honey bee management

Northern beekeepers: beware the Ides of March


As a beekeeper, I have a phobia about the six-week period from mid-March until the end of April. If I were to tally all the colonies I’ve ever lost, I’m sure the majority succumbed in that early-spring window. Considering that the first day of spring falls around March 20, it seems like a strange time to lose a colony. After all, they made it to spring. But that is the mindset that can get folks like me in trouble. Since it’s spring, I don’t have to worry. Right?

Wrong. Two things, especially in northern areas, can combine to cause trouble. Thing number one is the expanding population of your colony, and thing number two is quirky weather patterns. The third of two things is the broody nature of worker bees, which makes everything worse. Let me explain.

Contraction and expansion

Beginning in autumn, after the workers have evicted the drones, the colony holes up for winter. Depending on your area, brood rearing is minimal or may stop altogether. Even though you have a colony of long-lived winter bees, some die, and the colony slowly decreases in size. The bees require food to produce heat and keep the colony warm. The amount of food they require fluctuates with the temperature, but it stays relatively constant over the months.

But soon after the winter solstice, the queen increases her egg laying. The brood nest expands, which requires more food, and the adult population increases, which requires even more. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that your colony overwintered with 10,000 bees. If, come March, you reach 20,000 bees, the colony will require twice as much food per day. If the number is 30,000 bees, the colony will need three times as much.

Things we can’t see get ignored

We beekeepers can get into trouble because, from the outside, the colony doesn’t look much different than it did all winter. Although I hate to admit it, this is the mistake I’ve made.

For example, after one particularly poor nectar year, all my colonies were short on stores even though I harvested nothing. During fall and winter, I checked the feeders and candy boards once every ten days. I calendared the schedule and every ten days, just like clockwork, I took a quick peak under the hood. Anyone running low received extra sugar cakes. All my colonies were thriving by April.

But because I forget what was going on inside, I continued the ten-day check until I discovered my largest colony completely dead. They starved to death in a cold snap and there wasn’t a thimbleful of food to be found. I freaked. Three deeps of dead bees is not a pretty sight, and it still makes me angry to think about it. How could I be so dense? The number of bees had probably quadrupled while I was still feeding at the same rate.

Hens in the beehive

The only consolation I have is that I’ve heard this same story from other beekeepers. We get busy, we operate on a schedule, we travel, we get caught up with day-to-day details, and we stop thinking. Thinking about this for two minutes would have prevented the loss.

If you get a cold snap, which can happen easily in spring, things can get bad even faster. Honey bees are not very good at leaving the cluster to find food, which is why so many colonies starve when food is only a frame or two away. But the situation is even worse when brood is present. Just like a coop full of broody hens, worker bees don’t like to leave the young’uns to go in search of sustenance. Apparently, systems are in place for this contingency: some bees retrieve food and bring it back to the nest. But if the nest is large and the temperature is low, the colony may not survive.

About the Ides of March

My husband is a piece of work, one of those guys who sees the bright side of everything. If there is something to celebrate—and his imagination knows no bounds—he will discover it and we will celebrate. So, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been caught up in celebrating the Ides of March just because we can. (In case you forgot, the Ides of March is the 15th, one day after pi day, which we also celebrate.)

Anyway, since I’m not allowed to forget the Ides of March, I’ve tried to associate it with more frequent hive checks. Because it sounds kind of ominous—Beware!—the date reminds me that it’s time to pay closer attention. Of course, the magic date for you will vary with your latitude, elevation, and local climate. But if you can, build a memory cue into your life, one that will remind you of things you can’t easily see.

Now, go take care of your bees. After that, you too can celebrate.

Honey Bee Suite

Bees-in-hive. It is easy to lose a colony in spring.

Don’t lose a colony now. Make sure they are getting enough to eat. Pixabay photo.


  • Excellent advice. Good feeding will never be wasted. Also be attentative to moisture pick up as brood rearing increases and we have temperature swings.

    • Bill, I’m in SE PA also. This was my first winter with bees and even though I went into winter with a HEAVY upper brood box of stored honey and it was a VERY mild winter, I still fed 3 small pollen patties over the past month (put the last one in yesterday). It looks like I have plenty of bees, but like Rusty says, they may not be able to always break from the cluster to make it out to the capped honey on the outer frames. About when do you put your upper supers on (the nectar flow) in this area?

