March marks the start of the beekeeping season for some of us. Up till now, a cursory glance at the entrance or taking a look under the cover is all we have done. Let’s take a deeper look into the hives, shall we?
The beginning of spring gives us the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh piece of chalk to start the new season. Mistakes may or may not have been made. Regardless, make note of what worked and didn’t, and these can be tools to use in the season to come. Studying bee culture through books, meeting, or YouTube is a great way to prepare. Do your homework. Learning about what you are doing is the only way to be successful. During the month of March, I like to think of the hive as a garden and the work that I do now is the seed that I will watch grow for the rest of the summer. Take great care to stay ahead of your bees. It is the only way to help these creatures grow to their full potential.
First, let’s unwrap the hive for the warm season to come. Take off all covering and insulation, including moisture traps if you desire. Hopefully, your hives are waterproof enough to make it through the spring rains. If not, leave the moisture traps on, but that does not excuse you from looking into the hives.
Pop open the lid and take a look. I would assume that you would wear all the necessary gear, plus smoker. Do things gently, move smoothly. There is no rush. Jarring and making bees fly when the temps are not optimal can cause their death or unneeded stress. Working bees when the days are dry and around 50oF is great, but you can check for weight even when the temps are much lower. You may be able to see the honey and determine that there is plenty or not. You may be able to take a stored frame and pop it in. If you have none, then a winter patty or some fondant may be used as an emergency feed. STARVATION is one of the ONLY things that you can control, so be responsible. You may want to try feeding a heavy syrup or a light syrup to simulate a flow. Putting pollen supplement on is a great way to get a jump start on the season, but know the costs. Every action causes a response in the bees, so think ahead.
If March marks the first time you have looked into your hive, you may have found it to be “deed.” Fear not, you have just joined the rest of us who have found that to be the case as well. Bee keeping is a labor of love and cannot be marked by successes and failures. Just as your hives may have made it though the winter perfect for the second year, do not begin to believe that you have it all figured out. Being a beekeeper is a entomological journey into the world of the wild. Our poor human brains can hardly begin to understand the complexities of the natural world, so don’t beat yourself up. Learn from what has happened and move on with open eyes and mind.
Having said that, why has your hive died? Much can be learned and you can make the appropriate management changes because something clearly did not work. Get a good book or talk with other beekeepers about what you have seen, and you will find that the knowledge gained from those interactions can make a world of difference in the path of a new year. Clean that puppy out. Get rid of old drone combs and junky boxes. Start the year off right. Leaving your dead, AFB hive out to rot because you think you might catch that 100 percent disease-resistant free swarm is not a service to anyone, most of all the bees. Packages and nucs are getting built this month. Get ready. They are coming, so let’s make it work.
If you are one of the lucky ones and your hives came through great, take a look inside. Make sure that hive has a queen. If not, add it to another hive if possible. If one of your hives is weak and one strong, move a frame or two over with brood and bees (no queen) and give it a boost, but mark her for re-queening.
Get those queens and supplies ordered and on their way. Don’t be left out when things need to be done.
The last thing I would suggest for starting your garden off right is year is to be diligent about your pests and diseases. This may be a great time to treat for mites and brood diseases. Nontemperature-dependent mite control measures would be best. Please do not think that this is the last of your spring treatments. I have found more and more that the efficacy of most miticides has been greatly exaggerated. Bee aware and keep bees with care.