Updated: Apr 10
As the winter season draws to a close, having feasted on the previous year's bounty of honey and pollen, our buzzing friends can hardly contain their excitement to embark on their foraging adventures. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't the humble dandelion that provides the initial sustenance for these industrious insects. Instead, the real heroes in this story are the trees, generously offering the first nourishing meal for our beloved bees! Which trees might these be? Read on the learn more
Early flowers are essential for the survival of honey bee colonies that have spent all winter inside the hive, eating honey. In March, the bees were only able to fly out of the hive for short bathroom breaks but April is their first opportunity to find food to feed the colony. Now that the queen bee has started to lay eggs again, these larvae need to be fed. It is up to the worker bees to find the first flowers.
Even though the world may still look flowerless, the bees know otherwise! Look to the trees and you will see plenty of blooms. Right now, the maple trees are full of round red blossoms, the poplar have bloomed their long grey fluffy flowers, and the willows will soon pop with little furry yellow flowers. The bees collect nectar and pollen from all of them! Can you spot the bee among the maple tree blossoms?
After the trees, come the early spring wildflowers. You'll find little patches of crocuses popping their purple faces out of garden. Snowdrops and hyacinth are common, and coltsfoot flowers grace the forest floor. Last year, blue pollen was the first pollen we spotted the bees bringing into the hive, presumably from Siberian Scilla.
Even with these flowers starting to bloom, early spring is a vulnerable time for bees. The bees will only forage for nectar and pollen on sunny days that are relatively warm (around 10C and above) and won't leave the hive on cold days or rainy days. With irregular temperatures during spring and fewer flowers, there is a risk that the bees could run out of food. Luckily we can feed our bees in an emergency to keep them fed through the early spring.
In April, the temperatures are still cool, and it can get quite cold at night, with unexpected changes in the weather. The queen has started laying eggs and the colony has to work extra hard to keep the brood (the beekeeper term for bee larva) warm. This is why we leave insulated covers on our beehives until around the beginning of May and wait until the temperatures are consistently warm before opening up hives for inspections.
The early spring period is precarious, and all Eastern Ontario beekeepers breathe a sigh of relief when the dandelions bloom in May. The dandelions are the first big honey flow of the season, meaning the bees are bringing in lots of nectar and storing it as honey. The arrival of the dandelions marks the end of worrying about the bees having enough to eat and being warm enough.
Which leads us to the Magic of May...when the bees are in great humour, the weather is nice and the flowers are in abundance.