      Rusty, I’ve been using the quilt box (inspired by you) all winter and it seems to have worked excellent. Thank you 🙂

  • Thanks for the reminder! It’s been a brutally cold winter here in Winthrop, WA. I’m ecstatic to find that one of my two colonies made it to this point in the winter. One went into winter with low stores, so I made a no-cook sugar feeder and put it on in December on a day when the temp got up to 34. I just took a peek yesterday and the colony is dead. So I moved the feeder to the other colony (which has what appears to be bee poop sprinkled on it, so apparently they already took their cleansing flight). Both hives have moisture quilts.

    The main question I have is: if they don’t break cluster to feed, how will they ever get to the sugar feeder? I don’t understand what can be done to prevent them from starving when food is just a few inches away.

    How do I know when they’ll eat sugar and when they need syrup? The temp fluctuates a lot, but is between about 20F and 35F in 24 hours, and might get up to 45F or so this week. (One local beekeeper I talked to just put on candy boards; another is feeding syrup.)

    On a side note, I changed the feeder design a little because I didn’t have a queen excluder to use. I just had #8 cloth. So I folded the cloth and stapled it to the inside of the box. Then I cut a large rectangle in the center – about 1/3 the area of the box, and folded the cloth up so that it makes a trough around the edge of the box. I mixed 20 pounds of cane sugar with a few tablespoons of water and pressed it onto the cloth. I added a few strips of pollen patties. It was hard as a rock the next day. I’m hoping this design allows the moisture to escape up the center (like yours) and also moisten the bottom of the sugar – they can eat from the bottom or go up the center and eat on the top. If you think there’s anything wrong with this design, please let me know.

    • Kim,

      Syrup needs to be above 50 °F to be eaten by honey bees. If it’s colder than that, the bees don’t drink it because they get chilled. So if the liquid feed is placed inside the hive directly above the brood nest, it may stay warm enough for them to drink. If it’s outside in a hive-top feeder, the temperature has to be warmer.

      Food above the cluster can usually be obtained by the bees because the area right above the cluster is very warm. Food to the side of the cluster is harder for them to get. Remember, warm air rises; it doesn’t go off to the sides or down.

      The design of your feeder looks fine. The only thing that might go wrong is the bees can only reach through number 8 cloth so far, about the length of their tongues. If the sugar doesn’t fall down to fill the space, you might get an empty layer between the hardware cloth and the brick of sugar. If the bees go up through the hole to reach the top sugar, it may be colder up there. It’s an interesting experiment though. Let me know how it works out.

      • Ah… makes sense. Are there drawbacks to using a medium box instead of cutting it to 3″ high? (I’m a little concerned that the feeder had something to do with other the colony dying, but I think it was probably just a weak colony.)

        • Kim,

          If the space above the layer of food is empty, there is more room for the heated air to rise away from the bees. I put a quilt directly over the shallow feeder, to help keep the warmth closer to the bees. I’m not saying that’s why your colony died, but it’s something to consider.

          • (Thanks for fixing my typo. 🙂 ) I see…. the hole in the center of the feeder allows the warm air to travel up to the moisture quilt box; the taller the feeder, the more area to fill with warm air below the moisture quilt. Good point! This could possibly warm the top of the sugar, which would be good in my case?

            Does the warm air travel through the moisture quilt also – so that the moisture ends up on top of the wood chips? Then would it be best to cut down my moisture quilt also, which is also a medium box?

            Would it be even better to put canvas and wood chips over the hole in the feeder? Then the “quilt” would be directly over the cluster.

            I’m going to try to use an instant read thermometer to measure the temp above the frames, above the feeder, and above the chips in the quilt. Great tip about the thermometer, btw!

            My bees were flying yesterday (a sunny day with 3′ of snow), so I still have hope! Thanks so much for all of your terrific advice!

            • Kim,

              Whenever the warm moist air condenses on the sugar, it dissolves it enough for the bees to eat. Usually, that occurs on the bottom surface, but if enough warm air goes into that empty space, I’m sure it could condense on the top of the sugar as well.

