All indicators point to an early spring here in Mississippi. It is amazing to see maple tree blooming, the bulbs in our gardens starting to bloom, and of course, seeing the bees hard at work. This is incredibly early and we hope that it is the beginning of an amazing honey season ahead.
A common mistake for inexperienced beekeepers is to assume too early that the bees have made it through the winter. The sight of spring flowers and bees visiting them makes the keeper think the bees will now feed themselves. Sadly, this is not always true.
Cold nights limit the hours bees can work. They cannot start until it warms up, sometimes in late morning. Plus it may frost and actually kill the blossoms, so bees can get no benefit from them. Overcast skies prevent photosynthesis, and reduce nectar production. Oftentimes the first real nectar flow is quite awhile after the first spring flowers appear. It generally takes sustained warm weather and plenty of sunshine for most flowers to yield nectar.
At the same time food requirements have increased exponentially, as the bees are raising large quantities of brood for the future field force, to bring in the spring nectar flow. It is very easy for a hive at this time to outrun its reserve food supply. Just a few cloudy, rainy, or cold days can mean sudden starvation for the hives of an inattentive beekeeper.
At this time of year, never assume! Hives that were heavy a month before might now be as light as a feather. Check, check, check!
You can get an idea of a hive’s food reserves by lifting the back of the hive, however this is somewhat subjective and is based on experience. You can also pop the top and look down between the frames. You should be able to see capped honey on some of the frames. In evaluating the food reserves NEVER count nectar/honey that isn’t capped, because it can disappear in a day or so.
If you have hives with no capped honey – FEED – quickly. You can feed syrup or frames of honey that have been saved for spring feed. But do it! Bees that you find quivering can sometimes be revived, depending on how badly they have been affected, by dusting them with powdered sugar, or drizzling syrup over them.
Weakened and starving bees may not get nectar, because they don’t have enough sugar reserves to power their wing muscles. Nectar provides an important energy source (carbohydrate) – it supplies a complex range of sugars, while pollen gives vital protein and fats.
Sugar water is the best substitute for nectar source. I like open lot feeding at about 100ft from the hives. This will help to reduce the risk of robbing and will not reduce the hive temperature during the night.
One day, in the near future, the sun will shine and the bees will be jamming nectar in every open cell, preventing the queen from laying eggs. The next day, they begin making swarm cells. It can literally turn from famine to feast overnight, and the beekeeper is now dealing with another problem – swarm season.