March can be one of the most challenging months of the year for beekeepers, beginner and advanced alike. To complicate matters, we experience March in Texas differently every year. Our weather patterns are complicated. March can throw every seasonal change at us. All the while, we have to manage spring brood build up, varroa management, potential swarming, nutritional needs, splits and requeening hives if necessary. I wish I could tell you there is a set schedule in the beekeeping industry, but we just have too many variables for that to be an option.
So, what should beekeepers be doing?
Talking with other beekeepers can be helpful. You get an idea of what others are experiencing. Is this enough? I can tell you, I have apiaries set within ten miles of each other, and they are doing different things. I can’t set one plan of action, and then expect it to work for all of my hives. As you get to know me, you will realize this is super frustrating for me personally.
I am a planner!
I like a plan!
In the beginning of my beekeeping career, I spent a lot of time frustrated by my bees. I would make a plan, then once I actually tried to implement it, my bees would throw my plans out the window! The only reason I continued on in my beekeeping endeavors…I am stubborn! I am not easily persuaded to quit. It’s not so much about winning, and much more about hating to lose. Plus, I love a good challenge! As a new beekeeper, I made a ton of mistakes. I took those lessons, and learned from them. I never stopped trying or learning. In the end, I had to admit, I am not the one in charge here. They are in charge. Again…
So, what should a beekeeper be doing?
The simple answer, ask your bees what they need. They will tell you. The challenging part of the equation, knowing what this means. How do we ask? We do hive inspections. We have to educate ourselves on what we are looking for. We have to understand what they are doing. Then we have to be able to anticipate what they will need next. How do we do that? Educational classes, seminars, networking with other beekeepers, reading, and admitting this is a learning journey. Admitting you will never reach a point in your career where you know it all. I continue to learn every year. I change my management style constantly. I spend a lot of resources, time and money, going to seminars and clinics, listening to the latest research, and then learning how to implement it to fit my needs, and the needs of my bees.
- Inspect your hives.
- What are they doing?
- Have they rotated up in the boxes?
- Is there an increase in brood?
- Is your queen healthy or could she be failing?
- Are they crowded?
- Evaluate food stores.
- Do they have honey?
- Are they bringing in pollen?
- What are they doing?
- Test for varroa destructor.
- What are your mite counts?
- Are the numbers acceptable considering the progress of the hive?
- What is your plan for varroa management?
- Is it acceptable for the counts you are seeing?
- Research your options.
- Are your hives at risk of swarming?
- Evaluate your risk, and implement a plan for prevention.
- Are you splitting your hives?
- Do you have equipment ready?
- Do you have a queen source?
See what I mean?
This beekeeping thing isn’t about a check list of tasks and a set schedule to accomplish them. This beekeeping thing is about asking questions. Once you have answers, then you may have some options in how to accomplish each task. The good news is, your bees can be pretty forgiving. You can make some mistakes and there are ways to recover from them. Again, my favorite book on understanding swarming, Swarm Essentials. See my previous post on recommended reading materials. You can find it HERE!
If you attended our March general meeting, hopefully you sat through the presentation by John and Skip Talbert from Sabine Creek Honey Farm on Varroa destructor. If you missed it, the slides from their presentation have been posted. You can find them HERE!
A great resource for Varroa destructor is The Honey Bee Health Coalition. Information for testing and resources for management can be found HERE!
If you want to dive really deep on the topics mentioned in this post, please don’t forget Randy Oliver and Scientific Beekeeping. Randy is a dynamic personality, and an excellent speaker. If you get a chance to see him in person, DO IT! He asks the most questions of any beekeeper I have ever met! He lays awake at night pondering the questions running through his mind, but what's even cooler, he does something about it!
He finds answers!
His website if full of research from his own apiaries. He publishes his questions, his testing parameters, and his results! Please note, he has a donation tab on his website. He does not charge beekeepers for access to his findings. Randy openly shares his data with all of us. If you find something useful, make a donation for his efforts.
Just know you are not alone. Whatever stage you may find yourself in, there is another beekeeper right there with you. I am available for questions, and You should always have questions!
Your bees are counting on you!