Keeping Bees in March
Here’s your to do list:
1. Starvation is highly likely in March unless you left the bees a deep super or have fed them. The size of the colony going into winter affects how much they ate. Keep hefting your hive from the back using one hand. It should be hard to lift. If not, it’s critical you feed.
2. Feeding options:
a. Pour granulated sugar on the inner cover
b. A sugar block which has nutrients added to it from the feed store.
c. Make fondant. Fondant turns sucrose into glucose which saves the bees one step but it’s hard to always get it set up correctly.
d. Take 4 pounds of sugar and 6 ounces of water. Add a drop or two of spearmint and/or lemongrass oil, if available. Mix well and flatten handfuls of the mix on paper plates or wax paper. Let it dry overnight. It will become hard. Place it with or without the wax paper on the top of the frames in the top box. Putting it right on the frames instead of on the inner cover allows it to be warmed by the heat of the bees and means they don’t have to go far.
e. No pollen patties before the end of the month. You don’t want to encourage brood raising early in the month.
f. Don’t feed sugar water until it’s sunny and the daytime temps are at least in the mid-fifties with night time temps in high forties.
3. Hopefully, you had added insulation above your top box. Be sure it’s above your feeder. It’s still cold in March.
4. Also, don’t block whatever you did for ventilation.
5. Check your bottom boards. You’ll have an idea what’s going on in the hive. You may find pollen (means there’s brood being raised), wax caps (means there’s brood being born), varroa (consider Apivar), water (increase ventilation immediately), chalk brood. See later in this article for more on that subject.
6. OSU honey bee professors says this is a good time for an Apivar treatment for varroa. See Jan/Feb for label precautions. It can be done no matter what the weather, but you wouldn’t want to open the hive unless it was in the fifties. It’s expensive, the Farm Store sells a 10 pack for $41.99, that's about $8.40 per treatment. You put two strips between the brood frames two frames apart. There’s a diagram on the package. It’s thymol and you want the bees to walk over it. It can do no harm but there’s some question about whether it works or not. NOTE: Apivar does NOT contain thymol. Apivar contains Amitraz, a synthetic chemical miticide. Apiguard which contains thymol, a naturally occurring substance, does not perform well with the cold temperatures of March. Apivar would be a more appropriate treatment.
7. If you see bee poop over the front of your hive you probably have nosema. It happens when the bees have been cooped up. They may survive or they may not. Not much you can do about it. Very often with light infections of Nosema, symptoms disappear once the honey flow begins.
8. When a hive has chalk-brood there are bees in the hive and in front of the hive that are all white and look covered with mold. It’s caused by a fungus and is not usually fatal to the colony unless it’s excessive.
9. Order NUCs. If you have a strong overwintered hive at the end of the month you can be fairly sure it will need to be split. You may not need a NUC.
10. If you know that one of your hives has died, take any opportunity to go through that hive. Any frames with capped honey give to an existing colony or save for your spring colonies. Clean up the hive. Scrape the propolis build-ups. Remove burr comb. Decide if the comb on a frame is too old, possibly contaminated. If it’s dark black, almost rubbery, clean off the foundation. Put it out in the sun on a sunny day and it will soften and clean off easier. Sterilize the frame / foundation and re-wax, if possible. See precautions about dead outs in Jan, Feb sections.
11. It’s a good time for planning. Are your hives where you want them? Are they too close to one another? Would it help to have a tarp under the hive to keep the grass from growing up? Are you going to use a different varroa treatment plan this year? Spec it out. What frustrated you about beekeeping? Do some online research on the subject. If you want to move a hive the club has a hive lift which you can borrow. You wedge the lifter around the colony with one person on each side. It makes it very easy to lift and move.
12. Is this the year you start documenting what is happening in the hive? Some folks write notes on the outer cover. Some use their phone. Others keep a notebook. There’s a new free app for folks with less than eight hives. It’s called Apiary Book. www.apiarybook.com. We don’t know anyone who has used it yet but it’s an option.
13. Beginning in March and throughout the apiary seasons, one should record all findings during hive inspections in one’s journal. This includes frames of bees, frames of resources, brood size and pattern, presence of a queen, her eggs, and uncapped larvae,
14. For now, and during the season, track weak hives and consider if and when to combine with strong hives. Never combine 2 weak hives as it doesn’t usually work out. Combine weak hives with strong hives. Also, consider this with weak hives; Should I, as a beekeeper, continue to pour resources and money trying to salvage a weak hive or should I just combine it and call it good?
15. Begin to refine your observations with the appearance of flowering and pollen production in plants that bees target for resources. Note this in your journal. It’s knowledge for you to look back and see when dandelions or blackberries first flower from year to year.