Spring is here. The weather is warming, and the bees are out there doing their thing.
Through the winter, bees huddle together in the hive to stay warm, forming a tight cluster around the queen and vibrating their wings to generate heat. When the temperature rises and the plants bud, the bees fly out the hive for the first time in months to search for nectar and pollen.
The ideal flying conditions for bees are warm, sunny days with little wind. Because bees are cold-blooded insects, their body temperature is regulated by the environment, and they need of temperatures at least 50 F to fly. In addition to the cold, rain, wind, and humidity can make flying and foraging more challenging for honey bees.
Collecting nectar and pollen
In the spring, bees focus on collecting nectar and pollen to feed their young and store as honey. When flowers are blooming, honey bees will visit as many plants as they can, using their long straw-like nose to drink nectar from the base of the petals, and their hairy hind legs that brush against the stamen and trap pollen.
Nectar is a sugary liquid produced by flowers that provides energy for honey bees in the form of carbohydrates. Foraging bees eat the nectar and bring it back to the hive to make honey. Pollen is a source of protein for bees. It is essential for the growth and development of young bees and is also used to make beebread, a mixture of pollen and honey that is fed to larvae.
Preparing for the honey flow
Typically occurring in late spring or early summer, the honey flow is a period of weeks when the flower nectar is abundant. During the honey flow, the bees go into overdrive, collecting as much nectar and pollen as possible to bring back to the hive. During the honey flow, a hive can gain several pounds of honey in a single day.
To get ready for the honey flow, the bees scout the surrounding area for rich sources of nectar and pollen. They also prepare the inside of the hive for the influx, by cleaning the old wax cells and building new honeycomb to store the honey.
The honey flow is an important time for bees and beekeepers alike, as it provides bees with the resources they need to survive the winter and humans with honey to eat.
Honey bees often swarm in the spring. Swarming happens when a group of bees, led by the queen bee, leave the overcrowded hive to start a new colony. By dividing in this way, the bees find new sources of food and space to grow, ensuring their survival. Swarming also promotes genetic diversity, as the new queens will mate with drones from different colonies, which maintains population health.
To prevent swarming, beekeepers will often split a hive into two or more smaller hives, giving the bees more space to work and reducing the likelihood of overcrowding.
Welcoming the new bees
Spring is the time to mate for young honey bee queens. A few days after hatching, a new queen will leave the hive to mate. Once she has mated, the queen returns to the hive to lay eggs in the wax cells of the hive. In three days, the larvae emerge. Worker bees care for the larvae, feeding them beebread until they hatch as adult bees. During this time, number of bees in the hive increases rapidly. This is an important time for the colony, as a large population is necessary to survive the winter.
Gathering the raw materials to make propolis
Honey bees make propolis by collecting resin from trees such as poplar, birch, alder, and willow, and other plants in the spring when it is most abundant. Once inside the hive, bees process the tree resin by mixing it with enzymes in their saliva.
Propolis is a vital component of hive health, providing a natural defense against pathogens and pests. Its antimicrobial properties help to keep the hive sanitary, and its adhesive properties make it a valuable building material where it’s used by bees to seal gaps and crevices in the hive.
After a long winter in the hive living with 10,000 of their closest relatives, spring is a time of intense activity for honey bees. Honey production, brood rearing, and foraging – as the days get longer, bees work tirelessly to build up their resources to last them through the next winter, which is always right around the corner.