              The warm moist air travels between the wood chips, condenses on the under side of the lid or inner cover, and then rains down on the top of the moisture quilt where it is absorbed by the wood chips. But the wood chips also act as an insulator. Instead of cutting down the moisture quilt, why not fill it up with more chips? More chips = more insulation.

              Yes, you could put canvas and wood chips up there, but it makes it hard if you want to add more sugar later on. When my bees have about 90% of the candy board gone, I put candy cakes in the top of it. I just lift up one end of the moisture quilt and slip the candy cakes into the top of the candy board.

              I lifted up the lid of my top-bar hive last weekend to check on candy cakes and there was a mouse sitting right on the candy, chomping away. I hate that.

  • We have had a rollercoaster of weather here in NEPA through the month of February and now starting into March. The third week of February began in the single digits Fahrenheit, crept up into the 70’s, crashed into the teens, went back into the 60’s for the beginning of March and will be in the teens with snow this weekend. I never remember a year like this.

    Well I came out of fall barely recovering from every problem a first-year beekeeper could ever imagine, lets hope I don’t start the new season the same way last year ended.

    As of February 25th my bees had a new 5lbs block of sugar with a small pollen patty on top of it added to each hive. The weather people are calling for rain the next two days and then colder temps for the weekend with snow. Hope to get them open the next warm day to take a peek and add food if needed. How warm does it need to be before I can start using liquid feed? Also when should I stop feeding solid food? I guess both of those questions kind of rely on outside stable temperatures of which we don’t seam to have coming anytime soon. I guess I will just try to keep a close watch on them. Best of luck to all.

    • Jeffrey,

      To do the bees any good, the syrup itself needs to be above 50°F, so whether you are feeding inside the hive or outside makes a difference. I usually leave the solid food in there until they stop eating it. Then I pull it out and use it for making syrup or keep it for fall.

  • I don’t feed in winter and I have never ( six or seven years now ) lost a colony at this time of year. I’m not exaggerating. I mean never. I suppose there’s a first time for everything, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I think that a lot of the time, starvation is caused by winter feeding. The colony gets bigger than it should be for the climate, availability of forage, etc, precisely because of the feeding, and then it collapses because it isn’t properly in balance with its environment. I even had the honey stolen from one hive at the end of August ( long story ) which managed to build up enough in September to get it through this winter. I have no reason to believe it will die in the next month or so. Another hive was blown over by the wind and lay undiscovered for at least a week ( another long story ) and is also doing fine.

    I have lost colonies in the summer due to queenlessness and sometimes in November, when they are finished off by varroa, whether or not varroa was the prime cause of their decline. But not in early spring. I do have a pretty strong flow right through September though from Himalayan Balsam, Rosebay Willowherb, and other so called weeds, I don’t take much honey, and I have large amounts of insulation one way or another, so maybe this explains it.

    So in this corner of the Northern hemisphere ( Manchester, England ) this time of year is fairly stress free.

    • Adam,

      That sounds nice. One of the downsides of living on the edge of a temperate rain forest is that, basically, it rains 9 months out of 12. The other three months (July, August, and September) are bone dry, as in not a drop of water. So the bees have to forage between showers during the prime flowering season of April, May, and June and then again in September, and maybe October, if it’s not too cold. There’s nothing to be had in the dry season, especially after the first couple of weeks. Instead, it’s all robbing and yellowjackets. The fact that my honey bees actually put up a surplus from time to time amazes me no end.

  • What u share is great. I really enjoy reading your writings. U are helping a lot of folks. Thanks for what u do.

  • THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! I’m a first-year beekeeper in Kentucky, and while my hive made it through the winter and seems to be BOOMING right now (they’re even packing in pollen), I’ve been wondering what to do next. I put out a communal syrup feeder last week plus an extra winter patty in my “overflow/trap” hive near the main hive, but haven’t opened the main hive since replacing that winter patty two weeks ago (it got coolish, and I was afraid of chilling the chilluns 😀 ) But now it’s back up into the 60s for a few days so I will check the main hive. There seem to be a TON of bees, so I’m worrying about crowding and swarming … it’s been a weird, warm winter here. Anyway, thanks again, because I’ve been wondering when I should wade in there, but have been kind of waiting until our state beekeeping school on March 11.

