Beekeepers' Calendar

 

BEEKEEPER'S  CALENDAR

January

 

JANUARY AND THE BEES: The bees are in a tight cluster staying warm and consuming very little food early in the month. On days when the wind is calm and the temperature rises near 50 degrees, you'll probably see a few bees flying out taking a cleansing flight. Since bees do not go to the bathroom inside their hive, they fly out on warm days and this is called a cleansing flight. Winter bees live a little longer than summer bees, but remember, bees live short lives. Many of your bees will die during the winter, just from old age. When bees die during the winter, they fall to the bottom of the hive. In the summer, dead bees are immediately carried outside the hive by their sisters. But, in the winter, when the hive is clustered, the dead bees accumulate on the bottom board. On warm days, other bees might drag out their dead sisters. If snow covers the ground, you will notice more dead bees around your hives. This is normal. Don't panic! It is a sign of a strong hive when they drag out dead bees. But, if you don't see anything, don't panic either. It just means they will probably do this later on.

 

JANUARY AND THE BEEKEEPER: Monitor your hives to make sure winter winds have not disturbed the tops. Also, make sure that if it snows, that the openings are cleared of snow so that the bees can continue to get enough air, and move freely in and out of the entrance on warm days.

 

URGENT!! ORDER YOUR BEES AND EQUIPMENT IN JANUARY

Many bee suppliers will completely sell out of package bees by the end of January. You must call and place your bee order as soon as you can during the first week of January. Otherwise, you may not be able to secure your bee purchases for the new year. Those who will be ordering your bees from package producers, the package producers will typically be prepared to take your orders for package bees and nucs beginning late fall and may be completely booked by the end of January.  Call early!

 

Make sure you join and attend your local beekeeping club, read up on beekeeping, and clean up your smoker and hive tool.

 

 

FEBRUARY

 

FEBRUARY AND THE BEES: Sunlight is becoming slightly longer and the longer, more warm days trigger the queen to start laying significantly more eggs. Their cluster has worked its way upward into the top brood chamber. On the colder days, they are behaving similarly as in January.

 

FEBRUARY AND THE BEEKEEPER: On a warm day, 50 degrees or more, you can open the top briefly and look in on the hive. Do not remove any frames, as this will chill the brood. Upon inspection you can assess if the colony still has enough stored honey for food. If not, you may want to consider emergency feeding options.


Emergency feeding is just that...an emergency.  So do whatever it takes to get some sugar in the hive. Dry sugar will work but only if the bees have warm enough days to fly out for water. There may not be many days warm enough in early Feburary for dry sugar feedings or hard candy feedings. Sometimes sponges soaked in heavy sugar water and jammed between the frames near the cluster will suffice until the weather warms.  Do anything you can think of...after all it is better than letting the hive starve to death. Of course, if you have frames of honey available, that's the best way to feed them, but most of us have sold all our honey by now.

 

You might also consider placing a pollen patty on top of the upper hive body. This will really work well if the end of winter is extremely mild and there are many warm days. Pollen patties stimulate the laying of more eggs. However, if the weather turns cold again, then the bees may not be able to keep this early brood warm and fed. So it is a gamble this early.

 

Finally, if you did not order your package bees in January, you must do it now (and hope you’re not too late)!  And if you did not order your new equipment, hurry! You want all of your hive equipment ready by mid-March.

 

MARCH

 

MARCH AND THE BEES: If the hive was low on honey going into winter, then March is the month they may starve out. They have probably moved all the way up in the hive and their overall population is very low due to normal die-outs throughout the winter. The bees are going to be flying more in March, and they will find pollen as the month passes. The queen will start laying at near full capacity in mid-March. The entire hive will begin to return to an almost normal operation now that winter is almost over. There will be cold snaps, but the bees will do fine as they begin to expand.  Their need for food will rapidly increase, March is when many hives are lost due to starvation.

MARCH AND THE BEEKEEPER: Continue emergency feeding if needed, and place frame or top feeders on the hive and feed 1:1 sugar water, one part sugar and one part water. Continue with the pollen patty feedings.

Inspect your hive! March will provide you with a few days when the temperature will rise to 50 degrees or higher. At this temperature you can look in the hive and pull out a few frames. Keep in mind that since there is not a heavy nectar flow, and since it is cooler, the bees might be a bit more aggressive. Beekeepers are stung more during these cold inspections than the rest of the year. So wear protective gear.

March is a great month to start feeding the pollen patties.  Pollen patties truly do jump start the hive. It is highly recommended that you place pollen patties in your hives in March.  The bottom board may contain dead, winter bees. They did their job, so play "Taps", salute them, and toss them in the yard for the mice and birds to enjoy. Remove entrance reducers and mouse guards as the traffic begins to build up at the entrance.

