Getting ready for Spring Harvest
March-May is the most difficult month for honey bees. Why? Because the warmer weather can trigger the colony to increase its size. This means the queen will “restart” or increase her laying and the bees will go in search of pollen and nectar to feed the young. The honey bees begin to use up their winter stores of honey to keep them going. They need this food to help give them the energy they need to forage for pollen and nectar. There are times when the honey bees have used up all their stores and it is time for the beekeeper to feed them as the colony begins to grow. The British weather hasn’t helped the honey bee as usually Spring is the start of blooms and crops and sadly, the weather is not as warm as it has been in the past and we are prone more to wet weather in Spring. This is when the danger sets in for the honey bees to be in danger of starvation (que the bee Lady!)
Honey bees look for pollen, protein and fat for the baby bees but they also collect nectar which is converted into honey.
Moving into April, forsythia (yellow flowered plant), ceanothus (purple flowered plant) and lilac plants (you guessed it! lilac coloured flowered plants) are good sources of pollen. The warmer weather triggers the queen to increase egg laying; during winter there are about 10,000 honey bees in a hive, in the peak of summer it can raise to 50,000- 65,000. The queen needs to build up the colony to make the most of the summers food supply. At her peak she can lay 2,000 eggs a day (busy bee indeed!)
What does the Beekeeper need to do in Spring?
If there is a danger of starvation, the beekeeper will feed the bees. This involves placing some bakers fondant (sugar, water and glucose) on the top of the frames. Occasionally the honey stored overwinter can crystallise and become too difficult to eat or an alternative is sugar syrup which makes it very difficult for the bees to eat.
Beekeepers ‘Spring Clean’ their hives; cleaning out old wax, propolis and debris that has accumulated over winter. They will check the hive for food and see if there’s enough space for the Queen to lay eggs. It’s important for a beekeeper to check for pests and diseases, as well as the condition of the combs and hive box. The brood box may be replaced with a clean box. The old one will be scraped and flamed to kill off any bugs. The floor is generally replaced with an open mesh base which increases air flow in the hive.
The bees are now set up for the warm summer months and the frantic foraging for nectar to produce delicious golden honey. Honey bees love oil seed rape and by April the crop begins to grow and the honey bees bring the nectar back to the hive. Beekeepers put ‘Supers’ onto the hive which is an additional smaller box on the top of the hive to allow the honey bees to have extra space to make the honey. It is the ‘Super’ box that the beekeeper takes off to harvest the honey. The rest of the honey in the hive is usually left for the honey bees to eat and use for themselves (they did make it after all!).