Late Winter or Early Spring Care of Beehives

(The following information is taken from the author’s 50 years of experience keeping bees).

When examining your beehives on a moderately nice day in late winter or early spring, the two most important things to look for are the presence of brood and the placement of remaining honey stores.

If you see brood that looks like it's in good condition, there's generally no need to try to find the queen herself. If the weather is marginal, as it often is in late winter, you don't want to chill the brood by leaving the hive open for very long, which a search for the queen might result in. So if the brood looks okay, don't bother looking for the queen.

But if the brood is dispersed into two supers (boxes), it is best to consolidate the brood into one super. Then put this super on the bottom board, and place a super with stores immediately on top of it.

If you do see brood, but it is all drone brood, you can safely assume that either the queen is missing or that she is a failed queen. In this case you should try to find the queen and dispose of her if she is still alive. After disposing of her, place a single sheet of newspaper over the top super of one of your queen-right hives, and place the box with the drone brood over the sheet of newspaper. (This is another reason why it is always recommended you have more than one hive). The sheet of newspaper will delay encounters of the bees of the two hives until they have gotten to know each other by mutually chewing away the newspaper and smelling each other and the queen's pheromones.

Do not try to introduce a new queen directly into the hive with the drone brood! Almost certainly the hive that has already begun laying drone brood would reject and kill any new queen. Rather, join it with a queen-right hive as described above.


The field bees of the drone brood hive of course will not have a hive at the old stand anymore when they return from foraging, but they will generally drift to some other hive. If some of those field bees are drone-layers, they will not be permitted by the new hive to enter and remain. 

The second concern is both the quantity of and also the placement of winter stores. In cold weather bees cannot move downwards, and they are also very little able to move sideways. Therefore stores (that is, honeycomb or sugar syrup comb) have to be immediately adjacent to the brood nest, and also above it. Therefore you might need to reposition stores to meet these criteria. Place a frame of stores on either side of the brood nest, and place the remaining stores immediately above the brood nest In an added super.

If the hive’s situation is such that a super of stores is below the brood nest, simply do what is termed reversing: put the super with the brood nest on the bottom board, and place the super with the stores immediately on top of it.

If your hive does not have enough stores to get them through even a week, consider borrowing a frame of stores from another hive that can spare them, while Immediately taking measures to feed hives that will need feeding. Remember that late winter and early spring is when most hives die of starvation, because the brood rearing consumes winter stores quickly.

If any of your hives need to be fed on an emergency basis, perhaps the best method is to use a mason jar and its perforated lid taken from an entrance feeder. Do not use the jar’s entrance holder, but fill the jar with approximately 1:1 sugar syrup by weight (proportion not critical) and place it upside down on top of the brood frames, with two approximately 3/8 in thick spacers under the edges of the jar to give bees better access to the holes In the jar’s lid. 

(If you want, you can place two of these sugar syrup jars adjacent to each other over the brood frames.) Then place an empty deep super with hive cover over the jar(s) and on top of the brood super.

Happy beekeeping!

Dave Gaetano