March here in southern Michigan seems to be playing peek-a-boo, giving us brief glimpses of spring one day and throwing us back into the depths of winter the next. Though winter feels never-ending to us beekeepers anxiously awaiting the bustle of bee season, there is much to do before new packages of bees arrive. After all, winter is a season of preparation! It’s time to get your beekeeping tools and your hives ready for the upcoming season.
Equipment & Winter Inspections
Now is the perfect time to assemble new hives and place them in their new locations. Repair spare equipment, and give shabby supers a fresh coat of paint.
On exceptionally warm days (sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s or higher), take a stroll out to the apiary and make quick checks on existing hives to see how well they fared winter. Make sure to take account of any losses.
You don’t have to open the hive up to see how well they are doing. If a hive is active and healthy you will notice a few dead bees that have been pushed out of the hive entrance by the undertaker bees, and you may see bees making bathroom runs.
Some species of trees are starting to flower, providing one of the first pollen sources for your bees. Sit by the entrance of the hive and observe workers flying in with full pollen baskets. These are all signs of a happy healthy hive.
Update “Bee Book”
As with all livestock, it’s important to keep records of all interactions with each hive to monitor progress, health, and to help identify problems in the future. You’ll know which hive swarms the most, which one builds lots of comb, and which produces the most excess honey.
Be sure to write down all costs you’ve incurred for each hive, as well as any sales. These records will be helpful to factor in when you need to calculate the appropriate cost of the products you may decide to sell. It’s always rewarding to see when a hive has finally paid for itself.
Avoid using scented detergents and forego the fabric softener. I opt for plain old borax and washing soda for bee gear because certain fragrances used in regular laundry detergents can cause bees to become agitated, resulting in stressful interactions not only for the bees but for you as well.
Freshen Your Tools
As with anything that comes into contact with bees, your tools can become sticky and gunky with wax, propolis, and honey (hive tools & bee brushes especially). Bring them inside, wash them in warm soapy water, and dry completely before adding back to the toolbox.
Restock Your Toolbox
Keeping commonly used tools in a mobile container is a no-brainer. However, as we go through the season, it’s easy to forget to replenish essentials. Do it now before you get the phone call that your bees are ready to be picked up, the rush begins, and in your haste you forget something vital to a smooth installation or hive manipulation.
Below is a list of items you should keep with your toolbox and beekeeping gear:
- “Bee Book” and pen
- Hive Tool
- Bee Brush
- Utility Knife
- Kitchen Knife or Uncapping Knife – for cutting comb.
- Rubber Gloves – Pullover leather gloves to make cleanup easier.
- Metal Thumb tacks – For pinning in queen cages.
- Mini Marshmallows – In case the candy is absent in queen cages during installation (it happens!)
- Lemongrass Essential Oil – This oil mimics the queen pheromone! Put a couple drops on a cotton ball and place in the back of an empty hive to lure swarms.
- Cotton Balls
- Alcohol wipes – Wipe down tools after use before moving on to another hive as a simple health precaution.
- Duct tape – In case of any rips or tears occur in your suit.
- Bee Suit or Jacket with Veil
- Ball Cap – to wear under the veil, it helps keep the veil where it needs to be while you’re working.
- Beekeeping Gloves
- Rubber Boots
- Spray Bottle – Use to spray bees with 1:1 sugar syrup during hive manipulations.
- Small Chick Waterer– for feeding bees 1:1 sugar syrup outside the hive.
- Smoker– For use during cut-outs.
Are You Ready?
Let us know in the comment section how you prepare for beekeeping season.
To learn more about beekeeping, check out other articles in our Bees Category.
Written by…Rachel Yoder!
This article was sent in by our good friend Rachel Yoder. She’s a fellow blog writer (visit her blog, Green Promise Grows) and beekeeping enthusiast.