Advice about the end of winter/early spring please

This is the first winter for the swarm I housed last summer.  Now that the rain has stopped and the afternoons are warmer, I notice that the bees are out gathering nectar from a patch of crocuses in the garden.  Is there anything I need to watch out for?  Should I feed them and if so, when?  This is an anxious issue as last year there was a warm period when my previous colony became active again early in the spring, followed by a 3 week period of night temperatures of below -10 and daytime highs of about -1.  when the true spring came the bees had all starved.  Obviously I’m very reluctant to lift the lid (I have a horizontal topbar hive) in order to give them syrup but equally I would like to try and prevent them running out of food when they are so close to having survived the winter.  All and any advice would be really welcomed.


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4 Responses to Advice about the end of winter/early spring please

  1. Paul says:

    Heft the hive, at both ends. If it feels heavier at one end, they have that much stored. (Bees and wax weigh much less than honey). The reason for hefting at both ends is that they tend to have stores at one end of the hive, so you can feel the differential in weight and estimate the stored honey.

    (Actually, if they were immensely successful last year and laid up many kilos of honey it could extend to the centre – but in that case you will immediately realise “this weighs way too much for an empty box this size, there’s no problem”.)

    Just a few kilos of stores is plenty. They may need feeding in a few weeks if we have a long patch of poor weather preventing them from emerging; but that’s because by then they will be trying to raise lots of growing young. Right now there aren’t many bees to feed.

    Now if you were after lots of honey, you might feed weak syrup (to simulate nectar) which encourages the queen to begin laying now. But if you favour a leave-alone, they-know-best approach, don’t meddle if they seem to have a few kilos stored.

  2. Graham Kennedy says:

    Hi Ruth
    Good to hear your bees made it through the winter and are starting to get all spring-ish

    Graham, Reading

  3. johnmkubwa says:

    Ruth, I also am concerned about a late swarm which may be light on stores. In nature the Bee will know the state of its larder and raise brood accordingly. As they might, in this case, be caught out by the weather, I would heft or weigh your hive to assess the stores available to the colony. If in doubt, I would feed crystallised honey (I keep spare honeycomb from healthy colonies) or fondant by placing a block over a topfeeder hole. I would not feed syrup as the bees might take it for a honeyflow and start raising brood; this mistimed brood would lack the nourishment of fresh nectar and pollen….
    In the past, I have used slices of ‘Ambrosia’ fondant interspersed with slices of honey comb. At first, the bees mined all the honey but left the fondant; later they consumed the fondant until the nectar flow started when they left the sugar unconsummed. Ambrosia is a commercial fondant in which the sugars are partially converted to fructose; it is a good consistency and not expensive.
    Hope that helps – JohnH Stockbridge

  4. ruth talbot says:

    thanks for all the thoughts. what is ambrosia fondant? where might I get some and how to give it to the bees? I would prefer not to interfere in any way but in addition to all the other reasons for wanting this colony to survive, I ‘owe’ Graham a swarm! I’d like to be able to repay the favour he did me last year.

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