    Thanks again, Rusty!

    Cathy in Kentucky

    P.S. Your website has been SUCH a huge help. I am so grateful. (As, I think, are my bees!)

  • Thanks for the reminders Rusty!

    What temperature is your March so I can compare it to my Swedish climate? Or is it not just the temperature that sets this period?

    BR G

    • Goran,

      I’d say it’s mostly temperature. I just found this online:

      Temperature for Olympia, WA

      The month of March is characterized by gradually rising daily high temperatures, with daily highs increasing from 51°F to 55°F over the course of the month, exceeding 64°F or dropping below 44°F only one day in ten.

      This year we’re running about ten degrees colder than normal, but that’s extremely unusual.

  • Stupid question – I live in Orlando, FL and wanted to know what is the average lifespan of a 1:1 sugar syrup before it starts to spoil?

    Thank you

    • Alan,

      It can start to mold within a matter of days, depending on how warm it is. You can slow it down by adding a little vinegar or Honey-B-Healthy. I try to keep the quantity to a level where the bees can finish it in a few days.

  • I am feeding commercial “winter patties” (mainly sugar with very little pollen) that they are eating well. Bees were bringing in a lot of pollen on warm days. I will switch to 1:1 syrup when it consistently gets above 50 degrees which may not be until end of April. Does this sound reasonable?

    • John,

      It sounds reasonable, especially if your feeders are outside of the hive. If they are inside the hive, you can feed syrup a little earlier because it will be warmer in the area just above the cluster.

  • Thank you so much, Rusty, for your very timely advice. I have just checked my hives to find them all empty! Fed them last week, and now all gone, so immediately filled them up again. I think it is so easy to be lulled by a few warm days with the bees busy in the blossom to think that they can now take care of themselves, but of course it is still far too early for that. So thank you again.

  • Thanks for your blog, Rusty. Always good info!

    This year was the FIRST year in my five years of bee stewardship that I lost ALL my hives. These were multi-year survivors through a couple of pretty brutal New England winters. We have had a relatively benign winter, 2016-17 here in NH without a real extended cold period. Every hive had ample stores going forward. On Dec.21, I put in sugar cakes and pollen patties. Everyone was fine.

    We had a several day run in late February with 50-degree temps. In checking my four hives, I found one completely abandoned and three with piles of bee corpses filling the bottom board. I’m blaming the mites but who knows? The sugar cakes/patties were untouched.

    I’ve order two packages for arrival in mid-April so I will try again.

    I have not been this despondent since my dog died.


    • Rich,

      Yes, it’s hard to lose a colony and I always feel terrible when it happens.

      I agree that it sounds like mites, but it’s impossible to tell without a thorough postmortem.

  • I’m coming out of my first winter as a beekeeper and have so far made too many mistakes to count…no kidding. I have a strong hive and a very, very weak hive at this point and am trying to watch the food inventory very closely. Am I reading correctly that feeding right through April is the right idea? I’d be thrilled to get that weak hive through.

    I read this blog religiously…absolutely love it. Thanks so much for all of the insight.

    • John,

      Thank you. I use certain dates as reminders to check my hives, but in order to know what to do, you have to look at what is happening. So do I always feed through April? No. Some years the bees are bringing in maple nectar like crazy in April, in which case I pull out all feed right away. In other years, I feed right through April. And in other years my bees put up enough stores the prior year that I don’t have to feed at all.

      So really, the dates are reminders to check. What you find will determine what you do next.

      If the small hive is healthy, but just small, you might want to transfer a frame or two of brood and workers over from the strong hive. Wait till a warm day, of course. But that might delay swarming of the large one and boost the small one.

  • I am local beekeeper I need your help, in terms of education or awareness of how a local keeper be a modern keeper.

    Thank You.

    • All I can say it to read everything you can find about modern beekeeping in the area where you live. The kind of honey bees that are kept there will make a difference in methods.

