It’s early spring and the time of year in Minnesota where days start to get slightly warmer. I heard some new bird songs this morning and the sun feels just a little stronger shining over my shoulder. As I make my veterinary visits from farm to farm I keep having a similar conversation with folks. Everyone seems to agree, its that time of year where we can finally say we’re over with the better part of winter.
Which means, it’s time to go and check the bee yards!!
Colony Weight: There is always some apprehension, especially here in Minnesota where the winters make beekeeping especially challenging. If its still cool out, you won’t want to open colonies, but you can still make sure they’re alive. You can also check weight of each colony by doing a lift test. If you can easily lift one side of a bottom deep with one arm, chances are they are getting a bit light and will need sugar supplementation. If temps get into the 50’s, it’s warm enough to have a quick check into each box and see how much honey is left. They should have at least 3 frames in mid March to make it until early flowers start to bloom.
Sugar Supplementation: Right now (3/16/19) is still to cold for bees to be fed liquid feed, so if they need sugar, you can make your own paddies, or lay 1 sheet of newspaper over the top bars, then add loose sugar on top of the newspaper. The bees will be able to crawl up around the edges or chew through the paper to ingest the sugar.
Adding Frames of Honey: If you’d like to add frames of honey from a dead out colony to a colony that needs more food stores please be SURE that those bees didn’t die of a bacterial or fungal infection such as ABF, EFB or chalk brood as this can be passed in honey to your other hives. For this reason, it’s not recommended to feed honey to other colonies because of the risk of spreading disease.
Adding Protein Paddies: If you have several colonies who are at a good weight with plenty of left over food stores, you can also consider giving them a protein paddy. We want to start to stimulate brood rearing, but need to do it when warm weather is expected as we don’t want the brood to be killed in cold temps if the bees need to cluster. A healthy colony will stimulate brood rearing naturally from stored pollen sources as well as early spring flowers, so adding protein paddies is not necessary in all cases.
Hive necropsy: Necropsy is the word veterinarians use when they perform an “autopsy” on an animal to figure out why it died. The same idea can be applied to dead out colonies as well. We want to know why they died so we can manage them differently and hopefully more effectively this coming season.
Based on survey’s done by the Bee Informed Partnership (www.beeinformed.org) in 2017/2018 hobby beekeepers lost 46.3% of colonies, while sideliners and commercial beekeepers lost 38.0% and 26.4% respectively. These are huge losses! If a dairy producer told me they’d lost 46% of their cows during the winter we’d have some serious management issues to address, not to mention ethical animal abuse considerations.
So let’s change these numbers beekeepers! Let’s strive to be as informed as possible and use best management strategies to combat the problems we know are out there.
There can be a lot of reasons for colony loss during winter. Starvation, poor ventilation and parasitism are high up there on the list, and all of these can be addressed with proper management. If you’d like help evaluating why you have a dead colony, please leave the colony undisturbed, and I’d be happy to come out and go through the colony with you to determine what we can change for future seasons.
Best wishes for happy, strong bees during this early spring weather!