Remember that a quick, early start in brood raising also means that your hive strength will increase to the point of swarming much earlier.  Remain attentive and reverse your brood chambers as required!  This is extremely important as it gives more space for the queen to lay. Simply move the empty bottom brood chamber to the top.  As another element of swarm prevention, late-March is the time that you will need to provide supers on your strongest hives.  There will be an increasing amount of nectar gathered at this time, and the volume will increase as April approaches.

You'll be able to assess how many of your colonies have died out over the winter. Clean out these boxes and freeze the comb if you can. This will prevent the spread of  HYPERLINK "http://basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com/2007/09/what-are-wax-moths-why-do-they-bother.html" wax moths. This link provides information on how to freeze your combs and for how long.

March is the busiest month in hive equipment and bee sales. Everyone calls and wants their hive yesterday! Please do yourself a big favor and order your hives not later than January.

 

APRIL

 

APRIL AND THE BEES: Now the bees are in full swing. There will still be a few cold snaps, especially in early April, but by the last two weeks, the weather is good for bees to rapidly expand and to even start bringing in more and more nectar and pollen. The heaviest nectar flows begin in the third week of April and will normally last for about two months.  The queen is laying well now. The hive is expanding rapidly.

APRIL AND THE BEEKEEPING: April begins the busiest season for the beekeeper.  Inspect all hives and take appropriate actions based upon the condition of the individual hive.  Keep feeding your weaker hives until the heavy nectar flow is in progress; feeding helps the bees build up. No supers should be on your weaker hives yet, so their intake of sugar is not going into your honey product. You are just feeding to help the hive off to a great start.  Keep the pollen patties on top, too.

Some parts of April can be cold and wet which means that your bees may have limited opportunities to fly out for food. So you must continue to inspect the hive to be sure they have enough food stores. Also, inspect your hive for any abnormalities. You want to see a solid brood laying pattern from your queen. If not, consider replacing her now!

A majority of packages will be installed during the month of April.  Make sure that you are familiar with the requirements for starting packages and provide sufficient care to ensure their success.

Once your bees are no longer taking the sugar feeding, discontinue, put supers on, as the bees are now collecting nectar from a growing number of sources; maple trees, locust trees and other early spring flowering plants and trees.

This is a great time to equalize your hives. You may have to combine weak hives with strong ones. Even though they know better, every year some beekeepers seem to become too compassionate toward a struggling hive, and try to nurse them back to health.  Although some success may be experienced, it is usually not worth it. It is costly to spend too much time on a struggling hive. It takes money and time to requeen the hive and to continue to work it.  It would be far better to combine it to another hive if it is disease and pest free, and the newly combined single hive has a much better chance of thriving.  Take the chance that the new hive may be strong enough to split during the summer.  After all, a weak hive is an invitation for pests and disease. Strong hives chase away pests and disease.  So, your weak hive could spread disease to all your other hives. Don't take the chance. Keep your hives strong.

RED ALERT!! BEES SWARM IN APRIL (sometimes late March!)
You will have to implement a swarm management strategy.  Keep in mind that bees swarm as a way of multiplying.  It is not a sign of being a poor beekeeper. However, there are some important steps to implement to try to prevent swarming.  Keep in mind that you must provide room for your hive to expand. And, you should put on honey supers no later than early April. Put on as many supers of drawn comb as you'd like. Some experts think it is good practice to have a minimum of two drawn honey supers on all hives during the nectar season.  Three or four supers are even better. Don't wait to add your supers or you may miss particular nectar flows. Get all supers on by April 1st!

Consider having extra, empty hives on hand so you'll be able to capture a swarm. You will want to capture your own swarms or you will probably receive phone calls once your neighbors learn you are a beekeeper. Some beekeepers receive several calls each week all spring and summer.

 

MAY

 

MAY AND THE BEES: Bees are in full operation now that it is May. You can stop feeding weak hives now because they are bringing in lots of nectar and pollen. The hive is expanding rapidly. The brood chambers are filling up fast and the bees will be working hard filling supers.  If insufficient space has been provided, the brood chambers are becoming crowded and congested, and probably preparing to swarm.

MAY AND THE BEEKEEPER: RED ALERT!! BEES SWARM IN MAY
You will have to implement a swarm management strategy.  Keep in mind that bees swarm as a way of multiplying.  It is not a sign of being a poor beekeeper. However, there are some important steps to implement to try to prevent swarming.  Keep in mind that you must provide room for your hive to expand. And, you should put on honey supers no later than early April. Put on as many supers of drawn comb as you'd like. Some experts think it is good practice to have a minimum of two drawn honey supers on all hives during the nectar season.  Three or four supers are even better. Don't wait to add your supers or you may miss particular nectar flows. Get all supers on by April 1st!

Consider having extra, empty hives on hand so you'll be able to capture a swarm. You will want to capture your own swarms or you will probably receive phone calls once your neighbors learn you are a beekeeper. It is not uncommon to receive calls each week all spring and summer.

 

JUNE

 

JUNE AND THE BEES: The bees will be working hard filling supers. They can still swarm during June, so keep an eye out for swarms.  Our major nectar sources will begin to disappear later in the month of June.

 

There is no need to feed the mature hives. They are gathering plenty of nectar and pollen. You may see the bees hanging out on the front of the hive at night. This is normal. On hot and especially humid evenings, many bees will spend the night outside the hive, clinging to the front of the hive or they may form a beard on the ground in front of the hive. This phenomenon is called "bearding". This would be like you enjoying your cool porch on a hot evening.

 

Continue to monitor your hive. Inspect your hive every two weeks to ensure the queen is laying well. The bees will need water, so be sure to keep a water source near your hives. Bird baths filled with water will help to ensure that your bees stay out of the dog's water bowl and your neighbor's pool.  Some beekeepers maintain their feeders full of water (no syrup) to make it easier for the bees to keep cool.

 

 

JULY

 

JULY AND THE BEES: Since the major nectar flow ended late June, the bees will become much more flighty, searching for nectar which is not as plentiful to find. The bees are beginning the final effort to store up for winter, searching for final nectar sources. Golden Rod and Aster plants may provide some nectar flow in the fall.

 

JULY AND THE BEEKEEPER: Continue to check your supers! You'll now be removing and extracting your honey.

 

Most beekeepers begin to consider the amount of mites within hives during July.  Most begin to treat, based upon mite count/survey results. However, no treatments can be administered in a hive while supers are on. This could contaminate the honey with chemical residue. If possible, do not use chemicals in your hives but do treat for mites with powdered sugar. However, it is wise to wait until the last summer nectar flow is over and the honey has been harvested before treating with powdered sugar.  For our part of Virginia, the summer nectar flow ends about the third week of June.  If mites become a problem it will be during the summer and fall months. It is best not to disturb our bees during summer nectar flows unless there is evidence of extremely heavy mite loads.  We do not want any traces of powder sugar to be added to the honey, so we wait until our honey is harvested in July to begin a  HYPERLINK "http://basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com/2007/09/beekeeping-in-september.html" powdered sugar treatment program.


Check to see if the colony is  HYPERLINK "http://www.masterbeekeeper.org/calendar/popup/honeybound.htm" honey bound. Raise problem combs and other full combs of honey to the upper brood chamber, and cease feeding. Never raise eggs or young larvae above the excluder as the bees may rear a queen.

 

If you have multiple hives, you must be careful not to let a strong hive rob a weak hive.  Be careful not to open up the hive for extended periods as other hives may try to rob the weaker hive while it is opened.


AUGUST

 

AUGUST AND THE BEES: The bees are behaving much as they did in July, although the nectar dearth is more prominent in August.  The bees are making a strong effort to store up for winter, searching for final nectar sources, which are few. Golden Rod and Aster plants may provide some nectar flow.

 

AUGUST AND THE BEEKEEPER: This is the start of the beekeeper's year! What you do in August will strongly influence how well your bees do next year, and how well they overwinter. Here's your work list for August:

 

1) Consider requeening. You don't have to, if your queen has done well.  But it is advisable to requeen in August, no later than September. If you can afford to requeen your hive each year, it would be best to do so. A new queen means a much younger queen who has stronger pheromones to curtail swarming, and who will be more apt to lay eggs more efficiently in the spring.

 

2) Continue to monitor Varroa mite infestation. Promptly take appropriate action to reduce the mite load early in the fall.

 

3) Take off all your supers. There is no need for them now, and you will want to tighten up the hive by removing excess supers.

 

Check to see if the colony is  HYPERLINK "http://www.masterbeekeeper.org/calendar/popup/honeybound.htm" honey bound. Raise problem combs and other full combs of honey to the upper brood chamber. Never raise eggs or young larvae above the excluder as the bees may rear a queen.

 

If you have multiple hives, you must be careful not to let a strong hive rob a weak hive.  Be careful not to open up the hive for extended periods as other hives may attempt to rob the hive while it is opened.

 

 

September

 

SEPTEMBER AND THE BEES: The bees are busy gathering available nectar from Goldenrod and Asters, and other fall-flowering plants. This is their final opportunity to gather stores before the fall frosts.  The queen begins to lay the eggs that will be the workers to carry them through to the next spring, and is likely in the bottom brood chamber.

