Spring is here so anything can happen according to conditions. Plan and prepare for the coming season - everything will happen in the next few months so prepare to enjoy it.
Inside the hive
Queen bees will be increasing their egg laying rate and the quantity of brood will also increase day by day
A hive that was well provisioned with food in autumn will probably still have stores left. However, as the day length and temperature increases along with the number of young mouths to feed so will the consumption of stores.
If there are any doubts about the quantity they have left, sugar bags can be left on the hive as an insurance against starvation and replenished as required or 50% sugar syrup can be fed if temperatures are warm enough. Read our Feeding Honey Bees for more details.
The population of the hive could possibly double over the next month requiring more space so be prepared with the right spare equipment available. It is early but it can be possible for swarming in April. The population of Varroa mites could also double so mite drops should be monitored and treatments applied if indicated and temperatures allow.
The colony and broodnest should not be disturbed beyond the necessities of Varroa treatments and feeding unless it is warm enough to allow an inspection i.e. above 16C, 60F.
Outside the hive
When temperatures rise enough for the colony to break their cluster they may have a clean up, removing the bodies of those they may have recently died within the hive. On a lighter note, if temperatures are high enough for foraging, a real heart warming bonus would be to see pollen being brought back home.
In the apiary
Now is the time to start preparing the equipment that may be needed in the coming season for brood comb renewal, colony expansion and the possible need for swarm control.
Be prepared for the first inspection of the year if temperatures get above 16C, 60F. It must be warm enough so bees are busy and not stressed.
Concentrate on checking for signs of brood disease that are more easily seen and best dealt with early in the year.
Old brood combs that were moved to the edges of the broodnest at the last inspection of last year can be replaced with new if they are now empty of stores and brood. This needs to be done before they are filled with brood again as the broodnest expands. Alternatively, a Bailey Comb Change can be done.
There are other techniques that can also be applied at this time of year to reduce the chances of swarming later. Try nadiring a hive instead of supering when providing more space for brood with a box of frames and foundation. Try using any of the artificial swarm techniques in spring before the colony prepares to swarm to obviate the need for crisis management later in the year.
Reduce the size of entrances to guard against intruders and secure the roof against the wind if necessary.
Ensure the hive is in good order to be left.
All that is left to do is to ensure any spare equipment is sterilised and stored away.
In the garden
When temperatures are low the opportunities for the bees to forage can be few and far between. Any scouting bees will not fly far in the cold so any suitable flowers in the garden, on their doorstep, can be a real benefit to them.
Fruit blossom will provide pollen and a little nectar during the month.
Any planting for bees is best done in drifts if possible, as in nature, a few plants may not provide the attractant needed for the bees to find them. Interestingly although there can be large numbers of fields filled with daffodils here the honey bees do not visit them.
In the wild
The dandelions are often the first flowers to appear in abundance here and provide lots of pollen and nectar. The vivid orange/yellow pollen will stain the honeycomb and even the wood frames a similar colour though it soon fades. Various species of Willow may also still be in blossom. They are a particularly useful plant providing lots of nectar and pollen, weather permitting. Wild fruit blossom such as blackthorn and plum will also be here providing a little pollen and nectar. Extra Shallow boxes can often be filled when standard supers are not so try Extra Shallow for snatch cropping and honeycomb. This can be great way to taste those honeys that only have small nectar flows. Large nectar flows can be expected from Oil Seed Rape fields which start to blossom. If the colony has no other space to store the honey, they may clog or swamp the brood nest causing problems. Experienced beekeepers will always have an eye on the forecasts and the forage to anticipate possible honey flows and the consequent need for space in the hive.
N.B. Remember that every year is different, every locality is different and no two colonies are the same so every hive should be treated as an individual and managed accordingly.