Spring beehive checklist - 5 things to look for in and around your hive

Clear, still, early spring days are times to check overwintered honey bee hives.

In mid-March, Michigan State University Extension and the Saginaw Conservation District hosted a fruit tree-pruning workshop in Freeland, Mich. While there, we checked on some honey bee hives. The bees were feeding on sugar water up until recently, but appeared to have died. It’s been a hard winter for everybody. Luckily, the owner has a month to respond to this news.

If you own multiple hives, take advantage of the clear and still days this month to open up the hive, fill sugar dispensers, and check on the hive health. Lots of mess within the hive (dead bees or feces), and high feeder levels indicates a weakening or dead hive. If you’ve got high winterkill, you could easily spend the next month cleaning and inspecting dead hives. Most package bee suppliers need to take your orders this March, and will be expecting their shipments at the end of April. Once they come in, they can’t hold on to them long, and have to get them into prepared hive boxes within a few days. Check the Michigan Beekeepers Association’s website for info on clubs and suppliers. Popping into a club meeting is the best way to make these connections. Clean out dead hives in March for new bees.

5 things to look for in and around your hive in March and early April:

  1. Entry holes from rodents or woodpeckers; rodent tunnels in the snow around hives -This could indicate that the hive was weakened, or dead, and became a source of food for other animals this winter.
  2. Feeder levels, dead workers, and bee feces around the feeder - A feeder with little change in its volume could indicate that bees aren’t making it up from the main cluster. If you keep a feeder inside an empty super, then a messy feeder area could indicate that bees are not able to clean up after themselves; another sign of hive weakness. However, temperature could also play role here.
  3. Dead workers, and bee feces on the snow around the hive from cleansing flights - If you get a nice warm, clear and still day this month you should notice that a healthy colony will take this opportunity to go on “cleansing flights”. The workers will leave the hive to defecate and to remove the bodies of other dead workers. If the weather never allows for this and you keep a feeder in an empty super, you may see all of this around the feeder.
  4. Humming or buzzing inside the hive using a stethoscope - The main cluster survives the winter by eating honey stores and buzzing their flight muscles to generate heat. So, if you don’t want to risk opening your hive in cold or windy weather, try using a stethoscope to listen to this characteristic buzzing.
  5. Water levels from snow melt - We had a lot of snow this year, and flood plains could live up to their name with a few consecutive warm days. If you have your bees in a low spot with a high water table, then the bottom super could flood and suffocate bees.

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