We took our first beekeeping course was from February through May. It finished just in time for beekeeping season. We found out that beekeeping season is a lot longer than we thought.
When is beekeeping season? Most beekeepers will get new bees and queen bees in early spring, but beekeeper work lasts from late winter through late fall with a few hive checks during the winter time.
There is more to the beekeeping year than getting new bees in the spring, it is a year-round activity. Keep reading for more.
Is There A Season For Bees?
As we quickly learned, there are different many different seasons within the beekeeping year, and the new beekeeping year doesn’t begin on January 1.
The bees are staying in the hive in a tight cluster for warmth, making occasional cleansing flights on warm sunny days.
For most beekeepers, the year begins in late winter when beekeepers wonder how their colonies made it through the winter. There is no exact date for this. You can check the weight of the hives and feed or continue to feed sugar cakes if your bees appear to be light on food. Clean dead bees and debris from the screened bottom board to improve ventilation.
When the days begin to be warm and sunny, the bees will start flying and foraging for nectar and pollen.
When the weather temperature is in the 50’s, it is time to make full hive inspections. Check for brood and for the queen. Are there honey stores; is there still stored pollen. If the bottom box is empty, there is no brood there at all, and all of the bees are in the top, reverse the brood boxes, putting the top box on the bottom. If the weather is getting warmer and is in the 50’s, begin to feed 1:1 sugar syrup (1 pound of sugar:1 pint of water). This is the time to order more bees or replacement queens.
The bees are foraging in earnest now. The queen should be laying her 1-2000 eggs per day. Colonies are building populations.
This is the season, if you have ordered them, when your bee packages, nucs, and queens will arrive. Time to put the girls into their hives and to feed everyone if the nectar flow hasn’t started. It is an excellent time to treat your hives for mites. This is also the season for swarms. Keep an eye on the colonies and try to divide hives that give indications of swarming. You might catch a swarm if you are lucky. Even luckier if the one you catch is a swarm that has just flown from one of your hives.
Bee colonies are increasing in size.
This is the season to keep an eye on your colonies with weekly inspections. You should be done feeding the girls by now. You want to be sure the queens are laying well and that the large colonies are not showing signs of wanting to swarm. This is an excellent time to combine weak hives with strong ones or split one robust colony into two. If the bees are filling the brood chambers with brood, honey and pollen, add a honey super to give them room.
The hive in in full swing. Bees are foraging and producing honey.
This should be the time of year when you can enjoy your beehives if the weather is good and there is an abundance of forage plants. Add honey supers to your hives. Continue to mite checks every few weeks and to treat your hives if necessary. Keep an eye on your queens to be sure they are healthy and have a strong laying pattern. Look for signs of swarming. Also look for signs of robbing by yellow jackets and hornets. This is the time to put robbing screens over the entrances.
Honey Harvesting Season
Most of us hobby beekeepers here in the Pacific Northwest harvest honey in August or early September. Take off the honey supers and collect the frames after using fume boards or bee escapes to remove the bees. Extract the honey on a warm day and be sure to do it in an enclosed place that the bees can’t get to. If you don’t you’ll have hundreds of bees helping with your honey extraction. Now is the time to do another mite treatment.
The bees may begin to consume their own honey stores if there is a serious dearth.
A nectar dearth is when flowers dry, many bloom less, and there is very little nectar for the bees to harvest. If the bees have used the honey stores in their brood boxes or have placed their honey in the honey supers, it is time to begin feeding again. Keep an eye on your weather and be aware of whether a summer dearth is standard for your region of the country.
Bees are storing for winter. This may include robbing honey from weaker hives.
Fall is also a robbing season. Other bees as well as yellow jackets and hornets will happily destroy a colony to get to the honey. The bees may be very active, but this is the time to give them a boost with 2:1 sugar syrup as they prepare for winter. If you didn’t medicate in August, now is the time to do it. Varroa mite population peak in late October and September so the hives so you want your hives to have a low mite count going into the winter months.
