Below are some recommended tasks for beekeepers along the Front Range. This list provides only ideas and general guidance and should not be viewed as being an exact checklist (no such thing exists). One of the challenges we face along the Front Range is unpredictable seasons and weather patterns. The tasks associated with each month may shift depending on Mother Nature as well as your specific location.
January – The bees are in a tight cluster in the center of the brood chamber surrounding the queen to maintain warmth. They will consume about 25 pounds of stored honey this month. There is little activity except on a warm day (about 45-50 degrees) when the workers will take the opportunity to make cleansing flights. There are no drones in the hive, but some worker brood may exist in the hive. Many of your bees will die during the winter, just from old age. When bees die during the winter, they fall to the bottom of the hive. When the hive is clustered, the dead bees accumulate on the bottom board. On warm days, other bees might drag out their dead sisters. If snow covers the ground, you will notice more dead bees around your hives. This is normal. Don't panic! It is a sign of a strong hive when they drag out dead bees. But, if you don't see anything, don't panic either. It just means they will probably do this later.
- If there is heavy snow, make certain the entrance to the hive is cleared to allow for proper ventilation and so the bees can move freely in and out of the entrance on warm days. Also, be vigilant that high winds do not disturb the tops.
- If a January thaw presents itself (in January or February) you can provide supplemental, emergency food for the bees such as fondant (on the top bars) or granulated sugar (on the inner cover).
- Order new equipment, build new or repair equipment as required for the next season.
- Order package bees or Nucs. Many bee suppliers will completely sell out of package bees by the end of January. You must call and place your bee order as soon as you can during the first week of January. Otherwise, you may not be able to secure your bee purchases for the New Year. Call early!
February - The cluster will work its way upward into the top brood chamber. Sunlight is becoming slightly longer and there will be increasingly more warm days. The queen will start laying more eggs. Workers will take cleansing flights on mild days. The bees will consume about 25 pounds of honey this month.
- On a warm day, 50 degrees or more, you can open the top briefly and look in on the hive. Do not remove any frames, as this will chill the brood. Upon inspection you can assess if the colony still has enough stored honey for food. If not, you may want to consider emergency feeding options.
- Emergency feeding is just that, an emergency, so do whatever it takes to get some sugar in the hive. Dry sugar will work but only if the bees have warm enough days to fly out for water. There may not be many days warm enough in early February for dry sugar feedings or hard candy feedings.
- You might also consider placing a pollen patty on top of the upper hive body. This will really work well if the end of winter is extremely mild and there are many warm days. Pollen patties stimulate the laying of more eggs. However, if the weather turns cold again, then the bees may not be able to keep this early brood warm and fed. So it is a gamble this early.
- If you did not order your package bees in January, you must do it now (and hope you’re not too late)!
- If you did not order your new equipment, hurry! You want all of your hive equipment ready by mid-March.
March – This is the month when colonies can die of starvation. However, if you fed them plenty of sugar syrup in the autumn this should not happen. The bees will most likely have moved entirely into the upper brood box and their overall population is very low due to normal die-off throughout the winter. With the days growing longer, the queen will steadily increase her rate of egg laying which results in more food stores being consumed.
- Inspect your hive! March will provide you with a few days when the temperature will rise to 50 degrees or higher. At this temperature you can look in the hive and pull out a few frames. Keep in mind that since there is not a heavy nectar flow, and since it is cooler, the bees might be a bit more aggressive. Beekeepers are stung more during these cold inspections than the rest of the year. So wear protective gear. If you do not see any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need to provide some emergency food (fondant or granulated sugar if cold temps prevail, syrup if the weather is mild). But remember, once you start, you should not stop until they are bringing in their own food supplies.
- Towards the end of the month start feeding pollen patties. Pollen patties truly do jump-start the hive.
- If you are going to do a spring Varroa mite treatment, now (or soon) is the time to start its application.
- Remove entrance reducers and mouse guards as the traffic begins to build up at the entrance.
- Be aware that a quick, early start in brood raising also means that your hive strength will increase to the point of swarming much earlier. Remain attentive and reverse your brood chambers as required! This is extremely important as it gives more space for the queen to lay. Simply move the empty bottom brood chamber to the top.
