For beekeepers across the country, the end of the calendar year is usually the quietest time. The honeybees are in their winter cluster and there’s not much the beekeeper can do for them until spring. Many of us use this time to reflect on what went well, what went wrong, and what to do differently next year. Let’s look back through the Little Bee Beekeepers Calendar and the events of this past season.
January through March:
Honeybees are not very active in the winter months. They’re in a cluster in the center of the hive to maintain warmth. Only leaving the hive when the temperature is above 50° F for a cleansing flight to relieve themselves of waste. (Check out a previous blog post How Do Honey Bees Survive Cold Temperatures? to learn more.) For the beekeeper, the new year marks the beginning of the season and time to start planning to ensure a successful year.
While the temperatures will still be cold for weeks to come, now is the time to prepare for spring. Inspecting beekeeping equipment so it’s clean and ready when the weather is warm enough to enter the hives. Order and assemble hive components for replacing worn out parts or expanding the number of hives. Purchase bee packages early before they sell out. Start feeding the hives to supplement early season nectar and pollen foraging. Taking these steps helps get the hives off to a good start in the spring.
April through June:
Spring is when the hives really come to life. The warmer weather brings the flowers and the bees are eager to get out there to forage. Back in the hive, the queen is already laying almost 2000 eggs a day to boost the hive population. More bees + More nectar = More HONEY!!!!
For the beekeeper April is when we get our first chance to look inside the hive to see how well they survived winter. We want to see a great brood pattern with lots of eggs, pollen, and honey. If we don’t and the hive looks weak, then we must assess the issue. If the hive needs to be rescued, we can donate a frame or two of bees from a strong hive to boost the population or we can replace an underperforming queen. As we move into May, strong hives will be filling the hive with lots of nectar to turn into honey while the queen continues to lay eggs. Unfortunately, this battle for space can cause the hive to swarm. To prevent swarming, we add additional boxes called honey supers to the hives. This provides additional space for nectar/honey while not crowding the queen. With ample space for all we wait patiently for June when the supers are full and the nectar flow slows down. Once the honeycomb is capped with wax it’s time for the spring honey harvest. Uncapping, extracting, and bottling all that golden goodness.
July through August:
During the early summer the temperatures increase and nectar sources may dry up. The hive will start to look for alternate sources which is why you may see them at your summer picnics. Inside the hive the warmth starts to impact the hive. To help keep it cool, the bees will congregate on the front step and fan their wings to circulate air through. During extreme heat a good portion of the bees will cluster on the outside of the hive in a process called wash boarding or bearding. Check out this quick video to better understand. Bearding Explanation – Instagram. As we get into August and September the summer nectar sources start to return as the bees start preparing for the fall/winter.
With reduced natural sources in July we try not to disturb the hive unless necessary. The hive is already under stress and we don’t want to add to it. The bees may start to consume their honey reserves, so we need to keep an eye on them and provide supplemental feed if needed. Once the mid to late summer flowers start blooming the nectar flow is on, we stop feeding and add the honey supers in anticipation of the next honey harvest in September.
October through December:
The cooler temperatures of October send a signal to the hive that winter is approaching. Preparations are being made inside to help aid in their survival. The last of the nectar is being ripened into honey to provide nourishment until spring. Gaps in the hive are being filled with propolis to minimize drafts and leaks. The queen stops laying eggs. Drone bees are evicted since they do nothing to help the hive through the cold. Once the temperatures stop going above 50 degrees, the bees will remain inside until it warms up again.
October represents the last opportunity for us to do what we can to help the hive make it through winter. After last month’s honey harvest, we begin feeding the hives to allow them to produce as much honey as possible. Here in Connecticut a strong hive will consume 60 to 80 pounds of honey through the winter. The bees are also treated to reduce varroa mites via a natural method. Left untreated, mites can spread disease and kill the hive. Lastly before the warm days are gone, we’ll add a candy board (a block of sugar) under the hive cover as an emergency food source if needed and say goodbye until spring.
That brings us back to December, reflecting on the year at hand, and making plans for next year. For Little Bee it was a mixed year. Our hives started out slow. Taking more time than usual to grow in population which resulted in a poor spring harvest. With a little patience, the queens kicked into gear, and we ended with some of the strongest hives I’ve ever seen this season. There was lots of honey and pollen in the hives when I checked at the end of the season. So fingers crossed, say a prayer, because it’s in Mother Nature’s hands now. Hopefully we’ll see activity on all the hives come spring.
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