The beekeeper’s calendar is directly linked to the seasons. Preparing your hives for changes in temperature and shifts in the weather — before they happen — is crucial for raising healthy, strong colonies. While there are a number of variables that affect the timing of these tasks, getting a head start, and preparing your equipment is always a good idea.
Bee activity will be at a minimum as temperatures begin to drop this time of year, so feed your colonies to prepare them for the cold months ahead and install mouse guards at the hive entrances. If necessary, move the hives to a location protected from the wind and harsh winter elements, and be sure to have proper ventilation and moisture control in place.
For many beekeepers, November marks the end of the yearly cycle. At Dadant & Sons, we like to think of it as the beginning of the new year. With cooling temperatures, bees limit their activity, and flights outside the hive become practically non-existent. This is the perfect opportunity to check on your tools and equipment so you know what items need repairing or replacing.
If you’re planning on ordering packages for the spring, this a good time to place orders for woodenware, too. The colder months are also a great time to build and paint new hives for future use. It’s always great to have an extra hive or two on hand for capturing swarms.
As winter begins to set in, most of us will be hunkered down by the fire to keep warm. Bees will be doing the same, clustering to maintain the central part of the hive in the mid-90s. Just like when your mother would yell at you to shut the door during cold winter days, you need to keep the cover on the hives this time of year. Don’t peek, ever!
This is a good time to brush up on your beekeeping knowledge, too. Dadant & Sons offers some wonderful new and classic publications to help you become a better beekeeper.
If the new year brings snow to your area, be sure to keep the entrance of your hives clear. Inside the hive, the bees will expand and contract their outer perimeter to provide adequate warmth to the cluster. During warmer periods, they will move the cluster to new areas of comb that contain honey for feeding.
The queen stays at the center of the cluster and begins laying new brood to replace bees lost during the winter. In a hive with larger pollen stores, the queen is able to get a head start on rearing more brood. If pollen stores are low, this brooding process may be pushed into late winter or even spring when fresh pollen can be gathered.
If you are looking to add hives this year, check with your local Dadant Branch about ordering package bees.
February & March
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few warm days here and there during February. If not, you may need to hold off until March to begin inspecting your hives. No matter what month it is, wait until the temperature rises to around 50 degrees and you see bees begin taking flights, but keep your hive checks brief (30 seconds or less).
Remove the cover to check for sealed honey in the top bars but leave the frames where they are. If you don’t see a good supply, we suggest adding Dadant AP23 Winter Patties to help supplement the colony’s remaining honey stores. Continue checking on the hives on warm days and feeding them until the first bloom. You can read more about feeding bees in early spring in our Learning Center article.
NOTE: As warmer temperatures become more consistent, switch to feeding DadantAP23 Pollen Substitute. This high-protein feed helps boost brood development and hive population.
In most areas, April in the beekeeper’s calendar means spring is finally here. As daytime temps reach the upper 50s, your bees continue to clear out the hive and begin bringing in new pollen from the first blooms while the queen is rearing brood. This is the time to begin testing and treatments for Varroa mites. Thankfully, there are a number of new options for Varroa treatments that weren’t available in years past.
When deciding on treatments in the spring, watch the temperature for a number of days before the first honey flow in your area. We’ve covered several of these treatments such as formic acid, Apiguard, oxalic acid, and Apivar in our article, Spring Mistakes to Avoid in Beekeeping.
Be sure to have plenty of spare hives and supers on hand for the upcoming season, too. If you plan on picking up package bees or catching a swarm or two, it’s always best to be prepared ahead of time.
By May, your mite treatments should be completed and removed from the hive before adding honey supers. You may also add queen excluders at this time, and supers can be placed on top of your brood box. Other tasks on the beekeeper’s calendar include installing package bees and conducting your first hive inspection a week or so later. Make a habit of inspecting all established hives weekly.
As the queen begins laying eggs at a greater rate, hives with a larger population may prepare for swarming. By keeping an eye out for queen cells, you may be able to tell if a swarm is in the making. Late May into June is a great time to catch a swarm of bees, too, so be sure to have a hive ready in case you have the opportunity.
The month of June on the beekeeper’s calendar is a busy time for most colonies, so it’s important to continue your hive checks on a weekly basis. Identify the queen, check the overall health of the hive, and add honey supers as needed. Let those amazing little creatures do what they do best!
TIP: Joining a local beekeeping association or club is the best way to learn about the particulars of beekeeping for your region. It’s one of the first things we suggest to anyone looking to become a beekeeper.
While we enjoy modern amenities like air conditioning in our homes, bees aren’t quite as fortunate. During July’s hot and humid days, you may notice bees resting outside of the hive. Don’t be alarmed, this is just their way of cooling off.
You may need to add another super to your hives at this time, although it’s less likely if this is your hive’s first year. Continue inspecting your hives weekly, looking for the queen, and checking on the overall health of the hive. You may also wish to add an entrance reducer to limit honey robbers such as wasps.
As the season starts to slow, it’s important to continue weekly checks on your hives. This includes looking for robbers, identifying the queen, and checking for diseases and pests. During the months of August and September on the beekeeper’s calendar, colonies do the important work of building up populations to prepare for the winter, and it’s a good time for you to begin winter preparations, too.
This is one of our favorite parts of the beekeeper’s calendar: It’s time to harvest that sparkling liquid honey! Deciding how much honey to remove from a hive is one of the most important decisions in beekeeping. Depending on the colony size and your local winter climate, you may need to leave anywhere from 60 to 90 pounds of honey in a hive for your bees to survive through the spring. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, though, as leaving more honey increases your hive’s chance of survival.
After the honey harvest, it’s important to continue inspecting your hives. Check and treat for mites now that supers have been pulled for human consumption. Healthy, strong hives have a greater chance of surviving harsh winters. A lack of nectar during late summer and early fall can greatly reduce a queen’s egg-laying ability, so be sure you’ve introduced feed to your hives before temperatures start to drop.
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