Every month brings new Challenges and new Experiences for the Beekeeper.
The beekeeper’s year does not begin in January, but for simplicity’s sake, we will start there. Winter is a much-needed time for preparation and learning. If you are a beginner, do the courses. We need to prepare for the coming spring and summer months and have all our equipment cleaned or bought new and made ready for the busy season ahead.
The pointers below are no substitute for good advice from an experienced and successful beekeeper. So join your local beekeepers association and learn from the experts.
Some things are always on your checklist. e.g.
- disease (AFB, EFB, mites, DWV, nosema, chalkbrood etc.)
- is the queen present and laying
- are there larva
- is it a good pattern
- is there enough space
- is the comb in good enough shape for continued for use
- are they storing food and is there enough to last until your next inspection
Check current hives for storm damage. Ensure mouse guards are still in place. Check under roofs in case mice are living there. Check that the hive is as you left it and has not been knocked into by large animals leaving draughts or leaving the entrance blocked etc. Heft hive and if in doubt feed fondant (not syrup). Apart from cleansing flights, you will see very little activity if any on all but the warmest days.
The warmer the weather at this time of year the more important it is to check food stores. The bees are more active in warm weather and can use up their resources quite quickly since there is very little flowering just yet so nothing to gather when foraging even if it is warm enough to do so. On fine days look for signs of activity and keep an eye on the fondant.
Brood rearing is now on the increase as they prepare themselves for the early nectar flows. Check fondant regularly as there is now a big demand on stores. Towards the end of the month as temperatures rise hives may be opened if the weather is good and syrup may now be fed.
Don’t forget to check for disease and mites etc. now also. This may be a good time for you to treat for Varroa.
If the weather is warm a full inspection of the hive can be made. Remove old dirty combs. (move it to the outer edge of the box and remove when empty) Mouse guards can now be removed but keep entrances small in case of robbing. If the colony is expanding and bees are covering all frames a super can be added. If you want to mark your queens, now is the time, before the colony expands making it difficult to spot her. Are the bees bringing in pollen and is the queen laying?
Towards the end of the month, you should be looking out for queen cells and other signs of swarming behaviour.
We are now into the swarming season. Regular weekly inspections should now take place. You are looking for signs of swarming e.g. queen cells, the existing queen has lost weight, and a reduced brood nest. Sometimes a sudden big increase in drones can indicate the intention to swarm. As the weather gets warmer give bees plenty of space. Monitor varroa levels using mesh floor, a sugar shake or an alcohol wash. But, now is not the ideal time to treat.
Continue inspections for swarming, colony health and colony expansion. If bees are aggressive now is the time to requeen. Always keep an eye on the stores. When the bees are covering 8—10 frames add another super. It may be a good time to do splits. But, remember that a split will affect your honey harvest this year while increasing the number of hives producing next year. If you are splitting, it may be a good idea to have a brood break now to reduce your varroa population, which depends on the brood to increase.
Continue weakly inspections, swarming can still be a problem. But by the end of this month, their swarming urge is lessening. In a good year, nectar is now coming in at a fast pace. Give bees plenty of room by adding supers. If the weather is hot and colonies strong ensure bees have sufficient ventilation, remove inserts in the mesh floors.
Swarming now should be over, though there may be a few exceptional cases. Any queen cells sould be supersedure. Supers can now be removed. Always check the brood box when removing supers to ensure bees have sufficient stores. Treat for varroa, the level of mites will now be high if you have not already treated. Take care not to contaminate any honey that you intend to harvest with the chemicals you treat with.
In most areas, there is likely to be a “winter flow” from ivy and/or other wildflowers. There may still be some late blackberry. This will help build winter resources. Winter feeding should now take place to replace the honey removed. Close down the entrance to prevent robbing and attacks by wasps. Extract honey while temperatures are still high. If you have not already treated, you can do so now after removing any honey.
Feeding syrup should now be completed. Check that hives have plenty of stores. If they do not, feed fondant from now on. Insulate under roofs to retain heat, reduce the entrance to a minimum, add a mouse guard and strap down your hive for the winter in case of storms.
Check that roofs and hives are still waterproof, bees don’t like damp. Check the surrounding area to make sure there are no new threats to your hive.
Now is the time to do any repair jobs to empty hives. Permanently mark your hives for easy identification in case of theft. Check populated hives during stormy weather. Make plans for next year.