- March is the busiest month in hive equipment and bee sales. Everyone calls and wants their hive yesterday! Please do yourself a big favor and order your hives not later than January.
April - The weather begins to improve, and the early blossoms such as dandelions begin to appear. The drones will begin to appear. The bees will begin leaving the hive in search of pollen sources as the month passes. Towards the end of the month, the entire hive will begin to return to an almost normal operation now that winter is almost over. There will be cold snaps, but the bees will do fine as they begin to expand. Their need for food will rapidly increase. Note: throughout the Rocky Mountain region, it is not uncommon to experience snow fall or a cold snap all the way thru mid-May.
Beekeeper tasks: (The end of April begins the busiest season for the beekeeper)
- Inspect all hives and take appropriate actions based upon the condition of the individual hive. Keep feeding your weaker hives; feeding helps the bees build up. You are just feeding to help the hive off to a great start. Keep the pollen patties on top, too.
- April weather can be unpredictable with cold and wet conditions which means that your bees may have limited opportunities to fly out for food. So you must continue to inspect the hive to be sure they have enough food stores. Also, inspect your hive for any abnormalities. You want to see a solid brood laying pattern from your queen. If not, consider replacing her soon!
- A majority of packages will be installed towards the end of the month. Make sure that you are familiar with the requirements for starting packages and provide sufficient care to ensure their success.
- This is a great time to equalize your hives. You may have to combine weak hives with strong ones. Even though they know better, every year some beekeepers seem to become too compassionate toward a struggling hive, and try to nurse them back to health. Although some success may be experienced, it is usually not worth it. It is costly to spend too much time on a struggling hive. It takes money and time to re-queen the hive and to continue to work it. It would be far better to combine it to another hive if it is disease and pest free, and the newly combined single hive has a much better chance of thriving. Take the chance that the new hive may be strong enough to split during the summer. After all, a weak hive is an invitation for pests and disease. Strong hives chase away pests and disease. So, your weak hive could spread disease to all your other hives. Don't take the chance. Keep your hives strong.
Installing a Package of Honey Bees
- Order packages and equipment in the fall. Assemble and paint the hive equipment in March. Prepare a base for the hive and place the hive on the base when the package arrives. When the package arrives, place the bees in a cool, dark place until early evening. Mix a one to one sugar solution and brush the solution on the wire of the package with a new paint brush.
- Take the package to your bee yard early in the evening. Remove the outer and inner covers from the hive. Remove the top cover and feeder can from the package.
- Remove the cover from the hole in the top of the package. Shake the bees out of the package into the hive. Shake some of the bees over the queen cage suspended between the two frames.
- Remove the queen cage from the package and cover the opening of the package. Suspend the queen cage between two center frames in the hive body.
- Smoke the bees down into the hive. Place the inner cover over the hive body.
- Place a feeder can with a two to one sugar solution over the opening in the inner cover. Place an empty super on the inner cover around the feeder can.
- Check the queen cage in three days to see if the queen has been accepted and then release her.
- Keep the feeder of sugar solution on the bees throughout the spring and summer.
- Open the colony for inspection as often as you want after the colony begins to become established in the hive.
- Do not neglect the rapidly expanding colony. Continue to feed the colony.
- Inspect the colony at least once a week.
May - The hive is expanding rapidly. The brood chambers are filling up fast and the bees will be working hard. If insufficient space has been provided, the brood chambers are becoming crowded and congested, and bees are probably preparing to swarm. The hive should be bursting with activity.
- Spring mite treatments should be completed, and removed prior to adding any honey supers.
- Add a queen excluder, and place honey supers on top of the top deep.
- Implement a swarm management strategy. Keep in mind that bees swarm as a way of multiplying. There are some important steps to implement to try to prevent swarming. Keep in mind that you must provide room for your hive to expand. Put on as many supers of drawn comb as you'd like. Some experts think it is good practice to have a minimum of two drawn honey supers on all hives during the nectar season.
- Consider having extra, empty hives on hand so you'll be able to capture a swarm. You will want to capture your own swarms or you will probably receive phone calls once your neighbors learn you are a beekeeper. It is not uncommon to receive calls each week all spring and summer.
