Whether it’s Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall, there’s always something that a Beekeeper should be doing or at least thinking about doing for the wellness of their bees. Planning ahead is at the top of that list.
Take notes or use your cell phone’s audio capabilities and record what is happening in each hive at each inspection. There are print-outs available online if you like ready-made inspection sheets to take to the bee yard. Make notes and then keep it in a folder to refer back to whenever you need to. It helps to know what a hive may need and when to follow through, in order to remedy whatever the situation. Establish your own system of hive management. No matter how good a memory you think you have, you will inevitably forget one thing or another and wish you’d have looked at your notes before the trek all the way back to the bee yard. Tools, duct tape, staple gun, screen wire, matches, etc. Once you gain experience and confidence in your beekeeping endeavor, things become more automatic.
One most urgent subject we are the most adamant about preaching this time of year is how seriously we are opposed to chemical lawn treatments and insecticide sprays. CHEMICALS KILL! No matter what you have been told; Dandelions are NOT your enemy! Every part of a dandelion is edible or has health benefits if used topically or orally. (Another huge topic on wildcrafting that we can’t begin here).
HUNGER: Just like humans, honey bees are anxious to get out and experience the abundance of Springtime freshness that they crave. A fresh earthy meal. Dandelions, crocus, fruit trees and all kinds of flowering plants are life-sustaining food sources for these tiny insects who like you, have been cooped up all winter long. They need “clean” food!
Springtime is an important time for Beekeepers and just like farmers, we keep a close eye on the weather. Once the temperatures warm and our Queens start laying again, we also watch our honeybee livestock. What we want, is to see foragers coming and going, bringing in the nectar and pollen. This is a sure sign that the girls are ready to feed thousands of newly hatched or soon-to-be newly hatched baby bees. Spring gets exciting in the beekeeping world.
Also like farmers, beekeepers also live on Faith when it comes to the weather in the Mid-west. Some years there’s too much rain and all the nectar seems to be washed away. Then the windstorms come and knock the blooms off just as they should be bursting with the sweet syrup and pollen that honey bees depend on. Some months there’s too many days the sun don’t shine through those dreadful heavy grey clouds. Your beekeeping patience will be tested. Ultimately Mother Nature reminds us that she’s in complete control and we just need to step back. Before we know it, we’re making plans to split hives that look as though they may burst at the seams.
Heads-up: Every year is different from the last. Every hive, different. And you will learn something new for as long as you are a keeper of bees.
If needed, early in the Spring and when temperatures are above 40 degrees at night, beekeepers may feed sugar syrup. A feed of 2:1 ratio, sugar to water will give them a bit of a boost. If they are still taking it in as flowers begin to bloom, we will cut it back to a 1:1 ratio. Eventually they will not take any of it and we will remove the feeders. Supplemental feeding is only used if starvation is eminent. Your bees will be healthiest if they are gathering what they find naturally.
If outside temperatures are below 40 degrees at night, sugar patties are made. A sugar patty will consist of organic sugar (or table sugar if organic is not available) mixed with just enough water to hold it together. We will put this mixture into a one gallon size Ziplock bag with two small 1″ X 1″ X 4″ chunks of wood placed inside and on what will become the bottom side of the bag. This will keep the bees from suffocating underneath. When we place the bag on top of the hive frames, we will cut slits into the bag so the bees have access to the sugar patty. I have also added one drop of peppermint essential oil to this mixture when I believe they need a little help stimulating their appetite. I also believe that it helps ward off mites.
A colony needs an ample amount of honey in storage going into winter in order for them to make it through to spring until flowers begin to appear. We need to be extra careful by leaving as much honey as we believe they need, even if it means leaving a honey super on top of their hive. The honey that they produce is far more healthy for them than any sugar supplement.