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Spring Hive Inspections: Pollen, Brood, and IPM

By now, you should have had the opportunity to do a survival check on your hives. It’s time to make a plan for your first full hive inspection of the season. You will be prepared to look for remaining honey stores and remaining pollen stores. Your survival checks were all about ensuring your bees don’t have shortages in honey production, and how you can feed your bees to help them through. Now, we also need to start observing growth within the hive.

Have a look at this generalized chart that Randy Oliver created from data collected by Lloyd Harris. It’ll help you visualize the growth pattern of brood:

How does this data help me going into a hive inspection?

First of all, I recommend that you aren’t doing these maneuvers of comb until you have:

  • Climatic averages: Nighttime around -9c
  • Weather average: 14 day forecast of +9c

Do you see that a majority of your bees right now (March-early May) are OLD LADIES (aka winter duitinus bees)? They are working really hard to tend to brood and to care for the next generation of summer bees, all of the babies that will become the spring foraging bees, capable of nursing future brood for good spring build-up and healthy summer bees.

During this time, pollen consumption is on the increase because of brood development. This is the ideal situation. You want as much brood development in your hive for:

  • Succession: replace winter bees with summer bees
  • Wax collection: you need bees to produce wax during dandelion flow
  • Foraging: you need bees available to gather nectar and pollen during the dandelion flow
  • Increased resiliency to disease: due to a large number of well-fed, healthy future workers
  • Queen viability: ensures a hive has a healthy queen or increases the number of eggs for the workers to build a future queen out of  if she fails

NOTE: If you don’t have enough pollen (at least 2 frames of pollen) in your beehive, it may be smart to feed your bees pollen patties

Hive Set Up

Lang-Winter-Spring
Langstroth Hives
TBH-Winter-Spring
Top Bar Hives

You are wanting to have the honey on top because your brood nest will move up in winter, and they will need access to food. The switch takes place as the weather warms up, to allow the bees to move down and access the honey. You make room in the top box by adding empty combs (no drone comb!) in the top box with pollen surrounding the brood. If you are going to use a pollen patty, you will want to place the patty above the brood in the top box for ease of access. If you don’t have honey available, feed your bees Bee Candy. It is too early in the spring to be Feeding With Syrup.

Integrated Pest Management and Varroa Mite Sampling

You should also be checking your hive’s mite load during this inspection.

1. Sticky Bottom Board

This is the best way to sample entire colony. Cover a white piece of heavy white card stock with Vaseline and slide into the hive on top of the bottom board. As mites fall or are removed from bees they will stick to the board. Leave board in hive for 72 hours (divide that number by 3 to get your 24 hour mite drop count), remove and count number of mites. More than 8 indicates that mites/24 hour interval = levels are beyond the normal threshold. Ideally a beekeeper will keep doing this throughout the Spring and Fall months to trap mites, but also to keep an eye on mite population changes and to aid in making decisions on potential management (treatment) choices.

2.  Sugar Dusting

When you use a baking sifter filled with powdered sugar to lightly dust your bees, you are not only feeding your bees, you are encouraging the bees to groom eachother. This will increase the rate of mites dropping on to your mite board below. Increasing the capture of mites (removing them from your beehive) but also increasing the success of your analysis of mite loads.

A frame of honeybees being dusted with powdered sugar during a hive inspection.

If you do this, you should have great success with brood build up in the spring, assuming that your queen is vital and energetic!

3.  Oxalic Acid Dribbling and Fumigation

If you want to learn all about how to manage mites with oxalic acid fumigation and dribbling techniques, watch the Honey Bee Health Coalition video:

4.  Formic Acid Fumigation using Mite Away Quick Strips

If you want to learn all about how to manage mites with formic acid fumigation, watch the Honey Bee Health Coalition video: