March is the most common month for colonies to starve. Take the opportunity of a sunny day and warmer day temperatures, if you haven’t already, to peek inside your hive and see how your bees are doing.
Here are important considerations to take during March.
If the bees are clustered just under the inner cover and/or the colony feels light when you lift it from the back, take action to provide supplemental nutrition. It’s not quite time to give them liquid sugar syrup, so give them dry granulated sugar. Doing so early in the season when the weather is still cool and rainy indicates to your bees that nectar is readily available and prompts them to increase brood production.
Part of the population will shift into foraging mode and begin to search for food when not much may be available right now. This “fruitless foraging” wears out precious members of your hive population and creates additional mouths to feed. Stick to dry sugar for a bit longer, and consider adding a protein patty if you see open brood. It takes a lot of protein to raise new bees!
If temperatures are well above 50 degrees, then feed syrup, and feed fondant if it’s cooler. The main goal of the sugar/fondant is to provide carbohydrates that will be used to heat the hive, energize the bees during good foraging weather, and feed the brood.
It is time to feed protein. If your bees don’t have a healthy (at least 3-4 cells wide) ring of pollen between the honey and the brood, they need protein supplementation. Feed protein patties as near to the brood nest as possible.
Maintain the Food Supply
Do not allow food to run out once you have started feeding. This is important! If the food source disappears suddenly, the bees will be forced to shrink their brood nest in response. Many bees will die. Keep providing supplementary food until the weather is nice enough for the bees to forage or until the bees stop taking it. Bees prefer natural nectar and pollen and will stop taking supplementary food as soon as they are able.
With all the brood in the colonies, mite levels are exploding! We are currently recommending Formic Pro, a formic acid treatment, with a mite count both before and after treatment. Apiguard (thymol) is a good option when daily highs are above 59° for an extended period of time.
If your bees have begun to raise brood and are concentrated towards the top of your hive, consider doing a box reversal. If your bottom box is empty, switch it with the top box. This will give your bees more space to expand upwards as the colony builds in population, and is a great early intervention for swarm prevention. If the broodnest is split between the two hive boxes, it is best to postpone the reversal to avoid splitting up the brood.
A late winter inspection is also a great time to switch out a soggy inner cover or lid, and clear off any dead bees from the screened bottom board.
Did Your Hive Survive?
If your hive didn’t survive the winter, here are some things to look for as to why, and what to do now:
- Take a closer look at the frames and try to identify the problem. For example, the bees in the top-left photo, you can see underneath the cluster of dead bees are individuals that died head-first in the cells (closer look, top-right photo), a classic sign of starvation. This cluster also appears too small to properly warm itself and froze to death. It also shows supercedure cells which points to the possibility of a lost queen and failure to re-queen, leading to the small cluster. Often times a colony dwindles in size to a point where they cannot break their cluster to access food stores.
- Again in the top-left photo, high mite levels may be indicated by the presence of dead bees inside capped cells. And the remnants of a few emergency queen cells indicate the bees tried to unsuccessfully replace their queen late in the season.
- Seal off the entrances to dead-out hives to prevent mice and robbers, and start making a plan to restart your colony this spring.
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