The annual cycle of work in the apiary

August is said to be the start of the beekeeping year because it’s when your winter preparations begin. The more care taken in Autumn, the more likely you are to still have bees the following Spring!

One thing’s for sure, the natural cycle of the honey bee colony and more particularly, the weather, dictates the precise schedule of work throughout the year. So let’s start at the very beginning…

August

Swarms in August are unlikely but not unknown. Fortnightly inspections of colonies should suffice at this time of year and swarms should completely cease by the middle of the month at the latest. Most hives should now have cast out their drones.

Honey removed after the main summer flow is harvested at the end of the month and processed. Wax collected throughout the active season can be rendered.

For those heading out to the forest for heather honey, strong colonies led by a young queen can be prepared (with some reserve stores) but with ample empty comb.

The heather flow is most often at its peak in the second week of August.

Each year, Meridian organises the ‘heather migration’ as an Association and siting hives in the forest must be pre-arranged and agreed. Bees are booked for the forest in April or May and the forest license begins at the end of July and expires 6 October.

As the queen’s laying starts to reduce, now is the moment to check for heavy late-summer varroa infestation by checking natural mite drop.

Measures taken under Integrated Pest Management should have prevented a large build-up, but once your check is complete and after your honey has been removed, this is the time for varroa treatment if needed.

Any chemicals used should be applied strictly in accordance with the instructions. Some treatments can be continued until October.

Assess your colonies and start to unite weaker ones in preparation for winter.

September

Hefting of hives should be conducted throughout the month to assess stores. This should continue periodically until the end of October as this will help you decide if fondant will be required.

Feed sugar syrup to those low in stores but Autumn feeding must be completed by the end of the month to allow the bees to ripen the feed and seal it before the cold weather begins. Non-ripened feed may ferment and lead to dysentery.

Watch colonies for signs of robbing by wasps and bees. Reduce entrances if they have been set wide and move heavily-affected colonies as necessary as a last resort. Wasp traps may be necessary.

Continue processing honey and wax.

By the end of the month, hives on the heather must be brought back and the honey removed and processed.

October

Fit mouse guards to all hives at the beginning of the month and make a final check for winter security. Are your boxes fitted tightly together? Are roofed well-fitted and dry?

Protect from woodpeckers by wrapping hives in chicken wire.

Strap hives down and insulate.

Chemical treatments for varroa should be completed by the end of the month.


November

Periodic checks should be carried out to ensure hives have not been disturbed by weather, critters or vandals.

Do not disturb the bees.


December

If treatment for varroa with oxalic acid is selected, this is the month to apply it. If correctly applied it involves minimum disturbance.

Hefting of hives is recommended to monitor stores or a quick visual checks under the crown board can be made every three weeks or so. Feed fondant to bees short on stores.

January

Do not remove snow from hive entrances but clear it off roofs. Bees are best left lightly imprisoned in bright snowy weather because sometimes they come out and can be chilled on clear frosty days.

Continue checking food reserves by hefting or quick inspections under crown boards.


February

Brood rearing will usually re-start this month. Again, check quickly for honey reserves and feed fondant as necessary.

Check natural mite drop of varroa in case spring treatment is needed for heavily infested colonies.


March

When weather warms up remove mouse guards to allow unrestricted gathering of pollen.

This is where the weather comes in! In some years, when March is warm, you’ll be able to start your Spring disease inspections. Remember, the tee shirt rule!

If the weather remains poor, check food reserves in all hives. Syrup may now be fed if the weather is milder but fondant may still be safer if it’s cold. Where hive reserves are adequate, do nothing.

April

If the weather remains fine, continue with Spring inspections. Bailey comb changes can usually be completed by end of April.

Shook swarms can be undertaken if the weather is fine but may be delayed until May or June if not. Watch for wax building in your hive as a guide.

If bad weather persists, feed fondant or syrup.

This is the month of greatest risk of starvation. However, it’s good practice to continuously check stores from January until hive reserves have built-up.

Spring worker on Willow

Willow should be yielding early nectar as well as plentiful pollen which will be seen in abundance on the hind legs of returning foragers. If so, feeding is unnecessary.

Think about whether or not you wish to take bees to the Heather in Autumn.

May

Spring inspections should be complete by now and regular swarm-control inspections begun. Swarming is of course weather-dependant and can be as early as March if conditions are right.

May is often the main swarming month but it could easily have been April or in June depending on the weather. This time of year is ideal for queen rearing.

Any chemical treatment for varroa should be brought to an end. If such a treatment is used, then spring honey should not be harvested for human consumption. Non-chemical methods can be used continuously if necessary.

A disease inspection of each hive should be completed this month.

As soon as the major honey flows from sycamore and oil seed rape begin, put honey supers over queen excluders on well-developed colonies. Do this too soon rather than too late.

Be prepared to taking swarm control measures this month, and if possible, take the opportunity to raise early young queens if the weather allows.

Keep adding supers, when the top one is about half full. You may remove full supers for extraction, but it is a good policy to leave at least one half full super on each hive throughout the summer to tide the bees over a spell of bad weather.

June

Check for June gap – what’s in flower? Has there been rain?

Sometimes there is a gap in the honey flow this month with adverse weather. If young mated and laying queens become available, some colonies preparing to swarm may be re-queened to dissuade them from it.

A good month to check drone brood for any unexpected build-up of varroa requiring urgent action. Wild drone comb and varroa check combs must be cut out when sealed or the drones will emerge and new young varroa mites will all emerge with them to give your hive a really heavy infestation!

Uncapping drone brood gives an indication of infestation levels. Removing drone brood is a non-chemical method of control.

July

Swarm control continues but there is a lower risk now. Late swarms this month will make little progress this year. The main honey flow should occur now, weather permitting. Keep adding supers as necessary, but if weather is bad you may even have to feed!

Then repeat, trying to avoid all the mistakes made the previous year!

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