This month has been rainy and cool, but if we get a day of sun and warmer temperatures take a peek inside your hive to see how your bees are doing! There are a few early season tasks that you can accomplish in a short hive inspection.
If your bees have begun to raise brood and are concentrated towards the top of your hive, consider doing a box reversal. If your bottom box is empty, switch it with the top box. This will give your bees more space to expand upwards as the colony builds in population, and is a great early intervention for swarm prevention. If the broodnest is split between the two hive boxes, it is best to postpone the reversal to avoid splitting up the brood.
If your hive is light on stored honey, and lots of bees are hanging out in the inner cover, consider giving them some dry granulated sugar. It’s not quite time to give them liquid sugar syrup. Doing so early in the season when the weather is still cool and rainy indicates to your bees that nectar is readily available and prompts them to increase brood production. Part of the population will shift into foraging mode and begin to search for food when not much is available naturally right now. This “fruitless foraging” wears out precious members of your hive population and creates additional mouths to feed. Stick to dry sugar for a bit longer, and consider adding a protein patty if you see open brood. It takes a lot of protein to raise new bees!
A late winter inspection is also a great time to switch out a soggy inner cover or lid, and clear off any dead bees from the screened bottom board.
If you have a hive that didn’t make it through the winter, take a closer look at the frames and try to identify the problem. For example, the bees in this photo are from a hive inspected last week. Underneath the cluster of dead bees are individuals that died head-first in the cells (bottom photo), a classic sign of starvation. Often times a colony dwindles in size to a point where they cannot break their cluster to access food stores.
Again in the top photo, high mite levels may be indicated by the presence of dead bees inside capped cells. And the remnants of a few emergency queen cells indicate the bees tried to unsuccessfully replace their queen late in the season.
Seal off the entrances to dead-out hives to prevent mice and robbers, and start making a plan to restart your colony this spring.