  • Following up … it was warm enough today though rainy, but I assembled my kit, ran out between showers, and yup. They’d eaten through the paper plate and layer of newspaper I had under their winter patty (something a beekeeper I’ve been following around here told me to do), and the patty was down to crumbs. Hoping they’ll forgive me for opening the hive on a rainy day, but I was in and out in about a minute (didn’t even check their honey stores), so … I feel like we all got very lucky thanks to this post! I confused pollen-packing with having enough food — oh, I hope I get less stupid at this someday! Once more, thank you ever so much.

    • Cathy,

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is so much to learn and it never stops. I learn new things every day.

    • Thanks for this Rusty, I was feeling a little smug that my colonies were gathering pollen last weekend and thinking that they’ve made it through. I hope the current wet weather breaks this next weekend so I can check things out. Your words are very timely and very welcome indeed. From Dorset, England.

    • Thanks for your informative posts! I live in the mountains of Utah and it has been a very very snowy and cold winter. I will be amazed if my hive survived this year. Two days ago we had 60-80 mph winds at around 25′ F…brrrrrrrr. I am a third year beekeeper, we had three hives but lost two of them last summer…boo…not sure why either. Anyhow my questions is how warm does it need to be to peek inside to see if they need something to eat? And remind me when do I need to do a mite count?

      • Ruth Ann,

        1. If you decide it’s too cold to open the hive, you could lose the whole thing to starvation. Or you can open the hive, feed the colony, and possibly lose a few bees to the cold. Your choice. If I think the bees need food, I will open a hive at any temperature.

        2. I think mite counts should be done at least every six months, and perhaps every four months. The frequency will depend on how bad the mite problem is in your apiary.

    • Hello Rusty

      Thanks for your advises and posts. I live in Ontario Canada. Temperature in winter average 20 F reach to -5 F, this is first year of beekeeping, when I read this article makes me confused what to do with the bees not to starve. I left them lots of honey around 8 frame of honey (two brood) and sugar, shall I change the location of the frames so they can reach the honey? A week ago temperature hit high record around 60 F for a day or two, so they where cleaning the hive, which I was so happy to know they are alive. Please advise.

      • Eyad,

        Yes, when you get a warm afternoon like that, just move the frames of honey closer to the brood nest. You can move them closer to either side, or you can put some directly above the cluster. Actually, when you get warm days, the bees are more apt to find the food because the cluster expands as it gets warmer. Then, as the temperature drops again, the cluster gets smaller. In either case, it’s always good to keep the frames of honey as close to the bees as possible.

    • Thank you Rusty for all your information and to everyone for sharing knowledge and experiences. In Michigan we are having the same ups and downs of temperatures and winds with little snow this year for moisture. I can’t wait to open up the girls and take a good look at them and see what is needed next. I always look forward to reading your blog and gleaning its very helpful ideas.


    • Thank you for this. We just went through our first winter and lost our bees in the last few weeks of February. We are in Middle Tennessee and it was unseasonably warm one day and the next day it was in the 30s. A few days later we went to check on them and they did not make it. 🙁 We are going to start again and hopefully learn from our experiences. As we have already lost a hive to the dreaded roundup. We are in the fight to save the bees!!

    • Rusty,

      I seem to have a problem I can not find an answer to. It is 9:50 pm, temps in the high 40s to low 50s, I just took my dog out for the night and as we walked by the bee hives one hive had bees coming out and hundreds of bees are all around the hive on the ground some alive and some not moving. I don’t think they’re dead just too cold to get back in. There is a motion detector security light above the hives that due to the wind, keeps coming on almost continuously tonight. I turned off the power to it because I feel the bees think it is the sun; they are gathering on the ground under it. The other hive is quiet. I feel I will lose all the bees on the ground tonight because I have no way to get them back into the hive and the temps are going to drop into the 30s by morning with snow coming tomorrow night and below freezing temps for the entire weekend. Do you have any ideas on what might be going on? I feel I need to open it up tomorrow afternoon regardless of the temps to take a look. Your thoughts?

      Thanks, Jeffey

      • Jeffrey,

        Wow, that’s strange. My first thought is that the light has nothing to do with it. Urban beekeepers contend with nighttime light without having the bees leave the hive. Also, if your motion sensor lights have been there the whole time, and the other hive is unaffected, it doesn’t look like the light is the cause of unusual behavior. Yes, I think opening the hive it a good idea. Maybe there is something in there driving them out, like some kind of predator. I really don’t know what else to suggest. Please let us know what you find.

