New season, new bees – preparing for colony growth this spring

Spring seems to be starting slowly this year, but the days are finally feeling warmer. With spring comes an exciting and busy time for beekeepers – bee breeding season.

In New Zealand, spring officially starts on September the first. Although the temperature doesn’t necessarily rise straight away, it’s smart to prepare for the effects of spring on your bees before then.

Spring means an increase in your bee population and the potential for swarming behaviour. These are both natural in honey bees, but they need to be managed in your hive.

Here’s how to prepare so you’re not caught out:

Inspect and assess

You should be monitoring your hives year round, but it’s particularly important to know what’s going on before spring. Take a good look at your hives and note down population level, behaviour and movement, eggs and larvae, and the presence of a queen. Knowing what’s going on with your hive will help you prepare for the season.

Get the gear

When your bee numbers increase, you’ll need more boxes and frames. The bees will not wait while you build, assemble, or paint – so get going now! Order new frames and boxes, build or assemble any that you have sitting around, and think about having some extra supers ready to go in case your population spikes suddenly.

If you don’t have the gear ready to go, you could miss out on potential honey. Lack of space can also lead to swarming – which is not ideal.

Treat for varroa

Your bees’ biggest threat is the varroa mite. It’s a tiny arachnid carrier of bacteria and viruses that damage bee health. With the coming of warmer spring weather, varroa mites reproduce rapidly and can wipe out your entire colony before you know it.

Get familiar with the signs of varroa so when you’re inspecting your hives, you’ll know what an infestation looks like and can stop it before it takes hold.

Pollen-rich planting

If your garden or surrounding area doesn’t have much in the way of bee-friendly plants, it’s worth planting some before spring starts.

Obviously, flowering plants are best for bees. They tend to prefer blue, purple, white and yellow blooms, as they can’t see the colour red. Look for flowers with a single row of petals – frillier flowers can make it difficult for bees to land and take off.

One simple way to figure out what to plant? Visit your local garden centre and look for the plants covered in bees.

Watch for swarms

In the warm spring and summer months, bees get busy outdoors, their population grows, and they produce more honey. The result is that they need more space, both for bees and for honey storage. That’s why swarm behavior is more common at this time of year – the bees are crowded and need to find a new place to live.

You can try to avoid swarming by adding boxes and frames to your hive or splitting your colonies If a swarm does happen, you can move it into a new hive, or get another local beekeeper to remove it if you don’t have space. Generally swarming bees are very docile due to not having a home to protect! However, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have quality, well-fitted beekeeping gear just in case.

Spring Time Savers

Assembled and Dipped Boxes

RTG Hives

Varroa mite treatments