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As we slowly emerge from lockdown and relish the warmth in the spring air, the bees are one step ahead of us...as always. 
March can be perilous for the bees. The queen has started laying however temperatures can drop dramatically from warm to freezing. Too cold and it inhibits the worker bees ability to forage for much needed additional supplies for their increasingly large colony. 
The first inspection of the year is as exciting as it is foreboding for any beekeeper although we typically have observed from the outside which gives us a good indication if all is well within. In particular we look for activity and for pollen on the legs of the worker bees which indicates that the queen is laying. As the temperature creeps over 15°c then we can do an exploratory review into the hive. 
Whilst not disturbing the colony we ensure they have sufficient supplies and many beekeepers will add syrup if they know there is a cold snap on its way which gives the hive a greater chance of survival. I would stress the bees have sufficient honey of their own in the hive but often cannot convert it sufficiently quickly during these late cold snaps or it requires too much energy which is the reason for the supplementary light syrup which is in effect an insurance to help the welfare of the bees. 
If all is well, we check for disease, for a queen or evidence of laying, cleaning (lots of cleaning) of all equipment. Verroa mite levels are checked. We then prepare with enthusiasm; new frames, formulate plans to split the stronger hives ensuring the equipment is prepared and ready (this helps reduce a hive and prevent swarming in late spring or early summer). Conversely we can unite weaker colonies. 
Importantly we ensure their local environment has water and plants to forage and their stand and location are safe for all. 
March is all about preparation, cleaning, painting and planting getting those lovely wildflower meadows sown before the end of March. 
So, like us, the bees start emerging and flourishing. Its amazing what a little sunshine can do to strengthen our and their resilience. The pandemic is very much what the bees experience each winter, they hunker down in the hive and huddle to keep warm, protected, safe and fed. I feel we can reflect on what they teach us and how we can learn from their management of the colony. It certainly helps us appreciate that whilst nature can throw us a nasty little virus equally it has the power to hurl us the tools to overcome adversity and appreciate what is around us. We help the bees and they help us. 
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