      • Michael Palmer describes bees pouring out of his hives into the snow as a sign of tracheal mites but it’s not a common problem anymore.

    • I am a second-year beekeeper occasionally being directed to this website and enjoying it. I think with the email notifications I may visit the site more regularly.

    • Still winter in Maine and all 5 of my hives are going strong despite sub zero temps and wind chills to 25 below. Took advantage yesterday with a 45 degree burp to place new patties right over the bee clusters, touching them. It goes back down to zero this weekend and don’t want to find they could not reach the food inches away. Fingers crossed.

    • Rusty,
      Sorry to say I lost my first hive. I opened it up to check this afternoon and there was a cluster the size of a silver dollar wrapped around a cold and dying queen. They couldn’t even cover the brood pattern that was no bigger than a baseball. No Honey stores left but about 3lbs of sugar with some pollen patty, all of which I discarded because I can’t see anything wrong in the hive other than a small amount of waste on the bottom board along with a large pile of dead bees, so I won’t take the chance of feeding it to my other hive.
      I would like to use their drawn comb for a new package this spring. How can I go about sterilizing it before I put it into use? Most of it is only half a season old and mostly empty cells, small amount of pollen, no honey, almost white comb with only a small cluster of dead brood which I can cut out if need be. Can I spray the frames and comb with a mild bleach solution rinse them and dry before use, or is there a better way? I could scorch the inside of the boxes just to be safe, but all equipment was new as of last August so that might be a bit of overkill. The small brood pattern looked fine and the larva where white and kind of alive, just no bees to keep them warm. Just no way to save them.

      • Jeffrey,

        If you don’t see signs of brood disease and no sign of Nosema apis (dysentery-like defecation inside the hive) I would just go ahead and use it as is. If you don’t mess with it, it will be very attractive to your new bees. I can’t recall, but I assume you treated for mites last fall? Did you check the frames for guanine deposits?

    • I just cleaned out the bees and food, took a quick look around inside and quickly inspected the frames for any chalk brood, AFB, EFB, and Nosema, the wind was so strong it blew the quilt box across the yard so I closed it up to protect the comb until better weather allows me to clean and inspect better. I did order a new package of Carniolan’s to replace the lost colony.

      Yes, last fall I treated for mites but I will make a more thorough inspection to check for guanine deposits. There was a bit of excrement on the slatted rack but not a crazy amount. I do think if our weather had either stayed cold so the cluster wasn’t broken so often or it had continued to warm up instead of nose diving into sub freezing like it did so quickly after a warm up so many times this year they may have survived. They where a small colony that had a bad start to winter with very little stores on hand. They just pulled the short straw this year. I’ll clean up what I can and will move on. Hopefully I will find something to let me know why they died. Thanks for the help.


      P.S. If my other hive makes it I should split them as much as possible, they have been through hell and back and no matter what happens to them they overcome it, they are true survivors. Just a bit testy at times.

    • Rusty,
      Have you ever heard the term hive-stomach? It’s supposed to describe a phenomenon where the bees share the last food in the hive so that as many bees as possible survive until food is available. If food doesn’t become available in time, the bees exhaust the food supply and all die at once. I picked this up either in reading or in hearing Michael Bush speak, but now I cannot find it mentioned anywhere in my books or online. Is this concept familiar to you? Thanks!

    • I have a glass-top “Innerview” inner cover installed on one of my colonies to observe in order to better understand how they bees act in winter. I placed a temperature/humidity gauge beneath the glass top. The innerview inner cover in atop an Imirie shim that has a notch as an upper entrance/vent hole. I am in mid-MD and this is a two-deep, fairly strong colony. It is now 7:30AM on March 12th. It is 25F outside, but beneath the innerview inner cover the bees are at 73F and 47% humidity! I had always thought that on cold days like this they would be deep in the hive clustered in a tight ball shivering away. But here they are now spread out loosely in a nearly-perfect circle the size of a basketball milling around seemingly without a care in the world.

      For years I had been taught that the bees heat the cluster and not the entire interior of the brood chamber. Well, yes and now. Certainly a lot of heat escapes the cluster because here they are moving freely on the top bars in their balmy 73F – warmer than in my own kitchen!

