This is a suggested checklist of activities for the beekeeper. Note that weather, climate-change, your individual neighbourhood and even the type of bees you have will influence such activities. The list gives you an overview of what's going on each month in the hive. It also suggests some important tasks for the beekeeper, and provides a rough estimate of the amount of time you might spend with your bees during a given month.
The Bees. The queen is surrounded by thousands of her workers. She is in the midst of their winter cluster. There is little activity except on a warm day (about 7-10C / 45-50F degrees) when the workers will take the opportunity to make cleansing flights. There are no drones in the hive and no worker brood. The bees will consume about a pound or two of honey per week. Honey consumption really picks up with the onset of brood rearing in February.
The Beekeeper. Little work is required from you at the hives. If there is heavy snow, make certain the entrance to the hive is cleared to allow for proper ventilation. Make candy boards in readiness for later in the winter. You should not need supplemental feed at this time of year. You should have had your hive well “topped up” with 2:1 ratio sugar syrup in the fall. Rule of thumb: feed heavy in fall for spring success.
This is a great time to catch up on your reading about bees, attend CBA meetings, and build and repair equipment for next season. Purchase new equipment if necessary.
Order nucs and queens (if needed) for late April-early May arrival, from The Bee Store, Maritime Bee, or whatever other supplier you like.
Other: CBA membership due
The Bees. The queen is still cozy in the cluster. Worker brood usually begins to appear in the hive about mid-February. Brood rearing is stimulated by the longer daylight hours. It is still "females only" in the hive. Workers will take cleansing flights on mild days. The bees will consume about 10 pounds of honey this month when rearing new brood.
The Beekeeper. There is not too much to do this month. Ideally, you should be able to leave the hives alone this month, they should still have lots of stores. Remember, bees in cluster will not break the cluster to go to supplemental stores. Do not open the hive to add any stores, as you will lose too much heat.
However, if there are any thaws it it critical to make sure that ice (or any clusters of dead bees) is removed from entrances, as blocked entrances can interfere with air flow into the hive, suffocating them or allowing the build-up of moisture that can chill the bees or encourage mould growth. Read and get your equipment ready for spring.
The Bees. This is the month when colonies can die of starvation. However, if you fed them plenty of sugar syrup in the autumn this should not happen. With the days growing longer, the queen steadily increases her rate of egg laying. More brood means more food consumed. It is not usual for drones to be raised in March in our climate, the hive has to build up to a good strength before they will raise drones, mid April into May. The bees will continue to consume honey stores.
The Beekeeper. You can check food supply, say mid-month or so, by hefting the hive. If it feels light, then on a good warm day, apply your supplemental feed (fondant or granulated sugar, or candy board if cold temperatures prevail, syrup if the weather is mild). But remember, once you start, you should not stop until they are bringing in their own food supplies. Feed protein supplements (pollen substitute) for brood production about 2-3 weeks prior to the appearance of natural pollen – and continue until natural pollen is present. In our climate, this usually takes place around mid April, so start pollen substitute during the last week of March. Ideally, we don’t recommend opening a hive until later in the month, or not at all. You’ve checked for honey stores, and if needed, provided supplemental feed
If you are going to do a spring Varroa mite treatment, now (or April) is the time to start its application.
The Bees. The weather begins to improve, and the early alder, maple, and willow blossoms begin to appear. The bees begin to bring pollen into the hive. The queen is busily laying eggs, and the population is growing fast. The drones will begin to appear.
The Beekeeper. On a warm and calm day at the very end of the month or the first week of May do your first comprehensive inspection. Can you find evidence of the queen? Are there plenty of eggs and brood? Is there a nice pattern to her egg laying? See May for more info.
Scrape the bottom board and torch - this will dry up any moisture and kill mold, etc. If you have disinfected, make sure to rinse well to get rid of the Javex and odour, and make sure you dry the bottom boards really well. (NB: Javex really isn’t necessary, the torch works well without introducing any chemicals).
