Come learn what to do for spring management of your beehives if your bees are alive and successfully overwintered, or if they didn’t, how to clean it up, along with what and when to feed your bees.
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How to cleanup beehives in the spring if your bees successfully overwintered
First of all, congratulations! You successfully overwintered bees in your climate, I’m so proud of you (and your girls!)! Once you’re sure (pretty sure) that warmer weather is on the horizon, like 50 degrees Fahrenheit and above for the daily low temperature you can start thinking about feeding your bees.
You’ll probably have noticed bees coming out of the hive and pooping, just a massive amount. Bees do this thing called cleansing flights. They will “hold it” as long as they can to be able to poop outside. The poop will be watery brownish/yellow. This is pretty normal. Sometimes bees will get so excited and so ready to poop outside that they “miss” and poop on the entrance, usually the upper hive entrance.
This really should only become a concern if the poop really piles up and starts turning a really dark brown, almost black color. A few splatters here and there are normal. Can you imagine trying to hold your poop for several months..you’d probably get excited about the thought of finally being able to poop and accidently let some dribble out!!
How to cleanup old sugar in beehive and what to feed in the spring
When you see bees regularly coming out of the hive pooping and looking for food it is time to think about starting to feed your bees. As a beekeeper you’ll want to think about mixing up a 1:1 ratio of sugar syrup for your bees. This means you are mixing up equal amounts of white, granulated sugar and water. For example – When I had nine hives I would pretty regularly mix up three pounds of water and three pounds of sugar in my little frosting buckets from Casey’s (a Midwest staple of a gas station!). They have frosting that comes in buckets, you typically just have to ask for them, and they GIVE them to you! In turn you have really nice, food safe buckets. Combine the smaller buckets into a food safe five gallon bucket and mix them all together. Making ten gallons of syrup at a time worked well for me as I had nine hive (1 gallon bag each, with a couple leftover to restock in two to three days).
I would recommend starting with less syrup than you think you’re going to need, and then make more. The sugar syrup doesn’t keep well, and you should NOT feed your bees sugar syrup that has gotten cloudy, or has any mold in it. It is pretty easy to make more syrup, and it’s less heartache than cleaning out a dead hive from feeding them contaminated, moldy sugar syrup.
Many times in the spring I would pour my cooled sugar syrup mixture into gallon zip top bags. I would then set the gallon zip top bag on its side and cut three slits through the top of the bag and press the air out until the syrup starts coming through. I always positioned the zipper part of the zip top bag towards the back of the hive, away from the cluster, just in case! If the bag opened, or spilled I didn’t want to risk drenching the hive, they would be gonners. I chose to use the gallon zip top bags because I didn’t want to wrestle taking off the coroplast covers, undoing the whole hive, and rearranging frames to fit in an in hive feeder. However, to each their own. If you want to put in an in hive feeder, then by all means, you do what works for you! I would strongly recommend leaving your emergency sugar stash on until temperatures are consistently into the 50-60s Fahrenheit.
Spring beekeeping feeding – Pollen Patties
Another thing to do in the spring when you start feeding sugar syrup is to start feeding pollen patties. HillCo, LLC has pollen patties, Dadant has pollen patties, MannLake has pollen patties. Pretty much any bee supplier you go to will likely have pollen patties – a mixture of protein, fat and carbohydrates, which are things we all need too, right?! Pollen patties are an extra thing, but a really good thing to help bees get kick started in the spring. With our shorter growing season (Zone 5a), it’s really helpful to give your bees a little kick start so they can boost their population, and get enough forager bees out to start bringing in nectar to make honey.
A few times throughout when you’re just beginning beekeeping it is a really good idea to go out and physically watch your bees. Start watching the bees coming in and going in through the landing board. If more than half of the bees coming in in about a five minute period are loaded up with pollen in their pollen sacs, then you don’t have to worry about feeding any more pollen patties, even if they are out or are getting low. When honeybees start to bring in pollen from their surroundings you do not need to supplement, but until then, it is a really great idea, in my opinion.
Learn how to make sugar syrup for honeybees for both the spring and the fall
- 1:1 Spring 1 pound of white, granulated sugar to one pound of water
- 2:1 Fall 2 pounds of white, granulated sugar to one pound of water
- Weigh water according to which season you're in.
- Put into a stock pot until boiling.
- Shut off water.
- Add weighed white, granulated sugar, according to which season your in
- Mix until dissolved.
