Early Spring Nutrition
From late fall to spring, honey bees rely upon the food stores available in the hive. If adequately prepared for winter, the colony will be given the best chance at surviving the cold winter months. Once spring arrives, the colony is already in full brood rearing mode, building up the population for the coming nectar flows. During these early months, natural pollen and nectar sources are limited or unavailable and honey bees require a steady protein source in order to rear brood. Many beekeepers feed their bees supplemental pollen at this time until flowers begin to bloom. It is important to feed colonies early so they have the necessary nutrients to prepare for a busy summer.
Bees require carbohydrates, amino acid, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and water to carry out the necessary functions for colony survival. Carbohydrates provide the bees with their main energy source, which is derived from sugar (nectar). Bees convert carbohydrates into glucose and is used to power flight muscles, maintain temperatures within the colony, and can be converted to body fats which are especially important for winter survival. Bees require the same set of amino acids as humans, which for bees are strictly obtained from pollen. These amino acids (protein) are essential for brood rearing as nurse bees derive all the necessary nutrients for the developing larvae from pollen. Pollen also provides the bees with minerals, lipids, vitamins, and
micronutrients, important for hormone and pheromone production, gland secretions, and brood rearing. A diversity of pollen is essential for bee nutrition as each have different micronutrients, critical for honey bees’ ability to fight diseases and detoxify pesticides. Water is used to regulate the temperature within the hive and is mixed into brood food. An accessible water source is especially important in the spring as brood rearing is increasing and so are the number of hot summer days when the colony needs to be cooled.
Importance of Pollen in the Spring
Brood rearing starts mid-winter and building up the population is critical for the upcoming summer. Pollen stores are important going into winter so that brood rearing can begin before we can open the hives and feed. Once the weather permits, typically in March, supplemental pollen can help facilitate brood rearing when natural sources are unavailable. Weather is often unpredictable in Alberta, especially in the springtime. There can be cold snaps in the late spring after a bout of warm weather. As a result of bad weather there may be fewer foraging flights, poor forage availability, reduced pollen consumption, and cannibalism of brood. In the absence of pollen, the queen will continue to lay. Whether workers care for the brood is dependent on the pollen availability. Feeding supplemental pollen ensures that the colony can continue rearing brood during bad weather or until natural sources are ready.
The amount of pollen a colony receives is correlated to the population size and ensuring adequate food in spring could have lasting benefits throughout the year. Artificial pollen will aid in the buildup of the population in the spring, but a diverse natural supply of pollen is critical for long term success of the colony. Poor nutrition has negative impacts on bee health, causing them to be more susceptible to diseases. A bee’s immune system is the first line of defense in fighting diseases which requires specific nutrients to function. Studies have shown that a diverse pollen supply improves a bee’s immune system and reduces mortality. Nutritional stress also accelerates the transition from the nurse to forager life stages. Younger bees that become foragers are often less efficient at collecting resources and there is a decreased likelihood that they will successfully return to the colony. This further exacerbates the nutritional problems within the hive. Ensuring colonies have enough food in the spring and placing them in a location where there are plenty of diverse resources will help the colony thrive throughout the summer as well as increase productivity and the longevity of the colony.