Spring arrived early this year. It actually arrived in Minnesota while I was still visiting Japan and that was in early to mid-March. When I left for Japan at the beginning of March, we had a couple feet of snow still on the ground. Two weeks later when I arrived back in Minnesota – the snow was gone and we were out of the below-freezing-temperatures. We immediately (upon my arrival back) started to think of the bees and how this über-early spring would impact them.
We dewinterized the hives as soon as I was unjet lagged. The hives at the Ahrens’ yard seemed to be doing well enough and still nice stores of honey. All but the Canadian bees made it through the winter.
The early spring is allowing for the bees to be out in nice weather and to be able to get much needed pollen for brood rearing. The willows are in full bloom at the moment, and maples are starting to be in bloom. The bees here at house are active when the sun is shining on their hive (the air temperature is currently being stunted by the cold air coming off of Lake Superior).
With such a nice day, it was perfect weather to inspect the hive here at the house (and will later today, inspect the Ahrens’ yard hives). With my smoker in one hand and my hive tool in the other, I got to work. The two honey boxes (supers) we had left on the hive were still nearly full – no need for supplemental sugar syrup when they have plenty of the good stuff still left.
There is an idea that many beekeepers subscribe to, including ourselves: rotate your deeps/brood boxes in the spring. In our case, we had two deeps on the hive. By the time spring rolls into season, the bees will have moved from the bottom box up into the top box. Rotating means taking your bottom deep box and putting it on top of the other deep box. As the Mad Hatter said, they are changing places.
The general idea of this rotation is to prevent swarming of the colony by stirring things a bit and having them realize there is plenty of space in the hive and there is no need to get stir-crazy for a bigger place.
In checking out hive at the house, the cluster was indeed located in the top deep just below the two honey boxes. There were workers in the honey box directly above the top deep, as well. The bottom deep was empty – no brood, no bees, just a bit of capped honey. I have been hearing from beekeepers near Madison, Wisconsin, that they are having colonies swarm a full month ahead of what is normal. Luckily, we are still cool here, near Lake Superior. Best to be cautious, though, and get our hives rotated.
In addition to rotating the top deep into the bottom deep’s place and vice versa for the bottom deep, we added a third deep, a queen excluder and placed the two honey boxes back atop. We also cleaned the bottom board of winter debris – dead bees, mold, and bits of clumped pollen.
With the debris gone, and the bees now in the bottom deep, the hive seemed to come alive. Bees exiting and returning to the hive; it appeared much more active and normal.