Bees will be staying in the hive more and more as the weather stays below 50 degrees.
This is the time to prepare you girls for winter. If moisture is a problem in your area, put quilt boxes on now. Combine weak hives. You may want to replace weak queen so you’ll have a healthy queen for spring. Clean up the apiary and put on your mouse guards. In cold winter regions you may want to put some sort of insulating material around the hives. Use a luggage scale to get a rough idea of the weight of your hives. This will give you an idea of the honey stores for each colony.
Winter In the Apiary
During the cold season, the bees form a cluster in the hive and the queen generally doesn’t lay any eggs.
If your bees foraged well and if you fed during the fall, there might be enough honey in your hives to get the bees through the winter. Check the weight of the hives at intervals through the winter. If they are getting much lighter, you will need to begin feeding solid sugar or sugar cakes. It would be much better if the bees had enough winter stores of their own, but winter feeding is better than losing the colony.
What Time of Year Do You Get Bees?
Most bees are bought in the early spring because this is when the queens resume laying eggs after the winter break. The colonies start to build up their populations. Foragers make orientation flights and then begin to bring back nectar and pollen stores to the hive. What date all of this happens depends upon the weather.
Queens can be purchased through the summer and into the fall.Often packages from big suppliers are sold out after the spring season. It may be possible to get nucs, splits or swarms from other local beekeepers during the summer months.
When Should I Start Keeping Bees?
When to start keeping bees doesn’t have the simple answer that you might expect. The first answer is easy.
It is best to set up your apiary in the spring. That way the bees have a chance to build a thriving colony and can build up stores to tide them over when winter arrives.
The second answer, what we consider the best one to “when should I” question is that you should wait until you have had a chance to learn about being a beekeeper. Many bee clubs, some suppliers, and some online sites have beekeeping courses that you should take before deciding to have bees. If there is a local bee club, become a member, go to meetings and become friends with the members. Try to find a mentor. By taking these steps, the chances are that you will enjoy your beekeeping experiences more and that your bees will have a much better chance of survival.
What Month To Harvest Honey?
The traditional time for honey harvest is late summer and early fall. In some regions there is a heavy nectar flow in plants that make honey that we consider particularly desirable in flavor. Fresh honey supers will be put on the hives so the nectar is kept separate from any other nectar flows of the year, and then this honey will be collected when it has been processed by the bees. Chestnut honey, Italian honey which is a favorite of mine, is an example of this. It is harvested in June and July. A beekeeper in our local club collects spring maple honey from one of the first nectar flows of the year.
Where Do Bees Go In The Fall?
Unlike birds who migrate or some insects which die out in the fall and winter, bees stay home in the fall. They go about their regular business of foraging for nectar and pollen and raising brood. In fact, the fall is a particularly busy time for bees. They are building up their food stores for winter.
Can You Start A Beehive In The Fall?
You can start a beehive in the fall, but the chances of it surviving through the winter are slim. For a bee colony to set up a hive, they need to draw comb and to make enough honey and pollen stores to get them through the winter. In the springtime when we set up a new hive of bees, we think in terms of weeks for the girls to get their hive to the stage where they fully set.
What time of year do honey bees swarm?
Bees swarm when they feel over crowded in their hive. Most swarms occur in late spring to early summer. Fewer swarms will occur during the summer, and outlier swarms may happen in the fall.
What temperature is too cold for bees?
In the winter, bees can handle freezing weather. They cluster in a ball in their hive and generate enough heat to keep the temperature in the 70’s at the edge of the cluster and up to 95 degrees in the middle of the cluster where the queen is. They will make quick cleansing flights, the bee version of a potty break, during the winter on a warmer sunny day.
During the rest of the year, bees do not like to fly unless the temperature is in the 50’s. When the temperatures are lower than 50 degrees, the bees get too cold to fly back to the hive.