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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.

Rusty

Comments

Chelsea
Reply

It’s so true – unfortunately “winter losses” can happen right up until summer 🙁 It’s a heartbreaking roller coaster to open up a hive in early spring, and it made it through winter beautifully, and a month later; dead.

I think spring is actually even more dangerous to bees than winter.

Rusty
Reply

I agree. Plus, by spring I’m tired of making sugar patties or whatever and it’s very easy to get lax and think, “Oh, spring is here; the bees will be fine.” And then they’re not.

Tony Teolis
Reply

Hi again Rusty,

I did a checkerboarding of my hive yesterday and will put it up on YouTube this weekend. http://www.youtube.com/user/tokyo73?feature=mhee The timing for this seemed to be just right. We’ll see. Which brings me to ask about your thoughts on medications. In April I’m due to sprinkle Teramycin and add menthol. Do you still medicate? Michael Bush at http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm proposes the idea not to. I am trying to move to your two school of thoughts on beekeeping but it’s a process. Tony

Rusty
Reply

Hi Tony,

I don’t treat with either Terramycin (for AFB) or menthol (for tracheal mites). The thing is, I wouldn’t take medicines for a disease I don’t have, so I don’t treat my bees for a disease they don’t have. Prophylactic treatment is the kind of thing that makes the drugs less effective when you really need them. If your bees ever come down with these diseases it would be nice to have a treatment available that actually works. In short, you shouldn’t use them unless you need them.

Herb
Reply

Rusty…I attended the local beekeepers meeting last night and there was much discussion about spring management of bees. The state bee inspector had stated that European foul brood disease was a problem across the state this spring. There was some discussion of Italian bees being more resistant to this problem than Russian bees. Rusty would you write a blog on the prevention of the disease and what to do if your bees get the problem? What are some better management techniques to prevent disease?

Rusty
Reply

Herb,

That’s quite an assignment. European foul brood has taken a backseat to other diseases in the last decade or so but I, too, heard it was making a comeback in some areas. I’ve got quite a lot of information about it somewhere around here. I’ll try to put something together for you.

Herb
Reply

RUSTY….Thanks!

Joanna
Reply

Crap. Literally. Opened hive quick to chuck in sugar and a pollen patty. Quilt dry as a bone. Solid quantity of bees. But also decent amount of dysentary in the feeding area of the hive- an imrie shim and medium super topped by quilt in another medium and inner screen then outer cover. Didn’t go deeper cause warm day here isn’t even forty. Bees have only had maybe four days since jan when they’ve come out to fly. Forecast is clear for next five days with highs up to 45. Wait and hope it clears on its own? Treat? Pull bees apart to check out if their guts are tan or white then treat as indicated? I know. I’m sweating these bees. They’ve made it so far and I can’t bear to lose them this close to spring. Though the snow is still deeper than their hive…..dug out for ventilation of course.

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

If it were me, I’d check for Nosema and treat if that looks to be the case. There’s nothing you can do for plain old dysentery due to no cleansing flights. If you treat, you will have to use slightly warm syrup to get them to take it in a cold hive.

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