Do a varroa count (shaker method or sticky bottom board). Apply mite treatments to wintered colonies if varroa are detected (mid-late April). If you medicate hives with Terramycin for mite control, dust according to label instructions. Apply foulbrood mix to top bars around the brood in both brood chambers, if present.
If you haven’t already, you can begin to feed the hive medicated (Fumagilin-B) light syrup (1:1) to hives to prevent the disease nosema. Only the first gallon needs to be medicated.
If the hive is dead, remove from apiary for inspection and clean up. If hive is weak, take it down to a single brood chamber so they have less to heat, or place over a strong hive to aid in providing heat and bees so more brood can be raised.
Remove mouseguards, if used. Install package bees April 15th or later if you're lucky enough to be able to get them this early!
The Bees. Now the activity really starts hopping. The nectar and pollen should begin to come into the hive thick and fast. The queen will be reaching her greatest rate of egg laying. The hive should be bursting with activity.
Spring mite treatments should be completed, and removed by mid-month. No honey supers should be added until two weeks after treatment removal, and only when bees cover 7 of the 10 frames of the brood chamber. Add a queen excluder (if wanted), and place honey supers on top of the brood chamber. Watch out for swarming (9 days is the time it takes the bees to create and cap a Queen cell and decide to swarm). Inspect the hive weekly.
If not performed already, consider reversing brood chambers to encourage the queen to fill both with brood (NB: some beekeepers advise against reversing brood chambers, so it’s your choice) and inspect the brood pattern. Check the queen’s performance (egg laying uniformity or haphazard?), symptoms of brood disease (especially foulbrood) and varroa in drone cells or on workers at the beginning of dandelion bloom. If queens are not performing up to “snuff”, re-queen at this time, or do away with old queen and allow hive to requeen themselves. Keep in mind that you lose about one month letting the hive requeen itself.
Apply the 3rd Terramycin treatment according to label if mites are detected. If you use formic acid as a mite treatment you need to wait until the hive is well built up in strength, and the temperatures have warmed; late May or early June.
Divide and re-queen colonies at fruit bloom via multiple frame splits or colony divides to recoup winter loss, increase apiary size and control swarming. This is generally done after the mid to latter part of May.
Manipulate frames if necessary to aid in comb construction. Manage hives for population buildup and swarm prevention.
Continue feeding nucs and package bees until they have drawn out the comb in their brood chambers.
Other: Complete NB Department of Agriculture Registration of Bees (send to Chris Maund, NB Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, P.O. Box 6000, Fredericton, NB) by May 31st.
The Bees. Un-swarmed colonies will be boiling with bees. The queen's rate of egg laying should remain steady this month. The main honey flow should happen this month.
The Beekeeper. Inspect the hive weekly to make certain the hive is healthy and the queen is present. Add honey supers as needed. Manage for swarm prevention via equalizing hives, making splits/ nucs. Watch for swarm queen cells.
Consider re-queening hives that are slow to build, or boost with a frame or two of brood from a strong hive. Once this hive is up to strength, add your honey supers.
If you have a queen in her 3rd year then create a nuc with her. In mid-June it will not reduce the number of bees available in the queen-less colony for the July nectar flow. Having a nuc means that if things go wrong you still have the old queen, if the old colony has a problem raising a new queen. Also – now is a good time to re-queen if necessary (e.g. aggressive bees).
The Bees. Peak nectar flow is common in the first half of the month. Nectar flow tapers off from mid-July to mid-August. Usually in August we get rain which stimulates a fall (September) nectar flow. On hot and humid nights, you may see a huge curtain of bees cooling themselves on the exterior of the hive (bearding).
The Beekeeper. Continue inspections to assure the health of your colony. Add a honey supers if needed, between the almost-filled summer honey supers and the brood chamber (called `bottom supering`). Using this method, the bees are not walking all over the comb/honey to get to the empty super. Harvest summer honey at the end of July or when the honey flow slows. Colonies with excessive brood and large adult bee populations should be left with a super full of honey at harvest time.
Sometime in August the queen switches from laying summer bees to raising winter bees. This is a time to be checking for mite loads, as you do not want them to be damaging your winter bees. A mite treatment may be necessary in lieu of fall honey production.
