The winter of 2012 / 2013 seems determined to leave its mark on the American beekeeping industry. The drought of 2012 combined with a long and cold winter in the north is contributing to winter losses in many regions in the 40% to 50% range. But the risk is not yet over for the beekeepers of west central Ohio.
Many Ohio beekeepers took the opportunity to open their hives during the warm weather on March 10th. What some found seems to indicate that risk of loss is not yet over. We’re hearing reports and chatter of very little or even no brood rearing in some colonies. Speculation is that the drought of 2012, combined with a slow start to maple and willow bloom this year has led colonies to slow down or delay brood rearing. The silver maples are finally starting to bloom (at least a few of them) but a quick check of the ten day weather forecast for west central Ohio would seem to provide only one day, Friday, March 15th, for pollen foraging.
Colonies that slow brood rearing and are starved for protein and pollen in the spring are at high risk of collapse from spring dwindling. The winter bees that have overwintered in cluster could expire before enough young bees can be raised to ensure replacement. The colony passes the tipping point on bee population and falls away to nothing during the time a beekeeper would expect it to be exploding after having survived winter. Even colonies that survive may exhibit delayed population growth this spring leading to problems with beekeepers that want to make splits or Nucs in late spring and summer.
Strategies to counter this year’s challenges are limited but straightforward. Feed protein. The bees need protein and need it fast. The weather forecast might be wrong, but as it stands today the bees are going to have limited opportunities to forage on the maple and willow in March. If you are fortunate enough to have frames of pollen in storage, you can add those frames now. Protein / pollen substitute patties are another option. Place them on the top bars where the bees can feed readily. Protein flour placed in feeders near the bee yard work well on warm days, but if the weather has the bees clustered in the hive, it won’t get where it needs to be. If they can’t get to the maples, they probably won’t get to your feeders.
Bottom line… If you have access to supplemental protein, now might be an ideal time to feed.