The Beekeeping Year

December/January
• Check the apiary periodically to ensure no hives have lost their roofs or got knocked over. Shade entrances if you expect snow, to discourage the bees from flying. Fit insulation to keep the colony warm. Use an empty super to support the inner cover and roof.
• Heft the hives to gauge the level of stores. If they are light, feed fondant on the top bars directly over the cluster on top of the crown boards.
• Review last year’s records to plan for the coming year. Decide which colonies to re-queen and which to use for breeding. Buy any additional equipment you need. You can solve problems with “spare” equipment. Clean and prepare your equipment for the coming season.
• You may want to consider treating for Varroa with Apibioxal (Oxalic Acid) while there is no brood.

February
• Bees will be collecting water to dilute their winter stores, so make sure you provide a supply in a sunny spot that will warm the water before the bees drink it. A chilled bee will be unable to fly back to the hive.
• Heft the hives to check on the level of stores. Longer days will stimulate brood production. Provide emergency feeding with fondant or sugar syrup if necessary.

March
• Check bees are flying when weather conditions are good. Check for pollen being taken into the hive.
• Heft the hives to check on the level of stores. This is the month when many hives die so pay particular attention to the hive weight. If necessary, feed diluted syrup (1:1 sugar/water) over the bee cluster.
• On a warm day use a small bit of smoke and lift the inner cover. The colony should look strong. Do not look at the brood nest too early or the bees may get over excited and kill the queen. Wait for a good warm day (14c) and you should be able to inspect your bees safely.

April
• Keep an eye on colonies, which will be expanding quickly this month. Some colonies will be ahead of others so use equalisation to make your colonies all roughly the same size. Add a super over a queen excluder when the brood box is full of bees.
• Start regular brood nest examinations of larger colonies. Every 7 days on warm sunny days around noon. Look for signs of swarming (queen cells).
• Remove any old broodless frames and combs that you wish to change, and replace with frames of foundation. Any old frames with brood can be gradually moved to the sides and removed once empty. Brood frames should be replaced every 2 years.
• Feed syrup if necessary to help the bees produce wax to draw out the comb.
• Make sure you have spare equipment ready to deal with swarms and to rehive the swarm.

May
• Continue regular brood inspections and make sure to check for swarm cells. Make up your mind on the method of swarm control you are going to do. Put out bait hives – you may catch a passing swarm.
• Make sure bees have enough room and space for the queen to lay. Add supers when the new one fills with bees. Keep a close eye for the May honey flow as the super can fill quickly. Remove any full supers as soon as the honey is sealed and replace with the new ones.
• Fill in your records for each hive every time you inspect. This is very useful the following year to see what you have done previously.
• Consider rearing your own queens.

June
• If you have controlled swarming you will need to carry out regular inspections.
Ensure that the queens are properly mated and they are in your main honey producing hives. This should help stop them swarming a second time.
• Remove supers that are full of honey and completely capped. Replace the supers with empty ones.
• If there is a gap in the forage, this is known as the June gap. It is necessary to make sure that the bees have plenty of food. This is more important if some honey is removed. If the hive is light, feed some 1:1 sugar syrup but not if there are supers on the hive.

July
• July is still a good time to get honey clover, with bramble and lime in bloom. Ensure that the bees are still filling the supers at the end of July, especially if there is spring oilseed rape or bee flowers such as borage in the area.
• As soon as supers are full and capped, remove them. Don’t leave the supers on too late in the year as the brood will be getting smaller and they will be storing food around them for their winter supply.

August/September
• Remove any remaining supers for honey collection. The common method is to use porter bee escapes to clear the bees so as they do not come out with the honey. Also be aware that the bees can still be working on late crops, e.g., spring sown oil seed rape.
• Do not open a colony unless absolutely necessary. Make sure all hives are bee tight. Reduce entrance size to prevent wasps from stealing honey and allowing guard bees to protect the hive better.
• Feed all the hives in the evening time when the bees have stopped flying. Feed them all at the same time to prevent robbing.
• Start Varroa treatment as soon as all the supers are removed.

October/November
• The bees may be bringing in ivy nectar and pollen – the smell in the apiary is unmistakable. Make sure that the brood area is not filled with honey since there must be room for the queen to lay.
• Prepare for winter. Put insulation above the crownboard – a square of Kingspan or similar in an empty super will keep the crownboard warm and prevent condensation, as well as providing room if you need to feed fondant.
• Reduce the entrance and use a mouse guard to prevent unwelcome guests.

 

With thanks to Irish Bee Supplies.