Hive Spring Inspection and Management

When the spring comes beekeepers can’t wait to check their hives and see how are the colonies doing. Especially for beginners in beekeeping the first winter with a new hive you do not know what to expect and do.I remember my first spring with a 1-year-old hive and i was clueless what was i suppose to do. As always i wanted to learn all that i should do and this is my experience.

So what is spring hive inspection and what should i check in spring?
Spring hive inspection is one of many beekeepers duties and it gives an answer in what state is your hive and here is spring hive to-do list

  • Checking the food supply
  • Checking the queen
  • Checking brood nest
  • Making sure that bees have enough space
  • Checking for parasites
  • Check for Disease
  • Cleaning the hive
  • Water supply

First thing first. For the spring hive check, you should wait for the first warmer day depending in what area are your bees check the weather forecast and be prepared to take advantage of the first warm day. All of the experienced bee-keepers agree that outside temperature has to bee around 60f so you can check it properly just make sure it is not a windy day and it would be perfect if there is a bit of sun

But even if the weather is still cold you are able to check the hive from outside. Tapping on the hive and listening for the buzzing response so if they buzz back they are generating heat with their wings and waiting for the warm weather. Check the outside of the hive for mice or woodpecker holes if you see any most likely the colony is struggling to survive and there is any reason for it. Also, make sure you check for dead bees around the hive because if the weather is sunny and warm enough the bees will most likely start to make a cleansing flight to remove the dead bees and feces.
Make sure you wear protective clothing and start the inspection. If you are not sure how to make an inspection follow this link to our article about hive inspection.

Checking the food supply

The healthy colony should have few frames of honey and nectar to prepare for the spring flow.
If there is a low amount of honey stores in your frames it usually means that the colony is large or you have not left enough honey. In any case, you have to feed them for sure

Feeding the bees in spring is a standard practice among beekeepers and you should use sugar water 1:1 or even easier place a sugar cake on top of brood frames so the bees have enough food till the nectar flow starts. In case the cold weather continues you should repeat the feeding process till warm weather starts.

Checking the queen

You have to check if the queen is still alive. There are several indicators that the bees are alive such as when you open the hive cover bees start buzzing and if they calm down after a short time it means the queen is there if they do not calm for a while most likely they have lost the queen.
When you look for the queen you have to be quick but careful. You should check the hive around noon and first check the brood. First, check brood frames with eggs or check uncapped brood because she likes to be close to her babies. If the queen is marked it is easier to find but if not you can find her by her characteristics and we have written an article about finding the queen so you can go check it out.
The frame without can last even for 4 years but usually queen is replaced every 2 years.
Younger queens make the colony stronger and resilience to diseases or swarming

Checking brood nest

Important for any colony is to have young ones and brood nest evenly filled. There should not be too many empty cells because it is a good indicator that the queen is doing her job so even if you do not see her right away it is a strong indicator that the queen is well.

In case there is patchy brood the queen is either weak or old and it has to be requeened. You can check with experienced beekeepers how to access the colony. In case he thinks the colony will able to become strong it should be joined with medium size colony at the start of spring to use the full capacity of the first nectar flow.
Also, check the color of the brood, check if the cappings have spots or they are distorted in any manner most likely that brood should be treated or even removed and disposed of not to affect the rest of the colony.

Another thing you should check is the condition of the brood comb especially for older hives it can happen that frames are moldy or damaged so in case you see one like that you should remove it

Making sure that bees have enough space

In some cases, there are a lot of survived bees and the colony is strong you should make some room for them.
If the frames are filled with honey, nectar, and eggs the bees will decide to leave (swarm) and this would be bad for your hive that could make a lot off honey during the season and even help weaker colonies. Also in case they and up swarming you will have o re-queen your colony and that is not successful each time so you can end up without the entire colony. So make sure you give them plenty of space by replacing full frames (honey, nectar and even brood) with new ones to prevent them to swarm. In other words, keep them busy
An additional benefit of putting a new frame is in that way you reduce potential disease that was potentially in the old comb

If the colony is very strong you can think about splinting the hive by taking a few brood frames with sealed cells, frame with larvae and of course frames with food that has a lot of nurse bees to make a nucleus hive.

Checking for parasites

A very important part of spring hive inspection is checking for disease and parasites. You have to check all frames, especially brood. Remove all bees from each frame by shaking so you have an abstracted view.

Common brood diseases are:

Parasitic mite disease

(Source and details Texas Apiary Inspection Service

Chewed sunken capping, larvae slumped along the lower wall with varroa on top of them.
Larvae normally have white or yellow color so in case you see color that resembles coffee with milk they are infected.

America foulbrood disease
(Source and details Texas Apiary Inspection Service

Similar symptoms to a mite chewed sunken cappings with a darker color
When the bees realize the cell is infected they uncap it so you can see larvae that has a color similar to coffee with milk
Also, you can see pupae with tongue spread across the cell
Older pupae dry out and turn into dead scales that are hard to remove

Sacbrood Virus check the link to Texas Apiary Inspection Service that has detailed information

Chalkbrood check link to Texas Apiary Inspection Service that has detailed information

Checking for Disease 

Good beehive spring management must always include a thorough brood check.

You must:

  • go through the brood box of your beehive,
  • shake the bees off every comb and,
  • inspect every brood cell for the disease.

Every beekeeper must be sure that they can recognize healthy brood. If you don’t think that you have the skills to look through your brood box or recognize the signs of disease ask a more experienced beekeeper for help.
Common diseases of importance include:

Cleaning the hive

During winter a lot of the bees dies and it is a normal process and also a good indicator of how did the colony that the old worker bees know when is their time and they gather up the strength for the last flight out of the hive. During cold weather, old bees are not able to do so so they end up on the bottom board.

Even doe the bees are supposed to make the hive cleaned you should help them to prevent any possible disease-spreading trough the hive. Make sure that all the debris and dead bees you scrape off put in the container and destroy later. Do not leave it around the hive.
. Cleaning the hive is much easier if the bottom board is movable so you can take out the dirty one slip in the clean one. So it is good to have 1 extra bottom board to make the hive cleaning.

Dead workers, and bee feces on the snow around the hive from cleansing flights – If you get a nice warm, clear and still day this month you should notice that a healthy colony will take this opportunity to go on “cleansing flights”. The workers will leave the hive to defecate and to remove the bodies of other dead workers. If the weather never allows for this and you keep a feeder in an empty super, you may see all of this around the feeder.

Water supply

After the winter you should provide your bees with water supply. An important note is that the water must be at a minimum of 50°f. During cold night water can freeze and in the morning when the lands it will be very cold for her so she can freeze and die so make sure you have a heater and thermostat to make sure your bees get proper water supply they need.

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