Originally submitted by Jim Orem and Ginger Davidson
Revised by J. Morgan
According to the Farmer's Almanc, "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 expection, 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 2017.
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. Make notes on the flora and fauna.
As the days become warmer and longer, brood production is really starting to increase inside the hive. With brood production comes the need to feed the expanding population of bees. This can exhaust winter food supplies prematurely and therefore, many bees starve during this time of year. So, don't be caught off guard and ensure that your bees have plenty to eat.
Another common thing that happens is a cold snap comes and wipes out a colony, or worse, more. They were just fine last time I checked them. They have plenty of food, ventilation, days to get outside... what happened? We think often times, the mites were not in check. Remember, mites vector viruses. By this time, bees that have had unchecked levels of mites going in to winter are really sick right now. That one cold snap can easily take them out. It's a sad, but very real thing. 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 (and I have mine out now this year!) Order swarm lure or try lemon grass 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 there is a problem it might be prudent to plan to pinch the queen and 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. Too much on a weaker colony may get the queen laying outside the cluster. That's pretty detrimental to a hive should another cold-snap hit. The 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.
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 if another cold snap comes.
- 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 disceation.
- 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 in to 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. I am certain I'll be adding room or making splits before the end of March. I would not know this unless I have been in my hives. I've been in all my hives three times since mid-January. Bring your questions to a meeting!