Ian Campbell, Newcastle & District BKA and BBKA Social Media Manager

Evenings are getting longer and another season is underway, but the weather can be very variable this month. The dilemma of disturbing colonies too early in a cold spring versus finding them overcrowded and making swarm preparations in a warm year will continue to vex us all. Your local conditions will affect your decisions so be cautious of advice from those in other areas of the country.


Always inspect for a reason.
Choose warm, sunny, still days (~12°C as a minimum) to do inspections. You’re looking for evidence of a queen laying well; eggs, larvae and sealed worker brood in a ratio of around 1:2:4 is reassuring.


Be prepared! This is your last real chance to get ready for the busy times.
Make up new frames and try to remember where the bits of kit you haven’t seen for a year are hidden.


Check for signs of pests or disease. Check stores – are there enough to last until the next inspection?
Assess the size of colony and amount of brood – is there enough space?
Are there any signs of swarm preparations?



Consider feeding if necessary with light syrup (1kg white granulated sugar:1.25L water; this equates to 1lb:1 pint in imperial units) during cold/wet periods.   Colonies can starve if spring is late.

Disease inspection

If weather allows, an early season disease inspection is a good idea.
Frames shaken clear of bees are more easily checked. Pearly white, ‘C’ shaped, well segmented larvae are healthy.
Pepperpot brood pattern, discoloured, misshapen larvae or perforated sunken capping can be warning signs.

The BBKA Healthy Hive Guide is an excellent reference book available at

Always contact your local bee inspector if you suspect foul brood.


Yellow-legged Asian hornets

Selective spring queen trapping near
2023 nests can target foundress queens
at a vulnerable time in the life cycle.

Swarm prevention/preparation

Monitor for early signs of swarming (queen/play cups and cells).  Know the difference between a queen cup and a charged cell (see opposite).
Think carefully about which swarm control method you plan to use. Keep it simple!
If you’re on the BBKA swarm collectors list, get your kit ready, including a box, sheet, secateurs etc. and have a plan.
If you’re short of equipment it’s your last easy time to buy. Popular items often run short in May!
Build or prepare your additional equipment including  
spare frames and foundation.


On a warmer inspection day change the floors and brood boxes for clean ones. Consider when to change dark older combs (three years +) for new. Use the Bailey method, shook swarm or a more gradual shuffling along of old combs to the box edges and replacing over time – all methods work.

The BBKA has some useful laminated infographics on these methods.


Mark queens now (2023 = red; shown right, 2024 = green) – they’re easier to find in a smaller nest and it is a real timesaver for the rest of the year.
Decide if any older queens may need replacing this season. What method of queen rearing might you use? How will you introduce those queens?


Colony expansion

If a colony is becoming crowded it is often best to add supers, or use double brood boxes for stronger colonies; doing this two weeks early can be better than two weeks late! Often six frames of brood is when to add more space. When adding supers many also add queen excluders above the brood box. If you are close to oilseed rape (OSR) be ready for the flow with spare supers and be prepared to extract quickly before it sets. OSR can be a great opportunity to get new brood and super combs drawn out.


Weaker colonies

Is there an underlying problem? Could that be a disease? Any symptoms?
Possibly downsize weaker colonies to a nuc to see if they recover or, if healthy, maybe unite to keep colony numbers manageable.
Failing, poorly mated queens may start to become obvious about now.


Beebase advisory leaflet no.6 Spring checks’ is worth a read. See:

Photos:  Ian Campbell