March-April can bring the promise of spring weather, with bright sunshine and surprisingly high temperatures. Then we might find we're plunged back into snow and cooler temperatures into early May. What to do for your bees?
First things first - are your bees still alive? If your bees died, do not give up. We have heard of many colonies with strong stores, proper wrapping and a substantial windbreak to the northwest doing very well. However many succumbed to the six weeks of minus 20 that preceded spring this year.
The bee cluster in winter is a very special phenomenon, in which the bees gather around the queen in a heavy cluster for warmth and survival. The larger the bee cluster in the winter, the less stores it consumes. A full, heavy hive in the fall is the best preparation for winter. Disease can be a factor, but mostly it’s freezing that kills bees as they don’t have enough critical mass to keep warm and feed at the same time.
Beekeepers know there will always be ups and downs and new lessons to be learned. Colony loss can be used to your advantage. For instance - analyze what went wrong. Have a mentor or friend look at the hive with you. Was the problem with wrapping, moisture, weak colony, insufficient stores, erroneous feeding attempts, disease? Then get back in the saddle, order some nucs or 10-frame bees, and go with the assumption that next time will be better.
For live hives, syrup feeders of any sort should be in use now and kept going through to the end of June. Think twice, however, about the idea of adding pollen patties to the hive too quickly. By all means pick them up and have them on hand, But the patties should not be given to your bees until the weather truly breaks, reaching plus 8-10 on a sustained basis.
Providing pollen patties with the first unreliable warming trends causes brood to form and the bees to age. If it suddenly turns cold again - as it well might at this time of year - you could lose one to two thirds of the brood and have bees that are too old to manage new brood. The whole hive could be dead by mid-April.
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