Beekeeping 101: Getting Ready for Spring

Spring has sprung (ish) here in Alberta, and it’s a busy time for our beekeepers as they work hard to get their honey bees ready for the season.

Photo: Demetrios Giannitsios Photography

As spring days lengthen, the queen in the colony begins brood-rearing by laying her first eggs of the season. As the days start to warm up and flowers bloom and the availability of nectar and pollen increase, a colony’s size can grow from a few thousand bees to tens of thousands in just a few weeks.

As colourful flowers start to bloom and temperatures warm, one thing is clear: beekeepers are entering their busiest time of year. Spring is when honey bees are most active, so it is important that they assess the health of their hives and monitor for pests before the season is fully underway.

Spring is also a time for swarming. Generally, beekeepers will find swarms on a tree branch or side of a building. They will then knock the swarm (hopefully with the queen) into an empty hive box. As best practice, the beekeeper will quarantine the swarm away from other colonies and watch it closely for any signs of disease.

As the colony grows, beekeepers may choose to split a strong colony (making two or more colonies from one). This practice helps to replace colonies that were lost over the winter and also helps to prevent a colony from swarming. Spring is also the time to re-queen for the year if needed (i.e., if you want to replace an old queen or if you split a colony you will need to place a new queen in one of the split hives).

In some areas, beekeepers might want to pull spring honey supers if they want to get a particular varietal of honey. Certain early spring blooms can make lovely (and coveted) special honeys, such as dandelion and wildflower.

To learn more about becoming a beekeeper in Alberta, the Alberta Beekeepers Commission has list of resources and courses that can help get you on your way.