Amanda's Beekeeping Notes March 2021

Beekeeping notes by Amanda Millar

I can hardly wait until the weather is good enough to see how the rest of my colonies are. I managed to check 5 of mine yesterday (24th Feb); the smallest and the nucs, but the weather does not look suitable for doing the rest until March. Mouseguards and straps can be removed now.

The next sunny, calm day above 12-14°C I shall do the rest. This first inspection is as short as I can make it and I will not go through all the frames but I shall be looking for: brood health and quantity, seams occupied, space, comb colour, stores, state of floor. They need sufficient stores for at least a couple of weeks until the weather becomes more reliable. My three smallish colonies had loads of stores; it is likely the larger colonies will have consumed more and will need monitoring.  Some of my colonies have a ‘native’ tendency to have small clusters in winter and then expand rapidly in March. I make a note of the number of seams occupied and brood area at the first inspection. If they have not expanded greatly at the following inspection I shall assume something is wrong.  The floor should be clean and free of dead bees. At the 1st or 2nd inspections I carry a clean floor to transfer them quickly on to if necessary, while they are at their smallest and lightest. I also carry a spare clean sterilized crown board, as propolis on the old one may prevent a good fit when replacing it. If lightly propolised, I will give a quick scrape round the edges or make a note to change at the next inspection. I like to get mine onto clean comb regularly; so for those of you who put a shallow box of stores below the brood area, or swapped double brood boxes in the autumn, or in my case as I run entirely on shallow boxes, we will find that most have moved up the boxes as they consume stores. On two of my colonies I was able to remove a whole box for recycling, one was mouldy so I shall have to think about the location/ventilation/leaks, but the other had some clean re-usable frames. In one which uses a lot of propolis, I will need to transfer the frames into a clean box as the runners are gummed up and would cause vibration when moving. I also put the inserts in, so next week, if required, I can start my chosen varroa treatment, to get it completed before adding supers.

If you have wintered them on a single brood box then a simple box removal is impossible but while they are at their smallest in March, you could remove the darkest empty brood frames from around the cluster, leaving any clean frames with stores for the moment, moved closer to the cluster. At the next inspection frames of preferably clean drawn comb, or foundation if no drawn available, can be put on one side of the cluster, leaving them in contact with a frame of stores on the other just in case we get another cold spell. If the bees are really healthy and you kept the varroa down, then the colony could be as large as they were last autumn by now, so we also need to took at how much space they have. Spring still seems a long way off but in the South can come on very quickly when it gets going and they may need to have a super added soon. It is best to give them a drawn super at this stage as it may not be warm enough to do much wax building yet. They will need extra space to accommodate expanding brood and possibly nectar coming in depending on the early forage around. New beekeepers may not have the luxury of drawn supers and will have to use foundation, in which case leave out the queen excluder until they are working on it otherwise it will slow them down, possibly leading to congestion. I stopped using queen excluders some years ago, so the bees can choose whether they use the space for brood or nectar storage.  I find they swarm less often and make large colonies; I don’ t have to worry about sticky queen excluders and never get the queen accidentally stuck above them!



At the first inspection I make a note of how much stores they have, with a view to removing the surplus just before I put more supers on, as it is likely to have syrup/honey mix which we do not want to be moved up and mixed with new honey. I shall have to check my notes for each colony as some colonies had so much honey last year I did not need to feed so it would not be a problem, except that it may be granulated.  Surplus, full, sealed frames I remove, labeled by colony, to the deepfreeze to return this autumn.

Healthy brood of all stages is important; worker not drone laying. One of my small ones only had eggs, but I saw the queen. Although I do not specifically look for the queens, while the colonies are small it does make it easier to find and mark them. I spotted all the queens easily, 2 of them unmarked, supersedures from last year, so they will be marked and clipped next time. Above all, how healthy they are now will have a bearing on their success and productivity for the rest of the summer, so an assessment of brood health and varroa drop via the insert is very important. If they are weak with patchy brood and/or some drone brood then plan for a shook swarm (if large enough), a Bailey exchange (if small) and possibly a requeen, or after due consideration of their performance last year from your records; possibly a swift dispatch might be in order, to improve the health and characteristics of the rest of your colonies. If there is a small amount of drone brood at the sides or lower edge of the frames, ie normal position; I will have to start weekly inspections, because they will only think of swarming when drones are present. We could get swarms in March from a strong colony if the weather is good. While there is no drone brood, fortnightly inspections will be adequate.

The 1st/2nd inspections are very involved and I need to be organized, swift and prepared for anything. I don’t know for certain what I will have to do; remove old supers or add clean supers, probably both. Will I need to feed or remove surplus stores? Its good to see the bees again and taking in lots of pollen!

Its good to see the bees out and about again!


I was amused, or despondent, to read what the Americans consider to be Best Management Practice.
 Average is what they usually do and BMP is best management practice. With re-using 'deadout' equipment and re-using old comb as BMP, no wonder they have such a high winter mortality! No hope for them then. So different from UK recommendations. 

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