Beekeeping Tips for March

Originally submitted by Jim Orem and Ginger Davidson
Revised by J. Morgan

According to the Farmer's Almanac, "Spring is the time when worms begin to emerge from the earth, ladybugs land on screen doors, green buds appear, birds chirp, and flowers begin to bloom. The vernal, or spring, equinox signals the beginning of nature's renewal." It is also the time of year when Mother Nature hasn't really decided what she wants to do and things are very unpredictable. This year is no exception, and the fact that we have seen some unprecedented weather patterns makes me wonder what the upcoming bee season will bring like in the midwest around SE Indiana in 2018.

This volatility means that the items on your beekeeper 'to do' list depend on what is happening in nature and therefore, it becomes more of an art form. So, get with your mentor and learn from the experience of others. Listen to the sounds and make observations on what is happening in your area and around your hives. Make notes on the flora and fauna.

As the days become warmer and longer, brood production will start to increase inside the hive. Get in them the next time weather allows! Look for eggs... note the number of frames of brood. How's the honey stores? Take note of anything else out of the ordinary.

Be intentional on the timing of adding pollen to a colony and don't add it too soon. Remember, pollen stimulates brood-rearing. With brood production comes the need to feed the expanding population of bees. If you have a weaker colony and stimulate them prematurely, they could get the queen laying too fast (outside the cluster,) and not have enough bees to keep the new eggs warm during another cold snap. Nurse bees will not abandon brood, and they will freeze to death. Be choosy about which hives should get pollen, and which you should hold off on. Stronger colonies are more forgiving here.

Don't be caught off guard and ensure that your bees have plenty to eat. Here is another reason I like a candy board on the top of the hive. It's easy to chock a brick or two of sugar in there if it's needed.

This is also the time of year when we hear stories like... "They were just fine last time I checked them. They had plenty of food, ventilation, days to get outside... what happened?" Often times, the answer is that the mites were not in check. Remember, mites vector viruses. By this time, bees that have had unchecked mite levels going into the winter are likely very sick right now. In their weakened state, one cold snap can easily take them out. If you are not measuring the mite activity in your hives, you are cheating yourself and your bees. This is not meant to discourage you. It's an easy thing to do. If you have questions, just ask us!

What a beekeeper should be doing in March:

  • Finish up new boxes, repair/paint any other woodenware that need it, and be sure your honey supers are ready to go.
  • Prepare your swarm traps. Swarm traps go out in April. Likely sooner this year! Order swarm lures or try lemongrass oil.
  • If it isn't too cool, perform a quick inspection to see if you have bees, larva, eggs, and a queen. Remember, if you see eggs, with 1 per cell, there is a queen. If you see poor brood patterns or a colony is just not building up like the others, it might be prudent to plan to pinch the queen (around or after Mother's Day) or combine this hive with a good one using the newspaper method.
  • If you have been keeping pollen patties in the hive, beware when weather warms up, unused patties will attract small hive beetle.

When the imminent threat of bad weather is behind us
When the weather is warm (ideally 50F or higher):

  • Some may choose to move brood frames to the bottom of the box, honey to the sides and empty comb overhead. Do not disturb the cluster too early though as this can result in chalkbrood. Make sure also that the bees are not straddling two boxes. A blind reverse could split the brood chamber in two and that will be bad during another cold snap.
  • Clean the bottom boards.
  • Eventually, when the bees are waiting in line to get inside the hive, enlarge your entrances... or remove entrance reducers completely at your discretion.
  • At the end of March, remove candy boards and if needed, start feeding 1:1 sugar water and pollen. If the bees didn’t eat the candy boards, store them in the freezer, or use it in your spring sugar water feed.
  • Watch for drones and queen cells. This will be the bees way of telling us that it is the time to start making splits.

Right now, take any warmer days to look inside your hives. Get into them once a week if weather allows. Take notes of what you see. New beekeepers especially. This information can be meaningful to you (and your mentor if they ask you things) later. It's a big time for the bees right now. Really strong hives that are doing what they should are about to explode. Bring your questions to a meeting!

6 Responses

  1. Nice article Jason.
  2. Explain what is meant by the term (Goose the queen)
    • Jason
      Hi Marlin, sure. What I mean by that is to bolster, or encourage the queen to lay. It's not right for just any colony, but ones that you feel are ahead of the game (season). I am careful not to add pollen on to a hive that has a small or weak cluster. As we're seeing, we're in another cold snap in SE Indiana... if a queen were laying outside the cluster of bees and you had workers protecting eggs and brood, they would be unlikely to cluster and as a result perish. However, bees that are filling entire boxes (clusters the size of basketballs) have a larger area where the queen can lay eggs and still be within the cluster. It's these kinds of colonies I feel I'm OK to "goose", or get the queen fired up laying despite the questionable weather yet to come. Now, this still may not be right for everyone. I might encourage a beekeeper with only two hives to let the bees go at their own pace. I have enough hives where I feel comfortable pushing some along in the interest of maximizing my foraging force before the locust bloom, possibly bringing in a larger harvest. Hope this answers your question.
    • Thanks for the explanation. This is my first wintering bees and have been itching to get in there to see what's going on but haven't out of fear of cooling the brood. What are the limitations on opening the hive. Checking frames with the temps in the 50s and 60s I have also been wanting to reverse my broo boxes but was afraid it might be a little early
    • Jason
      Temps in the 50's and 60's may be OK depending on the bees. If you can be comfortable with nothing more than a long-sleeve shirt on, it should be OK to get into your bees. I try not to use smoke as a personal preference. All bees are different. You are right to hold off on reversing brood boxes, and I do not like to do a whole body reverse unless it is clear that there are NO bees or brood in the bottom box. If all your bees and brood are in the top box, you are likely OK to reverse the whole body. Many times, the bees are straddling two boxes... and in this case, a complete reverse of hive bodies effectively separates the brood chamber and positions each half as far apart from one another as it gets. This would be a bad thing. Pay close attention to this. I prefer to wait until warmer weather, then pull each frame individually and decide how you will reposition the frames into a single box before situating it on the bottom.
    • Thanks for your help Jason

Leave a comment