • Moisture may have built up during the winter. A wet or damp hive is a haven for various fungal infections, such as chalkbrood disease. In addition, water dripping onto the cluster may chill or kill the bees.
  • The bees may not have defecated in a very long time, increasing the likelihood of dysentery.
  • Not only does dysentery weaken the bees, but feces deposited within the hive can become a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens which may also weaken or kill the bees.

So don’t relax too soon. Help your colonies along until their populations are once again overflowing the hives.

Honey Bee Suite


  • It’s so true – unfortunately “winter losses” can happen right up until summer 🙁 It’s a heartbreaking roller coaster to open up a hive in early spring, and it made it through winter beautifully, and a month later; dead.

    I think spring is actually even more dangerous to bees than winter.

    • I agree. Plus, by spring I’m tired of making sugar patties or whatever and it’s very easy to get lax and think, “Oh, spring is here; the bees will be fine.” And then they’re not.

  • Hi again Rusty,

    I did a checkerboarding of my hive yesterday and will put it up on YouTube this weekend. http://www.youtube.com/user/tokyo73?feature=mhee The timing for this seemed to be just right. We’ll see. Which brings me to ask about your thoughts on medications. In April I’m due to sprinkle Teramycin and add menthol. Do you still medicate? Michael Bush at http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm proposes the idea not to. I am trying to move to your two school of thoughts on beekeeping but it’s a process. Tony

    • Hi Tony,

      I don’t treat with either Terramycin (for AFB) or menthol (for tracheal mites). The thing is, I wouldn’t take medicines for a disease I don’t have, so I don’t treat my bees for a disease they don’t have. Prophylactic treatment is the kind of thing that makes the drugs less effective when you really need them. If your bees ever come down with these diseases it would be nice to have a treatment available that actually works. In short, you shouldn’t use them unless you need them.

  • Rusty…I attended the local beekeepers meeting last night and there was much discussion about spring management of bees. The state bee inspector had stated that European foul brood disease was a problem across the state this spring. There was some discussion of Italian bees being more resistant to this problem than Russian bees. Rusty would you write a blog on the prevention of the disease and what to do if your bees get the problem? What are some better management techniques to prevent disease?

    • Herb,

      That’s quite an assignment. European foul brood has taken a backseat to other diseases in the last decade or so but I, too, heard it was making a comeback in some areas. I’ve got quite a lot of information about it somewhere around here. I’ll try to put something together for you.

  • Crap. Literally. Opened hive quick to chuck in sugar and a pollen patty. Quilt dry as a bone. Solid quantity of bees. But also decent amount of dysentary in the feeding area of the hive- an imrie shim and medium super topped by quilt in another medium and inner screen then outer cover. Didn’t go deeper cause warm day here isn’t even forty. Bees have only had maybe four days since jan when they’ve come out to fly. Forecast is clear for next five days with highs up to 45. Wait and hope it clears on its own? Treat? Pull bees apart to check out if their guts are tan or white then treat as indicated? I know. I’m sweating these bees. They’ve made it so far and I can’t bear to lose them this close to spring. Though the snow is still deeper than their hive…..dug out for ventilation of course.

    • Joanna,

      If it were me, I’d check for Nosema and treat if that looks to be the case. There’s nothing you can do for plain old dysentery due to no cleansing flights. If you treat, you will have to use slightly warm syrup to get them to take it in a cold hive.

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