Longer day length triggers honey bee queens to increase egg production. Your honey bee colonies have likely been slowly building brood population since Winter Solstice. Ideally, they will reach peak population when blackberries are blooming later in the year. They may need your help getting there, so here are some things to consider:
- Watch that food supply! Your bees are most likely to starve in March, and things can get precarious even in February. You should be lifting the hive once every week or so to monitor the change in weight. If it starts feeling light, the best thing to feed at this time of year is still dry sugar (either drivert or granulated). When the daytime temperatures are regularly above about 55°, it’s safe to feed one-to-one (one part sugar to one part water by weight or volume) sugar syrup. The colony may respond to a patch of sunny weather to build up a bit, and then quickly eat through their stores when our unpredictable spring weather brings stints of rainy days. Watch your colonies closely when rainy weather keeps them from being able to forage, especially toward the end of the month.
- Do your first hive check sometime around President’s Day (February 16th), when the weather is nice enough for the bees to be flying. You want to quickly assess the food situation, the location of the cluster, and look for brood without exposing it to the cold too much. If the bottom box in your colony is empty, put it on top of the upper box. (Do not do this if there is brood in the bottom box – it’s still too cold to divide the brood nest.) If the cluster is high up in the colony, provide plenty of supplemental sugar. Clean your bottom board of debris while you have it apart.
- It’s not too early to start monitoring for mites! While you are in the colony, take a 300 bee sample (approx. half cup) and do either a powdered sugar shake or alcohol wash to determine the mite load. The number of mites in your colony will likely double every 3-4 weeks for the rest of the season, so strive to start with a low mite count. Reducing the mites this time of year will pay huge dividends for your colony. You will have more bees, healthier bees, a better honey harvest, and a much greater chance of surviving another year. A good natural treatment is Mite Away Quick Strips – they can be used when daytime highs are above 50°. Be sure to follow label instructions closely for any treatments you put in the colony.
- Watch for wax moths! This time of year, wax moths can utterly destroy your valuable drawn frames. To control the damage, remove dead out boxes as soon as possible. Brush them clean and freeze them to destroy wax moth eggs and larvae. Watch stored equipment for infestations and freeze when necessary.
- Late February is the time to open up your hive(s) and assess the health of your bees. Even if it appears your hive survived, you should do a queen check. Examine the middle 3 frames of the colony and check out the queen’s egg and larva laying pattern. You want to see a good pattern of eggs, with little to no skips (empty cells with no eggs in the brood chamber area). If all is well, you can begin to feed sugar syrup or protein patties to kick start colony growth. Remember, feeding pollen early will produce young bees in 3 weeks. Make a decision if you think the queen is healthy and young enough to make it another year. If her health looks disparaged, you can replace the failing queen in the beginning of April.
- If your hive didn’t make it through the winter you will need to clean out all the dead bees and any mold or fungus that is in the hive. Pollen frames may have mold, so all the ruined wax must be scraped out. If you have Rite Cell foundation or plastic frames you can put that frame back in the hive after you’ve scraped off all the ruined wax. If you use wax foundation you’ll need to re-wax the frame.
- What are your plans for your colonies? If you want to make splits later in the spring, you may want to have some protein patties on hand for helping the bees build up during March. Order package bees and nucs if necessary. Repair and purchase equipment. Get ready – spring is almost here!
Shonnard’s is your source for live bees and hive equipment! If you’re adding hives or replacing dead boxes, then you have the option of ordering 5 frame nucs or bee packages. Stop in, shop online, or give us a call at 541-929-3524.