      What is more, yesterday afternoon I added a quart plastic jar of 1:1. There is a port in the innerview inner cover to accept an upside down feed jar. There are also two round screened vent ports in the inner cover which allows warm air to rise. So, the jar is surrounded by an empty deep, thus forming a large void above the innerview inner cover. Apparently that void is being kept warm enough by the rising warmth from below to make the syrup attractive to the bees since it is one-third consumed already despite it being 25F outside.

      • Dave,

        You are right that honey bees only keep the cluster warm, not the whole hive. But since warm air rises, the area directly above the cluster is the warmest place in the hive, other than the cluster itself. If you measured temperature below or to the sides of the cluster, you would find it is much cooler. Because the area above the cluster is warm, we can often feed liquid syrup even in cold weather. It is a neat system.

    • It’s March 28th in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the nights are in the hi 40s-50s with overcast days in 50s and 60s and showery. The bees are out and about bringing in lots of pollen. I fed sugar cake this winter and pollen patty this spring. They have a whole super full of stored sugar they got from the food I provided them this winter. The cherry trees are in bloom and plums as well, and Oregon Grape due to open in 1-2 days. Can I remove the sugar syrup now, leave the super they filled with winter food for them to eat now, and put an empty super on in case they are already bringing in nectar from the flowers, and pollen? I am concerned that if I leave the sugar syrup in they won’t have any place to put the new pollen and nectar. What to do. What to do. My poor bees must be sick of me interfering.

      • Ginny,

        Yes, you can take off the syrup and give them an empty super. As long as they have the stored food for the rainy spells, they will be fine.

    • Another Willamette valley resident here. It’s early February and we have had 60 degree weather during the day for over a week now. My hive is going through their candy board at a rapid pace and building up fast. Should I switch to mountain camp feeding if the candy runs out or switch to syrup at this point? Also with the early spring should I go ahead and reverse my hive bodies now or wait until the timing is more normal?

      • Jason,

        You can make hard candy, granulated sugar, sugar slurry, syrup or whatever you like. That’s a personal preference. As for reversing, same thing. I don’t reverse boxes, but lots of people do.

    • Hi Rusty, I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. Last year I had 2 hives that were really doing really well and were strong. Around the end of March to beginning of April the weather was gradually warming and my bee population was growing, everything was going great. We had a day in April with an extreme weather and temperature swing. It went from warm and balmy to frigid, snowy, icy and high winds. A few days later I checked my bees and there was no activity and found that both hives were dead and lost thousands of bees. It was a sad day! I believe it was weather related and many other beekeepers also lost their hives that weekend as well.

      I had the apiary inspector come out to check and they confirmed it was the weather. They said they probably had been out flying that day and the sudden and extreme temperature drop with snow and ice they probably got caught in it and went back to the hive wet and cold and not enough bees to keep the hive warm. We are heading into the same season and the weather has been crazy with sunny 50s one day and teens with snow and ice within less than 24 hours.

      This got me thinking, if I know an extreme drop in temperatures and weather change are coming, would it be a good idea or once evening hits, to seal the entrances down enough so that they can’t leave the hive but still have some ventilation to avoid another mass death? That way they aren’t out away from the hive and get caught off guard and come back into the hive wet and cold?

    • Hi Rusty,

      Love reading your blog, so much helpful info. I live in the northeast, and we had 2 hives. One came through the winter with no problems, other than a mouse got in. The girls are at the top of the hive although I can see lots of capped honey below. I was feeding winter patties and now have switched to pollen patties.

      The second hive also has evidence of mice and honey stores, but no bees. I put winter patties in and the mice seem to be enjoying it. So, what to do….. I want to open up the dead hive to see what happened and get rid of the mice. I also have a nuc coming and would like to put that new colony in the box that I will clean out.

      The thriving hive has mice as well, and I wanted to add another box of frames for expansion so the girls have some place to go and don’t swarm before I can break down that hive. Thoughts? How problematic are the mice at this point?

      • Robyn,

        Put an empty box over the top brood box. Then, directly on the top bars, set a mouse trap baited with peanut butter. This always works for me.

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