The beekeeping season is yet to begin, but the bees become more active at this time of year. The stores of pollen and honey that have sustained them from the previous summer will be dwindling. As the catkins appear on the willow and alder, some brave foragers will venture out to gather pollen to feed the Queen which encourages her to begin laying eggs. Soon they will emerge as new worker bees, increasing the number of bees in the hive and the amount of foragers to respond to the blooming spring flowers.
During the winter a colony consists of around 10,000 bees. This number will increase to approx 50,000 in the summer. Worker bees in the summer only live for around 6 weeks but the same bees that went into winter are still in the hive clustering around the queen, months later, keeping her safe and warm by vibrating their wings. Even when it’s freezing outside the bees must maintain a temperature of around 35 degrees in the hive to survive.
We leave sufficient stores of honey and pollen in each hive to ensure they can make it through the winter. Sometimes if a colony is weak they might need our help. We can feed a struggling colony fondant to sustain them until the weather is warmer, when the bees can forage and bring food back to the hive. We check the hives regularly to keep an eye on stores and top up the food if necessary. A cold snap in March or April can cause problems in a growing colony as there are more mouths to feed and it’s too cold to fly!
Soon the mouse guards can come off the hives. These are metal strips with bee size holes so mice looking for a warm spot for the winter can’t choose your hive and chew through the comb. Woodpeckers are another winter threat. They will peck through the wooden wall of the hive to find food when there’s nothing else about. You can wrap chicken wire around the hive to prevent them from getting close enough to do any damage.
This time of year is a good time for beekeepers to prepare for the season ahead. This means cleaning equipment to prevent the spread of disease and building new frames to replace the old. It’s the beginning of many months of hard work for the bees and the beekeeper. Depending on where the bee hives are located the first honey harvests will happen from late April until September. Bring on the summer and the honey!