Early spring

Alf Brugman Beekeeping Blog, General Blog

Early Spring is the most dangerous time of the year for the survival of beehives. During late winter as the daylight hours gradually increase, the queen starts laying eggs to produce bees for the upcoming season. During autumn, the queen laid eggs to produce the so called “winter bees”, which will live for a few months rather than the six weeks or so that worker bees live in the warmer months. The winter bees form the winter cluster that eats honey to keep warm and is like a big ball of bees that rotate between the inside and outside of that ball to keep all bees warm. In early spring, as the queen has recommenced laying, the winter bees slowly start to die off and will be replaced by the new brood. The danger occurs when the winter bees are not replaced quickly enough due to cold weather, lack of food or an older queen whose egg laying efficiency is low. This results in the population of the hive becoming lower which means the size of the cluster decreases below a critical size to keep warm. During cold early spring weather these bees are so cold that they can’t even move or acces their food supply and die of cold and starvation. This has happened to many hives throughout Victoria this year and beekeepers have lost record numbers of hives due to “starvation”.
This situation can mostly be related to last season being the worst in living memory and hives going into winter with little of their own honey and lower than the critical mass of bees to make big clusters to keep bees warm through the cold winter months.