- You will have to implement a swarm management strategy. Keep in mind that bees swarm as You will have to implement a swarm management strategy. Keep in mind that bees swarm as a way of multiplying. However, there are some important steps to implement to try to prevent swarming. Keep in mind that you must provide room for your hive to expand.
Detailed Task “How to”:
- Swarming by honey bee colonies is the natural method of propagating the species. The swarming instinct is usually strongest in May and June.
- Open and inspect a colony at least one time each seven days of the swarming season. Queen cells will be constructed on the bottom bars of the frames in the upper brood chamber. Cells will also be built in damaged areas of brood comb. Raise the top brood chamber and inspect the bottom bars of the frame for queen cells and queen cell cups. Remove and thoroughly inspect the frames when the swarm queen cells are found on the bottom bars.
- Reverse the brood chambers.
- Remove the entrance reducer from over-wintered colonies.
- Replace the three worst combs in each brood chamber with three frames of newly installed wired brood comb foundation.
- Re-queen a colony every other year or at least once every three years.
- When a colony has constructed and capped queen cells in preparation for swarming, divide or artificially swarm the colony.
- Add honey supers to give the bees storage space for honey above the brood chamber.
- Dividing a Colony (Also known as Splitting or Increase)
- A strong colony preparing to swarm can be divided or split into two, three or four colonies. You will need one capped queen cell or one caged queen for each of the colonies started by the divisions. Wait until you have capped queen cells or caged queens to introduce at the time you divide the colony.
- Prepare the hive equipment you will need for the divisions or splits. Prepare one gallon of a one to one sugar solution to feed the colonies after you make the divisions. Place the prepared hives on bases in your bee yard.
- Open the hives you prepared for making the division and remove five frames from the center of the brood chamber. Open the colony you will divide. Check the brood nest and locate the queen. Transfer the queen, worker bees and the brood frame she is on to one of the prepared hives. Inspect the other brood frames for queen cells and place two or more frames of capped brood without queen cells into the hive with the queen.
- Transfer enough young bees from the brood nest area to cover the brood frames of the colonies you start. The older field age bees will usually return to the hive on the original location.
- Inspect the other brood frames in the original colony for queen cells. Select the largest capped queen cells and transfer one or two cells on brood frames with worker bees into the colonies you are starting. Transfer two or three frames of brood and worker bees into each colony. Destroy any queen cells you will not need. The new queens for the colonies will emerge from the selected capped queen cells. A queen should mate and begin laying eggs within 13 days after she emerges in warm weather.
- Add the equipment needed to complete the hives you start. Add frames of foundation or drawn comb to fill the hive bodies or supers. Add a super or hive body of frames above the brood chamber.
- When you introduce caged queens, feed the bees a sugar solution with two to three drops of vanilla extract added. Place a few drops of this mixture on the queen cage and sprinkle some on the frames of bees.
- Three days after introducing a caged queen, check the queen cage to be sure the queen has been released. Do not look for her if she is out of the cage for 10 days.
- Punch a small hole through the candy with a toothpick to help the bees release the queen, but do not release her if she is not out of the cage in three days.
- Super a Colony
- Prepare supers with clean frames and walls and foundation in the frames. These supers will be needed in May and June when the colony produces surplus honey.
- Open the colony for inspection and add one or two supers as you close the colony.
- A super that has been used for winter feed will frequently have brood reared in the combs turning them dark. This super can be used by the bees to store another super of honey to feed back to the colony next winter. This super will be on top of the brood chamber and the bees will begin to fill it first. When this super is one-half to three-fourths full of nectar, remove it from the colony. Place one or two supers on top of the brood chamber and place the partially filled super on top of these supers. Close the colony.
- Adding supers one or two at a time will give the bees the space needed to store surplus nectar to be cured into honey. Keep at least one super ahead of the bees during a good nectar flow.
- Hiving a Swarm
- Prepare a swarm kit before the swarming season begins. A complete 1½ story hive will hold a large swarm. You will need a bottom board, a hive body complete with 10 frames of comb or foundation, a super with 10 frames of comb or foundation, an inner cover, an outer cover and a boardman entrance feeder or a top feeder.
- A sheet or a piece of plywood ground cover and a pruning tool or saw will complete your basic swarming kit. Staple the hive parts together with hive staples for moving after the swarm enters the hive.
