The beekeeping year isn't etched in stone. Bees work in tune with the seasons, and how and when you work your hive will vary from region to region and year to year. Still, you can follow a general plan for what to do throughout each season to ensure healthy bees and a productive honey crop. Use this calendar as a guide, and talk with local beekeepers to refine the timing. Learn which conditions to watch for to complete the tasks.
The beginning of the year is the time to build beekeeping equipment, long before you put it to use. It's much easier to do it now rather than scramble for gear when your package arrives or you capture a swarm. In many regions of the country, the bees stay in the hive in January except to go out for occasional cleansing flights on warm days.
February is an important time to make sure the hive has enough honey. This is particularly true in the Mid Atlantic, where the weather is still cool and bees are clustering to stay warm; however there is beginning to be more activity inside the hive. Brood numbers are beginning to expand to prepare for spring.
Carefully lift an end of the hive to gauge the weight of the deeps (the two boxes that make up the main body of the hive). You want your hive to weigh at least 30 to 40 pounds at this time of year.
If you don't have the weight you’re looking for, you can feed. If your hive feels light when you lift a corner or tilt the end of it, place fondant or a candyboard inside to feed the bees.
The month of March can surprise beekeepers because many bees starve during this time of the year. Continually check the weight of your hive, and feed more honey if necessary.
Since the bees are moving and expending energy, you want to make sure they're fed.
You should begin to focus on swarm prevention early in the month by checkerboarding—alternating empty brood frames and honeycomb above the brood chambers to create space for the bees or, rather, make them think that they have more space. In an untouched hive, the brood chamber containing the eggs and hatching larvae is located in the center, and checkerboarding spreads out this area. It doesn't require additional honey; just move empty honeycomb (a frame with drawn-out wax) into the spot from which you removed a frame with brood on it.
By mid-April, bee hives are moving full-steam ahead into honey-making. Add boxes to your hive, You want to keep up with the honey supply.
Beekeepers in cooler regions will experience a slower start during April. The bees begin bringing in pollen for the season, so it's time for a thorough hive inspection.
When you open up the hive,you want to see what's going on. It takes some time before you get to a point where you can read the bees' behavior. Look at the condition of the comb, whether the queen is laying eggs and if the bees are bringing in pollen. This also is a good time to look for signs of hive pests and diseases.
May is busy times for hives. You should have a nice buzz of activity at the entrance, you should smell wax and honey at the hive.
When you open the hive, look for nectar and pollen stores, and make sure there's a nice laying pattern in the brood chambers. Also keep an eye out for swarming behavior. Reverse boxes to make the bees think they have more space, and identify queen cells. Once area plants begin their nectar flow, you can place a super on the hive.
Bees are busy during May. You'll start seeing capped honey. At this point, simply check your hive to ensure the queen is alive and busy laying eggs.
The weather is nice, and the bees are in full swing. Check your beehive for a good laying pattern and a healthy queen. Add more supers if needed. Some beekeepers begin to remove the supers and harvest their honey.
Most bees have finished producing honey, so it's time to split the hive and create more to give the bee’s time to build up their own honey supply before winter. There are many ways to do this one is by placing the queen and half of the hive in a new colony, this leaves the remaining beehive queenless. That means there's no brood for 42 days. That might solve your varroa mite problem if you have had one. (Beekeepers should look for mites at all times, though.)
Some beekeepers begin replacing the entrance reducer in August to give the bees a better chance to ward off thieving yellow jackets. For particularly bad robbery cases close up your hive for 24 hours, but some beekeepers tend to leave the bees alone during this time. With no significant nectar flow, they become hungry and more active.
Make sure they have a good pollen store. Check honey stores, too. If you wish, you can place a drone-cell foundation frame in the hive for a chemical-free method of mite control.
Some beekeepers might experience a late-season nectar flow from goldenrod and wildflowers, but it's acceptable to feed sugar syrup to ensure the bees build enough honey reserves for the winter. Once the honey supers are removed if you chose to, apply chemical mite control. Always do this before or after honey production to avoid chemical contamination.
Make sure the hive has enough weight. A hive with two deeps and a medium super should weigh between 120 to 130 pounds on average.
In all regions, check your hives for pests and adequate honey reserves. Start feeding sugar syrup if you have not begun yet. Using reserved honey stores works, as well.
Feeding continues as long as the bees can use the sugar syrup. Put on mouse guards and make sure the entrance reducer is attached at this time.
Get ready for the long, cold winter Stop treating for mites. Other than to remove the strips used to control mites, don't open your hive.
At this time, enjoy the products of the hive. It's also a good time to read new beekeeping books and make a wish list of items such as a beekeeping suit, equipment or even a different subspecies of Honey bee for the next season.