 

SEPTEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: September is a continuation of the hive management actions started in August.  This is the last month of nearly uninterrupted flight opportunity for your hives.

This is the time to conduct a thorough inspection before the start of the fall cool temperatures. What you do here will influence the success or failure of your colonies for the coming winter.

 

Estimate colony strength:

Combine disease-free, weak colonies with stronger ones.

Note! Exchange or combine equipment from different hives ONLY after establishing that they are free of disease.

Evaluate queen:

Make sure the queen is present. If you do not find her, be sure that you see eggs.

Check several brood combs for brood quality, which is an indicator of queen quality. A good queen will lay a solid brood pattern with few skips. The fewer the skips, the better the queen. All of the combs need not be good, but most of them should have solid patterns

HYPERLINK "http://www.masterbeekeeper.org/calendar/popup/requeen.htm" Requeen as needed. Check for acceptance in 7 days. Consider routine fall requeening.

 

1) Take off all your supers. There is no need for them now, and you will want to tighten up the hive by removing excess supers.

 

2) Weigh your hives. This is guess work unless you invest in a hive scale. Find something around the house that weighs around 70 pounds. Lift it up slightly with one hand. This will give you an idea what 70 pounds feels like. Now, go to your hives and with one hand, slightly lift the back. Only lift it an inch or two so that you can sense how heavy it feels. It needs to feel around 70 pounds. If not, you will want to start feeding the hive 2:1 sugar water.

 

Check to see if the colony is  HYPERLINK "http://www.masterbeekeeper.org/calendar/popup/honeybound.htm" honey bound. Raise problem combs and other full combs of honey to the upper brood chamber. Never raise eggs or young larvae above the excluder as the bees may rear a queen.

 

Combine disease-free, weak colonies with stronger ones.

 

Install entrance reducers and mouse guards late in the month of September.

 

Feed 2 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup (by weight) with Fumidil-B for control of Nosema after removing honey crop.

 

October

 

OCTOBER AND THE BEES: There are less reasons for the bees to leave the hive. Flying is cut way down. The queen is laying fewer eggs. They are now shifting to winter mode.

 

OCTOBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: The goal is to have the bees fill the upper brood chamber during the fall flow, forcing the queen down into the bottom brood chamber. If you do not have enough room, the bees will fill the upper AND lower brood chambers with honey and deprive the colony of space for brood rearing. If this happens, instead of having lots of young bees for the winter, you will have lots of older bees, and the colony will not successfully winter. Always err on the side of too much room, rather than too little.

Prepare your hives for winter. A wind break should be considered. Entrance cleats should be placed in the front opening, along with a mouse guard, to restrict mice from entering the hive. A word about bees and winter.  A large, healthy hive will not die from cold weather. They stay warm by clustering in the hive. They keep each other warm. The temperature in the hive is only warm within the cluster. They do not warm the entire inside of their hive, only the cluster. They can survive extreme cold weather. But, moisture can develop within the hive as bees do give off moisture like we do. If this moisture gathers above them, it can drip onto the cluster. This is what can kill bees during the winter. They are much like us. We can be cold and get by. But, we cannot stay alive long if we become wet and cold. Bees can get wet in the summer and it is not a problem. But you must prevent your hive from becoming cold and wet from condensation developing within the hive.

 

Here's how.  Use screen bottom boards, fully opened, without restriction or covers for the winter.  Don’t place additional gaps near the top cover. The open screen bottom board allows enough ventilation within the hive to alleviate moisture build up. Don’t wrap for winter, keep in mind that by wrapping your hive, you are increasing the chance for condensation to collect within the hive.

 

Winter winds can be strong, so place a heavy concrete block on your hives.

 

November

 

NOVEMBER AND THE BEES: The bees continue to cluster for winter. They may not yet go into a full winter cluster.  They may break cluster frequently on warm days and recluster at night.  But they will begin to cluster for the winter.

 

NOVEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: Feed your light hives as long as the bees are taking the fluid. Finish up all winterization of your hives. On a cool day when the bees are all inside, weed-eat around your hives. Enjoy Thanksgiving! Start purchasing next year's bee packages and equipment.

 

December

 

DECEMBER AND THE BEES: The bees are happily clustered in the hive keeping warm having fond memories of how well you took care of them during the season. They will only leave the hive to take cleansing flights on warm, sunny days. Naturally dying bees will pile up at the door of your hive or in front of the hive if it warms up enough for other living bees to carry them outside.

 

DECEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: Relax and review your bee lessons for Spring! Order your bee packages and equipment so that you can have it ready. Enjoy celebrating Christmas. Stay warm and keep the snow away from your hive entrance. Consider expanding your apiary.  Help your local beekeeper organization plan their next year of operations.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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