Winter is the most challenging season for bee colonies.
So the spring hive inspection is a vital beekeeping task.
You need to check how the colony and the hive fared in the winter.
This valuable knowledge will let you know how to prepare the bees for summer 🙂
What To Look For In The First Spring Hive Inspection
The first hive inspection in spring is crucial to assess the state and health of the queen, the workers, the resources in the hive, and the physical condition of the beehive boxes. The results will guide your actions to address any problems and boost your bees for summer.
Winter is an inactive time for bees, and beekeepers don’t usually open the hives during this cold season to check what’s happening. So most beekeepers are anxious to do the first spring inspection to check on their bees and see whether they overwintered well!
Knowing what to look for during the spring inspection helps you figure out the following:
- How to prepare for summer,
- What maintenance tasks must be done,
- What production level you can expect from the bees in the summer.
So there are two main aspects to the first spring hive inspection: the colony’s health and the beehive’s maintenance.
Check The Hive Is Queen Right
This is one of the first assessments most beekeepers perform as part of their early spring hive inspection. If the queen did not survive the winter, it’s now vital to take swift action to save the colony.
Requeening must be done as soon as possible, but if the number of bees in the colony has dwindled too low, merging the weak colony with a stronger one may be your only option.
I have an article, “Queenless Hives,” that covers the issues of a hive without a queen and the steps you can take to make the colony queen right again.
Did The Worker Bees Survive The Winter?
The worker population in the colony is the machine that keeps the hive functioning and producing honey. Checking to see how the workers overwintered will give you a good idea of their overall strength coming out of winter.
If the worker bee numbers are down significantly, but you still have a queen, the colony is still in good shape. However, you may have a less productive spring and early summer honey season with this type of colony.
It will take time for the queen to lay eggs, larvae to hatch, and larvae to mature to adulthood to boost the worker bee numbers.
You can feed the bees spring bee syrup, which will dupe them into thinking a nectar flow is on the go, giving them energy-rich resources and stimulating the queen to lay more eggs.
Read my article “Spring Bee Syrup Recipe” to make your own energy-boosting syrup for bees in the early spring.
Look For Eggs And Larvae In The Brood Box
If temperatures have warmed up sufficiently in the early spring, you can check for eggs and the possibility of larvae in the brood comb.
It may be a little early to have larvae present, but eggs in the cells are a good sign that the queen has started laying after her winter sabbatical.
If you don’t see any eggs, but the queen is present, there is no cause for alarm. The early spring may not have warmed sufficiently for the queen to become active.
Close the hive up, wait another week, and then check again for the presence of eggs and larvae.
Inspect The Egg Laying Pattern In The Hive
If the queen has started laying eggs, you can check the laying pattern to get an idea of the colony’s and the queen’s health.
A healthy queen will generally start laying in the center of a frame and move outward in concentric circles. For example, she may lay eggs in the center of one side of a frame and then move to the other side and lay in the same pattern.
At this time of year, most eggs will be on the center frames of the brood chamber where the temperature is warmer and most consistent.
If you notice a spotty egg-laying pattern by the queen, it may be cause for concern which requires further investigation. Some bee diseases result in an inconsistent or spotty laying pattern.
A few gaps in the pattern do not indicate a problem, but consistent gaps could indicate a problem.
Check The Remaining Honey Stores In The Hive
The bees are gearing up for the spring and summer productive seasons. They need the energy to build new comb, raise larvae and begin foraging for spring reserves.
If the honey and pollen in the hive have been depleted during the winter, your bees will be at a disadvantage.
Feeding the colony is the only way to give them a boost for the spring season. If the bees currently have larvae, they will need protein sources as well as liquid sources of energy.
Give the bees some winter patties on top of the frames to offer a protein source and supply them with some spring syrup as an energy source.
What Maintenance Tasks Should You Do On A Hive In Spring?
Several upkeep tasks can be performed on the beehive as part of the first spring inspection. Some tasks will also depend on the bees’ condition and the resources you discover when you open the hive.
Remove Winter Feeders
If the bees are already bringing in pollen during your first inspection, it is safe to assume that they have found resources in the field to forage.
Take out any winter feeders that were installed for the winter months to prepare the hive for the upcoming season.
However, suppose the food stores in the hive are low. In that case, you may need to leave the feeders and continue supplementing the bees for another week or so until they can find natural forage.
Replace Old Brood Frames With New Ones
The spring hive inspection is an excellent time to check the brood chamber for old, dark comb that the colony has used for several seasons.
The comb on these old frames will be very dark, almost black. This color is a sign that the bees need to build fresh comb.
Remove some of the outer frames in the brood box and replace them with new ones with fresh foundation sheets. This will encourage the bees to build new comb.
Be careful not to remove any frames with eggs or brood present, as this will weaken your colony!
Inspect The Hive For Winter Damage
An inspection of the physical state of the hive is also needed in spring to ensure the structure will survive the busy spring and summer seasons.
Check the hive for signs of wood rot, damage from other animals, or degradation due to weathering.
If the hive is old and in poor condition, it may even require rehousing the colony in a new beehive to ensure its productivity and safety.
Spring inspections are also a good time to touch up the paint on any hives that need it, repair hive lids damaged by snow, and replace baseboards that did not survive the winter well.
Give your hive a good once-over to ensure it’s suitable for the coming summer. Repair any damage now that could cause a problem for the bees later on.
To Sum Up…
Spring inspections and maintenance set your bee colonies up for success in the busy seasons of the year.
Diligent and thorough spring inspections will give your bees a solid start to the year and give you a bountiful honey harvest 🙂