The Beekeeper’s Year

Traditionally the beekeeping year commences in August, when the year’s crop has been harvested and it is then time to be getting the bees ready for the winter.  The weather conditions can move all of the bee activities back or forward a month, so don’t go by the calendar below too slavishly.  If anything below is unclear then first ‘Google’ it, and then chat it through with fellow beekeepers.  Be warned though, every beekeeper has their own view, and sometime more than one so chat widely and make your own mind up.

August

As the daylight hours begin to shorten, and the nectar flow slows the bees start their final attempts to make sure that they have enough food for the winter  The queen will still be laying, but not as profusely as earlier, so the bees will make use of the brood frames for more of their stores.  This is where they will over winter, so as to be as close as possible to their food.  we need to be helping them by doing all we can to enable them to come out into the spring as a really strong colony

Activities

  • Start a fresh sheet in your hive records for each hive.  Whilst a day to day record is your choice as a food animal the UK law requires that you keep accurate and complete records of all medical treatments that you administer.
  • To prevent robbing close the entrance down to the width for just a single bee  This makes it defensible by a single guard bee too.
  • Remove the last supers, and queen excluder, leaving just the floor, brood chamber, crown board and roof.
  • Extract any honey from the supers, but be careful to check the water content of each frame beforehand, a little too much water content and it will ferment in the jars.
  • Check how much stores the bees have.  In the southern counties of the UK, with local bees you need in excess of 20 kg / 44 lb of stores.  You can do this by hefting the hive. Add to this the weight of the hive if you plan to heft the hive to weigh it.  Alternatively you can inspect each frame, each British National frame can hold 2.3 kg / 5 lb.
  • Feed the bees if necessary  A strong sugar solution should be used, that’s 1 kg sugar to 0.5 litres of water.  Feeding is often best done at night, after the bees have stopped flying as this reduces the chances of robbing.  Make sure that the roof is a good fit, and that the only way in to the hive is through the front door, which you have restricted down to a single bee size.
  • Thymnol based Varroa treatments can be applied at the same time after the supers have been removed.  Read the instructions on the product that you use and follow precisely.  Remember to record the use.

September

The ivy will start to flower, providing much needed pollen and nectar.  However ivy nectar granulates solid and can be difficult for the bees to feed from in winder as they need water to reconstitute it.  Our feed will get mixed with the ivy nectar making it a little easier for the bees to access later.

Activities

  • Feeding continues, try not to let the bees be without your provided food.
  • Unite any weak colonies.  Two weak colonies that are united have a better chance of survival than left alone.

October

The temperatures will soon start to reduce, making it harder for the bees to evaporate the water from the feed and nectar to convert it to honey.  Too much water and it will ferment, and that doesn’t help the bees live through the winter as the sugar is lost.  It is now time to close the hive down, and secure against the two biggest threats, mice and woodpecker.

Activities

  • Fit a mouse guard bu pinning it across the door.
  • Finish feeding
  • Leave the holes in the crown board open to provide ventilation.
  • Check that your roof has ventilation, and that the holes are covered with fine wire netting to stop invaders.  If extra ventilation is required a match paced across the corner of the top of the crown board for the roof to rest on will usually suffice.  Bees seem to die from damp, before cold, though the more draughty the home the more heating required, and that’s the honey supply so a fine balance is needed.
  • Varroa floors should have the test board removed (you really should only use when you are doing a Varroa count)
  • Inspect the colony one last time, the queen should still be laying, not profusely.  This will be your last chance to consider uniting the colonies.
  • Heft the hive and make a note in your records.  You’ll need to repeat this throughout winter.  If the hive is light you’ll need to feed again

November

November to January are good months to consider moving your hives as the bees won’t be flying much.  Choose the time when the temperatures are going to be their lowest, and that they haven’t flown for around a fortnight.  Close the door and move, keeping the door closed for a few days at their new location is unlikely to do any harm, but do remember to open it again.

