One of the toughest times…

…of the year for a beekeeper is likely, right now.

Late winter, early spring. Are they alive? Do they have enough stores to make it to first bloom? Did I do it right going into winter? Did I take too much honey? What if I screwed up? Can I fix it? Oh No! I have to get in there and know!

On a few of these warmer days, I am seeing a few bees out, cleansing flights – poop all over. Who’d have thought finding bug crap on my windshield was a good thing! But, trying to determine if the colonies are alive or not is almost pointless. All you could do is offer feed, if they’re low, and even that’s to no use if they’re already dead.

Many new keepers get impatient and open their hives for a look see. Often, 1 of two things then happens. The colony was alive, but the disturbance breaks the cluster and now they’ve consumed what meager stores they had and starve out in a few weeks. Or, worse, the new keeper doesn’t recognize they’re in a ‘winter tupor’ – look dead, but aren’t. So, thinking they’ve lost their colony, they clean things up and actually do kill the colony.

It’s tough – but usually the best thing to do is leave ’em alone. If anything, offer feed outside the hive – open feeder. Maybe pollen as well. Make it available so if they are low and it does warm up enough so they can get out, they’ll gain. But, don’t open them! Do not add syrup to the hive. You’ll increase moisture and may well kill them.

I also watch behaviors at the entrance. See if I can tell if they’re coming and going – forager like. Or are they being robbed out. Is there nothing going on? Most I’ll do is keep track of the ones I think aren’t alive – so I can look closer, later. Much later. Maybe plan on packages or nucs. Maybe.

Really, the best thing is to exercise discipline and be patient a while longer. Soon the days will be warmer. You’ll know they’re OK as they’re coming and going – finding forage only they know where as you can’t find anything blooming, yet. They’ve been at this a lot longer than we have – let ’em bee.

Now, the ones that didn’t make it overwinter? Figure out why so you can do better, next fall.