March has arrived. We are getting a few warm days now and the bees are beginning to take more frequent flights. These flights will still be mostly for voiding. The first available pollen will be from maple or willow trees. Local beekeepers have noticed pussy willow catkins as early as March 15th.
On these warm days go out and see which of your hives have survived winter. A word of caution here. Many hives that have survived so far will still just slowly dwindle away if the cluster is not of the critical mass to raise brood. If you are planning on ordering packages, now is the time to do it. Most package suppliers have a mid-March cut-off for orders. Packages are usually delivered from mid-April through mid-May. The earlier packages have an extra month to raise brood and usually produce more honey than the later packages.
Spring officially arrives on March 20th. On the 20th you will see 12 hours of daylight and 12 of darkness. Average high and low temperatures for March are 56F and 37F. Remember that’s AVERAGE. Higher highs and lower lows are possible. Records show lows near 0F and highs in the 70’s on occasion.
Another temperature to remember is the bee cluster temperature. It is quoted as being from 50F to 57F. Inside the hive bees will remain in cluster to maintain warmth. Also remember that the brood nest area is maintained at about 93F. So during March it is best to not be doing hive inspections (removing frames). Even quick removal and replacement of the inner cover won’t hurt the bees themselves, but could chill and kill the brood. So it’s a good practice to minimize or totally avoid removal of the cover.
But you can make use of the occasional warm days by cleaning and inspecting any hives that did not survive the winter. Cleaning the hive now will hopefully prevent the mess of moldy dead bees and comb. As you disassemble the hive to clean out the dead bees also try to determine the reason for the hive’s demise. Read the post of a few weeks ago with descriptions on how to determine the cause of hive demise. If it was simple starvation, think about increased fall feeding. If it was a Nosema infection, think about using FumigilanB. If you settle on varroa and deformed wing virus as the cause, consider changing the type or begin using a miticide next fall. Part of being a beekeeper is keeping the bees alive through the winter.