When should I uncover my hives?
More and more beekeepers in the north are experimenting with different overwintering protections: insulation, foam, wind blocks, heating elements, etc. As the weather begins to warm up, beekeepers begin to wonder when they should take this winter protection down.
There is no exact science here. We err on the side of leaving it on a little long as bees seem to do better in heat than cold. Once it’s warm enough to open the hive and do a hive check, is typically a natural time to take off any extra winter insulation. We wait until the long-term forecast shows no sign of any “colder than normal temperatures.” The bees can handle a frost over night, but the last few years have brought a day or two of frigid temps in late March.
As soon as it’s warm enough to see bees flying and to peek inside, you’ll need to evaluate the food stores. You’re not going to want to do a very intrusive hive check, but this is the time of year when bees start to run low on food stores. Additionally, warmer days mean the bees are flying (and using more energy) and the queen is starting to lay. As a rule of thumb, we begin feeding around this time and continue to feed until the dandelions are up in full force. It is not uncommon for hives to starve out in March and, for the beekeeper, this is devastating. In the spring, we feed a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, and/or we use up our fondant cakes if we have any left from the winter.
Another supplement you can offer your hives is pollen patties. You can find recipes online or order from retailers. They don’t actually contain any real pollen, but are designed to act as a replacement. Some of the newer product have additional vitamins and minerals too. These are pretty simply to use: you just plunk one in the top of the hive.