- When cooled, pour into in hive feeders, or gallon zip top bags.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend keeping extra prepared sugar syrup for more than five days. If it becomes cloudy or moldy DO NOT use.
*Bees and mold do NOT mix!*
How to make sugar syrup for bees
Here are the down and dirty instructions for making sugar syrup for bees.
1:1 Spring 1 pound of white, granulated sugar to one pound of water
2:1 Fall 2 pounds of white, granulated sugar to one pound of water
Weigh water, put into a stock pot until boiling. Shut off water. Add weighed white, granulated sugar, mix until dissolved. Cool. When cooled, pour into in hive feeders, or gallon zip top bags.
What to do if your bees died over the winter
First of all, try not to sweat it. This has likely happened to all of the beekeepers out there, and it can happen to your best hives. It’s ok. Clean up, set up, and get going again. Once you’re absolutely sure there are no signs of life in your hives after the weather has warmed up around 40 degrees Fahrenheit you can start cleaning up the hives that are referred to as “dead outs.”
You just want to make sure that your hives are actually in fact dead. Sometimes bees have the ability to slow down so much that they look dead, but are in fact alive. A good way to tell is to put a frame that has a decent cluster of bees on it into a clean tote, with a lid, and bring it into your house. If they are alive, when you bring them into your house you’ll certainly find out if they were “just sleeping” or if those little buggers are alive.
Make sure you put a lid on, before they wake up…like Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty…do any other people have issues with these movies?! The beautiful princesses go into a dead like stupor, and get woken up by a kiss…what kind of men are walking around kissing dead girls?! Not really someone I’d want to marry I don’t think!! ANYWAY…
If you’re absolutely, positively sure that your bees are dead, get them cleaned out as soon as possible. This will prevent the frames getting moldy, which will help you save as much equipment and money as possible.
Can you save the frames from a deadout beehive?
You may be wondering what is ok to save, and what is not following a deadout.
Here are my answers for quick thoughts on what you can and should not save from a deadout:
- Frames that are full of capped honey only, there are no dead bees.
- Move them to the outside of your hive boxes (or put them into storage for use later)
- Do I need to put the frames of honey in the freezer?
- Not typically. You can put frames of honey directly into a hive that needs some more food support. If you don’t have a hive that needs extra honey, and if you don’t have a rodent proof place to put the frames immediately, then yes, put them in the freezer. You could put them into a clear tote with a lid to seal them up until you can use them. I would recommend keeping them outside to avoid big swings in temperature = less mess for you. Use a clear tote and put it in a place that gets light to help keep the wax moths away. Wax moths like to hide in dark places with a food source. So a waxy, honey bee frame is a great place for a wax moth to live. You want to do everything in your power to deter them from living on your equipment.
- What about the frames from the deadout that are full of nectar or wet looking pollen?
- The ones that are full of that wet stuff is almost always a loss. You can try to put them back into a hive to see if the bees will clean them up, but mine never have.
- Can I scrape off that drawn wax from a deadout, melt it out, and use it to “brush” onto brand new foundation to give the bees a head start?
- Yes! But only if it’s only wax, do not use it if there’s pollen in there. Definitely do NOT scrape off wax to keep if there are dead bees in it. No amount of straining will make the bees accept that wax, in my opinion. If there is wet pollen in the cells that will likely have/create mold. Bees and mold don’t mix.
- Do I throw away the whole frame from the deadout?
- If you have wooden frames you can pop the old foundation out and put in new. If they are plastic frames just toss the whole thing.
- Should I put the “dead out” hives in the bee yard for the other bees to rob and clean up?
- No, it is not usually a good idea to encourage robbing. Depending on why your bees died, that’s also not the best idea if you’re unsure why they died.
- If I scrape off anything that has wet pollen or dead bees, can I still use it?
- Yes, if you have a frame that just has a cluster of dead bees/wet pollen, smaller than a tennis ball, you could scrape this area down to the frame, making sure there is NO MOLD, and you can put it back into a hive. Bees are great housekeepers. They will come in and clean up what they don’t like.
- How to clean off a frame from a deadout
- So you have a couple of options…
- You can pop out the old foundation and replace it with new. Or…
- You can scrape off just the portions with gummy pollen in them, if they don’t leave a large amount of yellow residue, and leave the rest of the drawn comb
- So you have a couple of options…
Coming up next – Learn when and how to make a split and how to install a mated queen.
You’ve got this.I’m cheering you on!
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This is the start of something GOOD! (I can tell!)