Activities

  • Check the hives regularly for stores by weight, flying on a good day, and life on a bad day by putting your ear to the hive wall.
  • Clean and repair all of the spare equipment.
  • Chat to our Librarian about books in our library, and borrow a few for those dark evenings.
  • Check out the Modules on our site and also the BBKA site, remember the module exam is optional so you can just learn without going through the test too.  Speak to our Education officer about which ones would be best for you.
  • Pick a topic and ‘Google’ it to research all you can find out about it, perhaps each of the various pests and diseases that bees can suffer from.
  • Review bee friendly plants, see when to buy and plant them  You could even give them as presents to friends and family at Christmas, with a jar of honey.

December

If any time of the year is supposed to be broodless this is it.  You can take advantage of this by using Oxalic acid treatments to knock down the Varroa.  Consult a few seasoned beekeepers for details of the techniques that they use.

Activities

  • As for November plus
  • Oxalic acid Varroa treatment, remember to record its use
  • Research queen rearing, and perhaps get a few fellow beekeepers together to discuss how you will do this as a team, it is more fun that way.
  • Plan your queen replacement programme for the year using local queens.  Don’t bring foreign stock in as they can also bring disease with them.  If you aren’t going to raise queens yourself discuss with fellow beekeepers, some will have planned to have a surplus
  • Plan your Integrated Pest Management measures, if that doesn’t mean anything to you, Google it.  Add the activities to your calendar, and remember that any medicines must be recorded.

January

Nature may feel like starting early, so when the bees are flying take care to check for pollen, its colour may help you identify the plant it is coming from.  Google to find out more.  You may also like to consider planting bee friendly plants in your garden now.

Activities

  • As November plus
  • Check for bees bringing in pollen and collecting water
  • Plan where you will put your bait hives and get the equipment ready.  You may catch one of your escaping swarms, or one from someone else apiary.
  • Plan your swarm control measures for this year.

February

Stores could be running dangerously low, heft the hive frequently, remember to subtract the weight of the hive box.  Consider checking visually too on a warm day, but be quick, you don’t want to chill the brood.  An air temperature of 12 degrees C is OK for a quick look, but wait until 15 degrees C for a more rel;axed, in depth check.  The bees may have food, but not on any of the frames near where they are, in which case they could still starve.

Activities

  • Heft the hive every 2 weeks or so, record the weight (less the weight of the hive boxes)

March

This can be the tipping point, brood laying increases which needs loads of pollen and nectar and yet the weather can be unpredictable  Be ready to feed a thick solution, too much water can cause diarrhea.

Activities

  • Continue hefting the hive weekly, and possibly visual inspection.

April

Food can still be in short supply, so continue to be vigilant   A few bad weather days can deplete the food stores rapidly.  Regular inspection of strong colonies becomes essential as swarming can start any time from now, if there is a strong nectar flow.  If Oil Seed Rape  is being grown local to you then you need to consider supering too, a strong flow could fill a super in a week, and crystalise almost as quickly!  Queen rearing can start as soon as there are drones around.  If you want to get the bees to draw out some brood frames for you then now is the time to put a brood box in place of the first super.

Activities

  • Continue hefting the hive weekly, and possibly visual inspection.
  • Set up your bait hives
  • Start queen rearing if you have drones in your apiary
  • Start routine (weekly if unclipped queens, fortnightly otherwise) inspections, you do know what you are looking for don’t you?  If not ‘Google’ it and compare what you find.

May

The fun has really started, a strong honey flow, and the bees may consider swarming or simply fill your supers quickly.  You need to know what they are bringing in, so that you can extract before it crystalises.  If you do extract any honey replace the wet supers after dusk to avoid robing.

Activities

  • Continue the regular inspections
  • Extract honey before it crystalises

June

It is critical to monitor the flow, June can be a time when the nectar flow ceases, and the bees then have to resort to their stores ideally they want the stores near where they are, and remember that they stay with the queen, and she can’t make it into the supers as the queen excluder stops her.   If she has been laying well there won’t be any room for food in the brood chamber.

Activities

  • Continue the regular inspections
  • Extract honey before it crystalises
  • Monitor the honey flow, a gap could mean feeding is needed

July

The year is coming to an end, don’t add new supers unless absolutely necessary   You want a few full frames, not a lot of half full frames.

Activities

  • replace any poor performing queens with locally reared ones.