Other: Register for NBBA Bee Tour.
The Bees. The colony's growth is diminishing. Drones are still around, but outside activity begins to slow down as the nectar flow slows.
The Beekeeper. Likelihood of swarming is diminished, but can still occur. Watch for honey robbing by wasps or other bees. There is not too much for you to do this month. Harvest honey the 1st week of August if not done in July. If you have first year bees, you don't intend to harvest honey and the weather is cold and gathering opportunities are limited, you can add supplemental feeding. Add a honey super to mature hives during goldenrod bloom, if needed. Continue to monitor for mite loads.
Other: Attend NBBA Maritime Bee Tour.
The Bees. The drones may begin to disappear this month. The hive population is dropping. The queen's egg laying is dramatically reduced.
The Beekeeper. Harvest your fall honey crop and remove supers around September 10-20. Remember to leave the colony with at least 60 pounds of honey for winter. Partially filled supers should be fed back to the bees above the inner cover. Extract ripe honey. Extracted comb can also be fed back to the hives in an empty super above the inner cover until cleaned and surface coated honey is taken down into the main hive. NOTE: feed extracted frames as evenly as possible in the beeyard to prevent robbing. Entrances can be reduced during this time to allow more effective defense, if robbing should occur.
Check for the queen's presence; if hive is queenless, unite with another hive.
Apply mite treatment after honey removal. Remember that a lot of these treatments are temperature dependent, so you want to get them on when most effective.
Start feeding heavy (2:1) medicated (Fumagillin) syrup the last week of the month until the bees will take no more. Only the first 2 gallons needs to be medicated.
Once the honey supers are off, reduce entrances by half to allow bees to more easily protect against robbing, apply foulbrood mix around brood area on top bars of each brood chamber and apply mite treatments after the honey supers are removed from hives.
Weak colonies: Colonies generally need to have bees over at least 5 frames to survive the winter. Weak colonies need to be either (A) overwintered and fed in a nucleus box or, (B), better to unite weak with strong colonies, as long as they don’t have any disease.
The Bees. Still lots of bee activity on warm days, and you will still be feeding if required. After a hard frost and nectar flow is eliminated, they will start driving out the drones.
The Beekeeper. Watch out for robbing. Configure the hive for winter, with attention to ventilation and moisture control (needed both a lower entrance AND an upper entrance, both around 1” wide for ventilation). Install mouse guard at the entrance of the hive. Set up a wind break if necessary. Finish feeding medicated syrup and the 3rd Terramycin dust application by mid-October. Remove mite treatments in accordance with the label toward the end of the month.
The Bees. Less activity this month. The cold weather will send them into a cluster.
The Beekeeper. Clean equipment prior to winter storage. Store and protect brood box, supers and comb from rodents and wax moth.
Wrap colonies with tar paper or commercial wrap (bee cosies) by November 11 (Remembrance Day is easy to remember!). Place a sugar block and pink insulation or moisture absorbing material (sawdust or woodchips) in an empty super on top of the inner cover by US Thanksgiving (this reduces moist air condensing on the underside of the cold inner cover and dripping down on the winter cluster).
If the hives are located in an exposed location, place additional weight on the outer cover, or tie them down with straps. Erection of a wind break from the prevailing wind direction can also be considered.
The Bees. The bees are in a tight cluster. No peeking.
The Beekeeper. There's nothing you can do with the bees, though you can check they're alive by listening for activity with a makeshift stethoscope. On warm days bees may peek at you from the upper entrance. Check your stack of stored brood boxes and supers for signs of rodents or wax moth - best to store frames in a cold (freezing) location to avoid wax moth issues. Read a good book on beekeeping, and enjoy the holidays!
Sources: Back Yard Beekeepers Association (Connecticut), PollenPlus.com, www.NBBA.ca, James Whitehead (CBA Secretary), Tony Jadczak (Maine State Apiarist), George Wheatley (Country Fields Beekeeping, New Brunswick), Rob Hughes.