There are several milestones in the beekeeping year that we follow to give us an indication of what the bees are doing. Some of these milestones are the changes in seasons that we follow on our calendar. We know that queen bees start laying eggs after the winter solstice, December 21. Other milestones involve the bloom of major nectar and pollen sources. I always look for the red maple bloom. Maples and elms bloom in late winter. The weather at this time of the year is often unsettled. If the weather is cold when these trees bloom, the bees don’t fly; and they miss the reward of nectar and pollen. On warm days, bees head to the river bottoms to forage from flowering trees. Today, warm temperatures brought bees out in great numbers. Red maples growing in plains above rivers were covered with honey bees and native bees, including small, brightly colored sweat bees, native bees that forage close to their nest. Honey bees, like the one in today’s photo, travel great distances to river bottoms to fill the pollen baskets on their hind legs with dull yellow-colored red maple pollen. The sudden surge in pollen being brought into the hives is a strong stimulant to the queens to start laying eggs.
Other early season plants in bloom include the skunk cabbage located in damp soils of forest margins and dandelions in pastures and lawns. From the nectar, the bees collect carbohydrates; from the pollen, the bees derive protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Having a mixture of available pollens ensures that the bees will have a complete diet to feed their brood. The red maple milestone tells the beekeeper that the first nectar and pollen flows are beginning, and hive activity is ready to start increasing rapidly. As brood production expands, beekeepers need to monitor for hives that are light in weight and supply emergency feeding. If stored honey is depleted, late winter nectar sources may not be sufficient.--Richard