- A swarm clustered on a low hanging branch near the ground is usually easy to hive. Place a sheet of cloth, paper or plywood on the ground under the swarm. Place the hive on the ground cover with the entrance toward the swarm. Shake the swarm off the limb onto the ground cover in front of the hive.
- The bees will begin to move into the hive. Within a few minutes, after the queen enters the hive, worker bees will begin to expose their glands and fan to mark the hive. The release of the pheromone marks the new home of the colony. Bees from the swarm flying in the area will be attracted to the new home by the pheromones released by the fanning workers.
- Move the hived swarm to the location you have prepared. Begin feeding the bees a mixture of two to one sugar syrup within two to three days after the swarm is hived.
June –The bees will be working hard filling supers. They can still swarm during June, so stay vigilant. There is no need to feed the mature hives. They are gathering plenty of nectar and pollen. You may see the bees hanging out on the front of the hive at night. This is normal. On hot evenings, many bees will spend the night outside the hive, clinging to the front of the hive or they may form a beard on the ground in front of the hive. This phenomenon is called "bearding". Don’t worry, this would be like you enjoying your cool porch on a hot evening. You can help by adding ventilation such as propping the telescoping cover up slightly, or installing a screened inner cover or slatted rack.
- Continue to monitor your hive. Inspect your hive every two weeks to ensure the queen is laying well.
- The bees will need water, so be sure to keep a water source near your hives. Bird baths filled with water will help to ensure that your bees stay out of the dog's water bowl and your neighbor's pool. Some beekeepers maintain their feeders full of water (no syrup) to make it easier for the bees to keep cool.
- Add honey supers as needed. Keep up swarm inspections.
Detailed Task “How to”:
Moving a Colony
- A honey bee colony can be moved to a new location. You may need to change the hive location in your yard or move the colony to another distant bee yard.
- A colony can be moved a short distance to relocate it near the original location. When a colony is moved more than two miles from its location, the field age bees will reorient to the new hive location within a few days.
- Remove the surplus supers of honey down to the brood chamber and one empty super before moving a hive.
- Staple all the outside parts of a beehive with the hive staples. Drive the staples in at the four corners fastening each part to the part above and below. This can be done during the day in preparation for moving in the evening after dark.
- Remove the inner cover and nail a screened cooling board over the top to close and ventilate the top of the hive. A cooling board is a plywood panel the size of an inner cover with a large screened window.
- Construct a frame with 1 ½ inch by one-half inch pieces of wood that will fit between the bottom board cleats, against the front of the hive body to cover the entrance. The bottom of the frame is made with a three-fourths inch piece to cover without blocking the entrance. The frame is covered with screen wire. The screened frame encloses a screened porch on the front of the hive. Air will circulate through the entrance and out the top to keep the bees cool in transit.
- The bees will return to the hive at dusk or a little later. Have everything in place except the entrance screen. Attach the entrance screen with a nail through the two end bars and load the colony for moving to a new location.
- Place the colony on a base at the new location. Smoke the entrance and remove the screen. Place the inner and outer cover on the hive. The cooling board can be removed when you inspect the bees.
July - If the weather is good, the nectar flow may continue this month. As the nectar flow subsides, the bees will become more flighty, searching for nectar which is not as plentiful to find. The bees are beginning the final effort to store up for winter, searching for final nectar sources. Golden Rod and Aster plants may provide some nectar flow in the fall. On hot nights, you may see a huge curtain of bees cooling themselves on the exterior of the hive.
- Continue inspections to assure the health of your colony.
- Add more honey supers if needed.
- Keep your fingers crossed in anticipation of a great honey harvest.
- Continue to check your supers! You'll now begin removing and extracting your honey.
- Most beekeepers begin to consider the amount of mites within hives during July. Most begin to treat, based upon mite count/survey results. However, no treatments can be administered in a hive while supers are on. This could contaminate the honey with chemical residue. If possible, do not use chemicals in your hives but do treat for mites with powdered sugar. However, it is wise to wait until the last summer nectar flow is over and the honey has been harvested before treating with powdered sugar.
- If mites become a problem it will be during the summer and fall months. It is best not to disturb the bees during summer nectar flows unless there is evidence of extremely heavy mite loads.
