Springtime Activities for Bee Health

By Gary S. Reuter, Apiculture Technician, Department of Entomology; University of Minnesota

In this article I would like to discuss the factors in a honey bee colony that pertain to winter and early spring. How does a colony make it through the cold winter? What are some of the hazards? What can we do to help? This is the continuation of the article written last fall that started the same way. Remember that this is written from the perspective of the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. The principles will be the same but you will just need to adjust dates for your area.

We winter in three deep boxes. If you wintered last year in one or two deep hive bodies, this year you can build to three deep and see how it works next year.

The time to start thinking about wintering your colonies is in March. The same time you start thinking of getting ready for your major honey flow. The goal is to have a large (60,000 bees), healthy colony at the time of the major honey flow so the bees can maximize the amount of nectar they collect. We also want a medium size (40,000 bees), healthy colony with plenty of honey and pollen for winter. The bees will need the honey to get through early winter and then the pollen and honey once they start to raise brood.

So to get them off to a good start about the first of March we give them a pollen patty. If we have done our job last year they will not need it because they will have pollen available that they stored. But, just to be sure I like them to have a pollen patty. Do not just throw it in there any old way. The pollen patty needs to be in contact with the cluster so they can get to it even on a cold day. If the cluster is between two boxes, do not put it between the cluster and divide the cluster. This will make it harder for the bees to regulate temperature. Just on the top of the cluster is idea. If the top of the cluster is in the middle of the box you will have to put it on one edge of the cluster between the boxes.

When the bees are using all the available space in the top box we do a “partial” reversal. This means we reverse the positions of the top two boxes. This will put open space above the cluster for the bees to move into. The fact that the open space is above the cluster means it will be warmer and they can move up easier. We make sure they always have at least some pollen patty in case they run out of pollen. After the reversal it is placed between the two boxes making it on top of the cluster.

When the bees are again using all the available space in the top box we do a “full” reversal. This means we reverse the positions of the top and bottom boxes. The middle box stays in the middle. This will once again put open space above the cluster for the bees to move into. The fact that the open space is above the cluster means it will be warmer and they can move up easier (remember?). By this point there should be ample natural pollen available but if you are in doubt leave some pollen patty on them.

When it gets to be fruit bloom time (May 15 here) we will do a divide. For detailed methods to do divides see our manual “Beekeeping in Northern Climates” available at http://beelab.umn.edu/Resources/Beekeeping_manuals_videos/index.htm#northern. This will simulate (virtual swarm if you will) swarming and lessen the chance that they will swarm on their own. After doing the divide you will have two colonies, one in a single deep with a new queen (the divide) and one in two deeps with the old queen (parent). The parent will be given honey supers and we will not winter it.

If you are starting the season with a package of bees, hive them in the usual manner. Again see our manual. Be sure to give the new package pollen or pollen patty and sugar syrup if you do not have frames of honey.

Entomology website: www.entomology.umn.edu

Gary's website: www.tc.umn.edu/~reute001

Lab website: www.BeeLab.umn.edu

Editor’s Note: Watch next month for a continuation of this article, answering when to add the next box.

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