Spring - a Time of Hope and Starvation
by Tamsin Harris
This past month has seen some very varied weather conditions across the country: wet and wild, ice and snow and now certain areas have a period of mild, settled weather. How on earth are we supposed to be dealing with our bees at the moment when we seem to have had three seasons in one month?
One thing is for sure - the bees will be ahead of whatever we think they're doing.
Down here in Cornwall (wet and wild) I shall be adding patties of my favourite pollen substitute, Bee Nectar. A good alternative is the Candipolline Gold. These are protein rich, mallable patties that I put on top of the feed hole in a multi function crown board. Depending on how exposed the apiary is and how much natural pollen is around, I either cut a pack in half, or a use a whole pack with a 3cm hole cut in the centre of the packaging and placed (hole side down) on top of the feed hole. The advantage of using a multi function crown board is that it acts like an eke to give a shallow gap above the board and below the roof, the perfect size for fondant or pollen patties. Any insulation that is on the hive can be placed around the Bee Nectar and is contained within the multi function crown board.
My aim is to provide protein to the expanding brood nest at a time when the attrition rate is high. Changeable weather, overwintered foraging bees coming to the end of their life and lack of quality forage can add up to a colony with more larvae and nurse bees than foraging bees. More mouths to feed and less bees to collect the food. Protein is vital for growth and I would rather the bees were looking at it than for it!
The nectar supply in Spring can be very sporadic, cooler damp days are detrimental to nectar production and strong winds can evaporate what nectar may be produced. Again, ensuring a good food supply at a tough time of year is benefical. Matching the varied nectar flow is the key to ensuring that the bees consume, rather than store, any supplementary feed.
A weak syrup, added in a small contact feeder, will encourage the colony to expand rather than clog the brood area with strong syrup, which the bees have a tendancy to store. Adding 250ml to 1 ltr of invert syrup will weaken it sufficiently.
Another simple method of adding syrup is to punch a few holes in the lid of a honey jar filled with syrup and invert it (over a small container until the drips stop) above the feed hole in a multi function crown board. These are not large amounts of feed and allowing the feeder to remain empty for a few days before refilling will replicate the intermitant natural nectar flow.
This time of year is when the majority of winter losses occur and it is usually because the colonies have succumbed to starvation due to eating the majority of their winter stores but are not able to replace them in any sort of quantity. As mentioned earlier, the balance of the colony is tipped toward a reduced foraging force with numerous more mouths to feed - the hope of Spring but the real risk of starvation.
Finally, don't forget to remove the hibernating queen wasps that may be tucked away under the hive roofs. I'm very pro wasps and the benefical work they do in reducing garden pests so I remove them to an area away from my apiaries and tuck them into a sheltered spot to finish their hibernation before starting their good work later in the Spring. We are very good at despatching beneficial things that are in places that don't suit us - but is it for the greater good? Think of non-beekeeping gardeners who remove dandelions just because they are considered weeds!