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March Beekeeping

March Beekeeping on the Front Range

While the weather is warming up, March is also the snowiest month of the year in this area, making March beekeeping challenging. This time of year always reminds me of the signs on the way down from I-70. “Truckers you are not down yet. Another 1 1/2 miles of steep grades and sharp curves to go.”

Beekeepers, you are not safe yet. Another 1 1/2 months of snowfall and nectar dearth to go. Many people are fooled by the warmer weather thinking that there must be nectar available. The fact of the matter is that you can still lose colonies to starvation in March. In fact, until the day before nectar is widely available, starvation risk only increases through the winter and early spring.

In periods of cold weather, the only reliable food source is one that your colony can cluster against so they don’t need to move to eat. Ideally, this is honey stored in the comb the previous fall. If that is not available, then we recommend fondant as an emergency food source. You should place fondant directly on the tops of the frames underneath the inner cover. In this position, bees can cluster right up against it when it’s too cold for them to move.

Pollen has been available since the middle of February.  In 2016, pollen came in on February 11th; in 2017, February 10th. Pollen sub is now safe to use in most hives. While pollen sub does not contain all of the nutrients of pollen, it can be a good protein supplement during times of inconsistent pollen availability.

First-year beekeepers

Options for buying bees are beginning to dry up. Be sure to purchase bees while you still can. If you haven’t yet, now is a good time to start acquiring the equipment you need for your bees. Continue to increase your knowledge by reading recommended books.

Second-year and beyond

In March, many beekeepers get a chance to do their first complete hive inspection. When the weather is above 70 degrees and will be warm for a few days, it is reasonably safe to get into your hive. If you get a chance to do a full inspection, you should be checking to see that your bees have honey stores remaining. You will likely find brood in your colony especially later in the month. Finding brood in all stages is a good thing at this time of year. Take this opportunity to clean up bridge comb and propolis.

Swarm mitigation can be a part of March beekeeping. Some of the less aggressive swarm reduction techniques include adding supers and reversing hive bodies. We add our first supers (with drawn comb) when we see dandelion blooming. We also reverse brood boxes in particular situations. If your brood is only in the top box, reversing hive bodies creates open comb above the brood nest. Some believe that this decreases the chances of swarming. If there is brood in both boxes, changing their position can split the brood up in odd ways that are difficult for the bees to cover during cold weather.

Varroa mite management

You should begin monitoring Varroa mites with your first full inspection whether that be in March or April. We currently recommend the sugar shake method of counting mites. We do not recommend using sticky boards or manilla folders to monitor mite drop. Mite drop is an indirect way to monitor Varroa and converting your mite drop numbers to meaningful infestation numbers is challenging.

In March, we are very hard on mites. We want to see less than three mites in a sugar shake test at this time of year. Our preferred mite treatment in spring is Mite-Away Quick Strips (MAQS).

4 comments

  • That was a really helpful video, David. Thanks! How did you film to microscopic view if the mites? Was that a phone ap?

    • Chris,

      The close up of the mite was filmed by a student at the University of Colorado. We’re glad you found the video helpful!

  • David,

    Thanks for the spring advice! I have two questions. In your March entry you said that pollen has been available since mid February. What plants are creating pollen at this time of the year? My second question is about addressing varroa in packages that are purchased. What is the best way to do so as you are installing them? Would a powdered sugar application be effective before there is brood in combs? Is it better to wait until the queen is released and has been accepted?

    • Bryan,

      Silver maple, and box elder are some of the earliest pollens available in this area. Followed shortly by fruit tree and dandelion.

      For treating package bees for varroa, we like oxalic acid the best. Applied either by the dribble method or with an oxalic acid vaporizer, the efficacy of oxailc acid when there is not capped brood present is very high.

      We hang queen cages for 1-3 days with the corks still in place. We then mark and release queens. 7 days later, the queen is laying and there is brood present, but not yet capped. This is a perfect time to use oxalic acid.

      Powdered sugar is moderatly affective against phoretic mites. So if there ever was a time that powdered sugar dusting would be good, doing it at roughly 7 days after queen release would be when you should get the best results. It still would not be as affective as another treatment, but maybe combined with drone sacrafice, would get things off to a reasonable start. However, new colonies may be reluctant to create drone brood.

      Whatever method you decide to try, be sure to monitor levels to ensure that you are getting the results you would like.

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