Early Spring Management

Written by Ana Heck

Checking colony survival

We’ve been checking our colonies to see which survived.  We check colonies by lifting covers when temperatures are above freezing, but we are not removing frames or inspect colonies.  We’re happy to report that so far all of the sentinel apiary colonies we wintered were alive the last time we checked, although a couple colonies are small in size.

We did lose 4 non-sentinel colonies on campus, 2 of which we had to leave untreated through most of the season last year in order to run a research trial with varroa mites.  We also lost non-sentinel colonies in our Canton yard in Southeastern Michigan, a location where good bee forage is limited.

Feeding sugar

Most of our colonies are still heavy with honey and don’t require emergency feeding.  We check colony food stores by hefting the hive to gauge its weight or by looking in the top box for capped honey.  Our mild winter temperatures meant that bees didn’t consume as much honey as they may have under colder conditions.  Bees increase their consumption of food in the spring as they rear brood and begin foraging flights.  It’s great to find hives heavy with honey that we don’t need to feed for now.

When hives feel light or when we are uncertain whether a colony has enough stored food, we feed dry sugar.  Beekeepers may choose to feed dry sugar, fondant, candy boards, or winter patties at this time of year.  It is still too early to feed sugar syrup.  

Capped honey
It’s a good sign when you can see capped honey on several frames.  Photo: Ana Heck

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Most of the sugar we had left this colony was gone when we checked this past week.  We placed a new sheet of newspaper on the top bars and fed more dry sugar.  Photo: Ana Heck

Feeding protein patties

In many of our locations in lower Michigan, we’ve seen bees bringing in pollen.  Bees are gathering pollen from skunk cabbage, and soft maple buds have just started to open.

Feeding protein patties is an optional practice to ensure that bees have access to protein for brood rearing.  Beekeepers may chose to feed protein patties once they see their bees bringing in pollen.  Bees forage on nice days for pollen, which provides protein that is important for larval development.  There may be times in the spring, however, when bees can’t forage due to cold or wet periods.  Protein patties serve as a backup source of protein and cover for periods when the colony continues to raise brood but isn’t able to forage for pollen.  Beekeepers can choose to feed protein patties throughout the spring, or they can monitor pollen coming into the hive and weather conditions to make sure that supplemental protein isn’t necessary.

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Protein patties in a hive.  Photo: Ana Heck

Refraining from digging in colonies

Even though temperatures may allow bees to forage some days, we are still seeing cold nighttime temperatures.  We know how tempting it is to work bees (especially now when social distancing measures are making many of us feel cooped up), but inspecting frames or reversing boxes can make it difficult for the colony to keep the brood nest warm.

Planning the beekeeping season

One thing we can do now is prepare for the upcoming beekeeping season.  What will you do later in the season to prepare for swarm season and splits?  Do you have a plan for mite management this spring?  Is your beekeeping equipment assembled and painted?  Have you checked out MSU’s list or recommended resources (books, YouTube channels, blogs, and more)?  Are you planning on watching MSU Apiculture webinars this spring? Have you liked Michigan Pollinator Initiative’s Facebook page and subscribed to this MSU Bee Blog for updates throughout the season?  We hope that you enjoy your time preparing and planning for the upcoming season.

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