This is the month that you look into the hive you see bees moving and breathe a sigh of relief. You have got the bees through the winter. Wait!
It is still too early in the year to assume all is well.
If we get a milder spell in January or February the queen may decide that spring has arrived. The queen is more optimistic than we are! Now there may have been some flowers exposed such as snowdrops and daffodils but this is a limited food range and if we get a heavy fall of snow the bees could find they that there is no food available. The hive may be short of stores.
Having decided that spring has come the queen may well start to lay eggs and the workers are starting to look after the larvae. All this activity requires a considerable amount of energy and this requires a lot of food. The worker bees that are present are, in bee terms, quite old. They are the winter bees that have been with the queen over the winter and now they have the task of keeping the hive at about 34C. Do they have enough food to do that?
To find out if there is enough stores in the hive you need to heft it. That means raising one side of the hive off the ground. If it feels heavy then there may be enough stores.The problem may be that you are not certain how heavy a hefted hive should feel. The answer is to take another hive that is empty of bees and honey and heft that so you have an idea of what it feels like. Then load it with 10 kg of stones or bricks and try again so you know what a well loaded hive should feel like.
Some books suggest a light syrup at this stage but the majority of writers prefer fondant. If you suspect there are not enough stores then give them fondant – the recipe is here.
If the temperature rises above about 14C and there is a sunny day with no wind then this may be an opportunity to look inside the hive. Another indicator that it may be an opportunity to inspect the hive is the blossom in the Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguinium). Even if it is that warm this is not a time to do a full detailed inspection. This is the time to get in quickly, see that all is well and get out.
First check is done as you approach the hive.
- Are bees are returning with pollen – baskets on the bees knees. If there is pollen coming in then there is a good chance the queen is laying. Bees prefer fresh pollen rather than stored pollen.
- Are there a few dead bees below the entrance? Nothing to worry about if it is a hundred or so. These are bees which have died, probably of old age. Once the weather is warm enough the housekeeping bees will carry the dead bees out of the hive and drop them. In warmer times they would have the energy to take them further away.
- Any signs of an Asian Hornet hawking?
Once you start going into the hive you should be down to the brood box very quickly. Is there a lot of excreta on the top of the frames? If there is then this could be a sign of dysentery. It may a sign of Nosema but could be simply dysentery due to eating too much indigestible material and not being able to get out on a cleansing flight. If you suspect Nosema then there are ways to check for its presence.
Remove a couple of frames from the centre of the brood chamber and look for eggs or larvae. This will give you an indication of what the queen is up to.
When the weather improves this is a good time to consider a Bailey Comb Exchange to replace your brood comb. Full details are here. If you do not get a chance to look inside the hive then perhaps you have a chance to read “At The Hive Entrance” by Professor H Storch. This is available from a well known supplier.
That is about it for now. Quickly reassemble the hive and leave it till spring is definitely here.