Dangers of spring
When our bees survive through Feb. we breathe a sigh of relief, but the biggest danger of spring is really only beginning. Honey bees use 1/3 of their honey stores during the winter, and the other 2/3rds are used after brood rearing really begins in earnest. Spring pollen flows trigger the bees to raise a lot more brood, but are often not accompanied by nectar flows. The brood nest grows to a much larger size, and must be maintained at 96 degrees which is very energy intensive.
It is very important to make sure that your bees have enough food in March and April. Feeding sugar water during freezing temperatures can be tricky. I’ve read (but not experienced) that a quart jar with holes in the lid, and inverted over the cluster will be kept from freezing by the heat from the bees. I’ve also heard of bees being drowned this way. With my own eyes I have seen hive top feeders produce so much condensation that they wet the bees and kill the colony.
One solution is to feed sugar patties. Keep in mind that bees can’t use dry sugar, it needs to be damp, or they need a water source. Spritzing unused sugar patties with a spray bottle of water can sometimes allow the bees access to this important safety measure.
I opened one of my hives a couple of weeks ago. They started the winter with 2 deeps and a full medium. The bees were in the top box, and without removing frames, it looked like all the honey comb in that box was uncapped. So much for the 1/3rds thing. Guidelines are good, but there are always exceptions. Luckily, I had saved a full honey super, and so could just put it on.
Always remember, when checking on bees’ stores in spring, don’t disturb the cluster when it is below 55 degrees, and don’t break propolis seals until then. If it was very warm, or very cold all winter, the bees will have used more honey than usual. Be prepared and save your bees.