Spring Cleanup for Beekeepers

Thursday 13 April 2023

Traveling this week around our region truly demonstrates to me the diversity of climate in eastern Canada.  In NS, the willows are blooming and the Coltsfoot is beginning to come into flower.  Alternatively, on my return to Fredericton, I see hives just starting to peak out from under snow cover.  The importance of this observation is to remind us that beekeeping is very localized.  Any discussion around seasonal activities must be viewed through a local lens.  With this in mind, we will continue our discussion of spring beekeeping endeavors.

Spring Cleanup for Beekeepers

Beekeepers should have a good idea, by now, how winter has treated their bees.  In some areas, there may be opportunities to undertake internal hive inspections. The timing of this is determined by a few things but most important is the ambient temperature.  The main worry with doing inspections too early is resulting damaged brood.  At this time of year, the colonies are relatively small, and the cluster or brood nest size determines how much developing brood can be supported.  If the area of brood exceeds the cluster size, some of the developing bees may be lost due to exposure to cold.  This is called chilled brood and can be natural due to a disproportion in brood area to the size of the colony or because of exposing brood to cold temperatures during hive inspections.

A highly productive queen, producing eggs in excess of what the worker bee populations are able to keep warm, can result in chilled brood.  This is usually found at the peripheries, lateral and bottom areas of the frame.  Although this may effect capped brood it is most often seen in uncapped brood. The symptoms of chilled brood are similar to and may be confused with European Foulbrood.  If in the early season, you find some dead larva around the periphery of a patch of brood, it is more likely to be chilled brood.  So as we go into our hives in the early season, keep inspections brief when temperatures are between 10 – 15C but once temperatures rise, it is safe to undertake full hive inspections.

Over the next few weeks, dead-outs will be identified and removed.  Ensure that empty equipment is managed properly as this can present a biosecurity risk.  Wax moth (both greater and lesser) can cause serious economic losses.  This species will damage wooden equipment and comb.  Although the peak time for wax moth infestation is the height of summer months, empty equipment will be an attractant.  So when removing dead-outs, correct management practices and good equipment storage is necessary.

Figure 1.Spring bottom board cleanup.

Spring is also a time to start going through and culling out old frames.  Best practice is to label the year on your frames in which they entered your operation and removing them after 4 – 5 years.  As equipment ages the background levels of pathogens, such as AFB spores, will increase.  So fresh frames, foundation and comb will mean healthier colonies.  Wooden frames with wax foundation can be burned and plastic components can be sent for recycling.

Honey bees are excellent housekeepers but in the spring, the debris built up over winter may be too much for a growing hive to remove.  So all bottom boards should be cleaned in the spring.  Bottom board debris is a great habitat for certain honey bee pests like small hive beetle and wax moth.  Dirty bottom boards will also hold moisture, which is less than ideal for the bees and rots equipment.

Figure 2. A mouse nest found in a dead-out during spring cleanup. Notice the build up of debris between the bars on the right side of the box.

Spring is also a time to tidy yards, improve fencing, check pallets.  All signs this year, indicate another early start to our beekeeping season.   So take advantage of the improving weather to get ahead with a good spring cleaning.

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