Jobs for the Year
This guide is designed to give people new to beekeeping a rough understanding of what to do when. It starts at the beginning of the beekeeping year with the honey harvest. The aim is to ensure that each colony has a good start next spring by going into winter in the best possible condition. There are many variables, as each colony will be different and much depends on the weather. It helps to remain flexible and it is important to keep records of your inspections so that you can monitor progress.
- Harvest honey and return wet supers for cleaning, then remove and store dry supers and protect from wax moth.
- Narrow down entrances to one bee-space if necessary against wasp incursion. Do this earlier if wasps seen around the apiary.
- Set up wasp traps.
- Full check for brood diseases.
- Monitor and treat for varroa as necessary.
- Replace queens as necessary.
- Unite weak, disease free colonies for strength going into winter.
- Monitor for Asian Hornets.
- Complete varroa treatment.
- Assess stores. A typical colony needs 40lbs minimum to over-winter, so check each comb to assess the quantity of honey it contains.
- A full national brood frame holds about 5lb.
- A full national super frame holds about 3lb.
- Calculate what your hive holds roughly, and feed the rest. See end note for details.
- Unite weak (disease free) colonies or those with failing queen.
- Allow supersedure if it occurs.
- Prepare hives for winter.
- Remove, clean and store queen excluders.
- Put on mouse guards.
- Heft hives and make a mental and/or written note of the weight of a full hive.
- Cut back vegetation around hives.
- Finish feeding liquid feed.
- Protect hives from woodpeckers.
- Tie down hives, eg with ratchets, to protect from high winds and badgers.
- This is your last chance to unite weak/failing disease-free colonies.
- Clean, sterilise and store equipment no longer required.
- Heft every fortnight to check bees have adequate stores – prolific queens may lay through the winter so the bees will get through a lot of food. Feed fondant if necessary.
- Check entrance for dead bees.
- Check for hive damage especially after poor weather.
- Prep kit for next year.
- As November.
- Monitor for varroa.
- When brood nest is at its very smallest (towards the end of a spell of very cold weather) carry out oxalic acid varroa treatment.
- Review past year’s activity and plan for coming year.
- Continue to heft every two weeks and feed fondant if necessary.
- Clear entrances of any dead bees (and snow).
- Watch for bees bringing in pollen on warm days – a sign that the queen is laying.
- Check for any damage to hives – eg rot, green woodpecker.
- Reposition hives within you apiary in cold weather – but not in temperatures below 10˚C or bees falling off the cluster may not have the warmth in their bodies to return to it.
- Kit repair.
- Watch for Asian Hornet queens.
- Check bees are flying on warm days – if not, check they are still alive.
- Heft regularly – many colonies die of starvation at this point if the weather is cold and they have run out of stores. If necessary:
- Feed fondant if weather is still cold;
- Feed liquid 1:1 feed syrup if the weather is warming up.
- Check entrances are clear.
- Remove mouse guards.
- Monitor for varroa and plan action if necessary.
- Prepare supers and queen excluders.
- Prepare spare hives for swarm control.
- When temperatures are above 14˚C, do a quick check to see:
- If the queen laying well – work quickly to avoid chilling the brood.
- Check queen has enough space to lay (eg are the frames still full of stores and pollen?). If space is limited remove a frame of stores and insert frame with foundation next to the brood.
- Install a clean floor.
- Bees may need feeding/supering/both, depending on the weather and crops around you. Add a queen excluder and super when the brood box is full of bees.
- Start regular inspections. Good time to find and mark unmarked queens.
- Full check for diseases.
- Compare how each queen is laying cf to other colonies, also check for space, stores.
- As drones start to emerge, start swarm control and queen rearing.
- Set up bait hives to collect swarms.
- Balance disease-free colonies by swapping the positions of weaker colonies with those of stronger ones.
May and June
- Inspect regularly – every 7 days (10 days if queens are clipped).
- Swarm control – check for occupied queen cells and take action if found.
- Add supers ahead of bees’ needs – bear in mind a strong colony can fill a super in a week if the OSR is in flower and the weather is good.
- Carry out comb changes (shook/bailey/replace 3 or 4 frames per brood box).
- Collect swarms.
- Create nucs for increase.
- Raise new queens.
- Harvest spring crop – as soon as flowers are going over if colonies are on OSR, or the honey will granulate in the combs.
- Monitor for varroa. Make a plan of action – consider drone culling and order varroa control product for later use.
- Watch for the June gap. If you took a Spring honey harvest and the weather is inclement, your bees may need feeding to avoid starvation. A colony needs 10lb (4.5kg) stores (2 brood frames or 3.3 super frames)/week.
- Continue weekly inspections and swarm control.
- Continue weekly inspections an swarm control until the around middle of the month.
- Add supers if necessary.
- Prepare for your honey harvest.
Note on Feeding
2:1 syrup is 2lb of white granulated sugar to 1 pint of water (1kg white granulated sugar to 633ml water). This is used for autumn feed.
1:1 syrup is 1lb white granulated sugar to 1 pint of water (1kg sugar to 1.25l of water). This is used in the spring to stimulate the queen to lay and help workers build comb. 1lb of honey contains circa 0.8lb sugar. Therefore if a colony requires 10lb equivalent of honey, it should be fed 8lb of sugar in syrup form. If 15lb is required, then the amount of sugar is 15 x 0.8 = 12lb sugar.