The perils of spring
While it is natural to sigh with relief when spring finally rolls around, in truth, spring is one of the hardest seasons for both bees and beekeepers.
Spring colonies that have overwintered face a particularly daunting set of circumstances. For example:
- By spring, the number of individuals in a colony is greatly reduced compared to the previous fall. Fewer bees are available to perform the many colony chores, including keeping the brood nest warm.
- Bees weakened by cold are more susceptible to disease. Since there are few bees to keep the colony warm, the chance of disease rises.
- If the colony is infected with mites, the mites are concentrated within a smaller population of bees, so the chance of a mite-vectored viral infection is high.
- Food stores—both honey and pollen—are low so poor nutrition, or even starvation, is always a possibility.
- Bees weakened by poor nutrition are also more susceptible to disease. So as the winter progresses into spring, the bees are more likely to succumb to a pathogen.
- Many of the bees are old, having lived through the entire winter. These bees are not as strong or resilient as young bees.
- Moisture may have built up during the winter. A wet or damp hive is a haven for various fungal infections, such as chalkbrood disease. In addition, water dripping onto the cluster may chill or kill the bees.
- The bees may not have defecated in a very long time, increasing the likelihood of dysentery.
- Not only does dysentery weaken the bees, but feces deposited within the hive can become a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens which may also weaken or kill the bees.
So don’t relax too soon. Help your colonies along until their populations are once again overflowing the hives.