Detailed Task “How to”:
Rendering your Beeswax
- Beeswax is a valuable product of the beekeeping industry. A strong colony of honey bees will use about 13 pounds of honey per year for the production of beeswax.
- Cappings, bits of comb scraped from the frames, and old combs which are unfit for further use in the hive are the sources of beeswax. The best grade of light yellow wax is obtained from the cappings and should be processed separately from the other wax. Twenty pounds of beeswax from cappings can be rendered from every ton of honey extracted.
- Frames of honey should be uncapped over a drain board. The weight of the cappings is 50 percent or more honey. The drained cappings are ready to melt and pour into a mold. Break the pieces of comb or cappings into small pieces and soak these in warm water for a day to remove pollen and propolis. Drain the soaked pieces and place these in a weighted burlap bag. Submerge the bag in a tank of water and bring the water to a slow boil. Agitate the bag with a stick to cause the wax to float to the surface. Do not boil the water vigorously or for too long. Remove the bag, cool the water and remove the wax cake when it solidifies. Drain the wax thoroughly and store the cake.
- Beeswax cakes for competition in the fair should be made from well-drained cappings of new white comb. The wax cappings should be melted in a water bath container over an electric heater. The melted wax should be strained through fine cloth to remove foreign material. When the wax begins to solidify on the surface, pour the wax into a mold. This reduces the cracks in the finished cake. The mold should be clean, dry and aluminum, nickel, tin or stainless steel. The mold should be carefully filled with a ladle and allowed to solidify completely before removing the cake. The bottom should be scraped to remove sediment.
- Propolis lowers the melting point of beeswax and causes the beeswax to be sticky.
- The beeswax can be traded in for new foundation. The market value fluctuates.
August - The bees are behaving much as they did in July, although the nectar dearth is more prominent in August. The bees are making a strong effort to store up for winter, searching for final nectar sources, which are few. Golden Rod and Aster plants may provide some nectar flow. The colony's growth is diminishing. Drones are still around, but outside activity begins to slow down as the nectar flow slows. There shouldn’t be any more chance of swarming. Be vigilant for honey robbing by wasps or other bees.
Beekeeper tasks: (This is the start of the beekeeper's year! What you do in August will strongly influence how well your bees do next year, and how well they overwinter.)
- Consider re-queening. You don't have to, if your queen has done well. But it is advisable to re-queen in August, no later than September. If you can afford to re-queen your hive each year, it would be best to do so. A new queen means a much younger queen who has stronger pheromones to curtail swarming, and who will be more apt to lay eggs more efficiently in the spring.
- Continue to monitor Varroa mite infestation. Promptly take appropriate action to reduce the mite load early in the fall.
- Take off all your supers. There is no need for them now, and you will want to tighten up the hive by removing excess supers.
- If you have multiple hives, you must be careful not to let a strong hive rob a weak hive. Be careful not to open up the hive for extended periods as other hives may attempt to rob the hive while it is opened.
September - The bees are busy gathering available nectar from fall-flowering plants. This is their final opportunity to gather stores before the fall frosts. The queen's egg laying is dramatically reduced to lay the necessary eggs that will be the workers to carry the colony through to the next spring, and is likely in the bottom brood chamber. The drones may begin to disappear this month. The hive population is dropping.
Beekeeper tasks: (September is a continuation of the hive management actions started in August. This is the last month of nearly uninterrupted flight opportunity for your hives.)
- Harvest the remainder of your honey crop. Remember to leave the colony with at least 120 pounds of honey for winter.
- This is the time to conduct a thorough inspection before the start of the fall cool temperatures. What you do here will influence the success or failure of your colonies for the coming winter.
- Feed and medicate towards the end of the month (the first 2 gallons is medicated).
- Apply mite treatment.
- Continue feeding until the bees will take no more syrup.
- Estimate colony strength. Combine disease-free, weak colonies with stronger ones. (Note: Exchange or combine equipment from different hives only after establishing that they are free of disease.)
- Make sure the queen is present. If you do not find her, be sure that you see eggs. (Check several brood combs for brood quality, which is an indicator of queen quality. A good queen will lay a solid brood pattern with few skips. The fewer the skips, the better the queen. All of the combs need not be good, but most of them should have solid patterns.)
- Take off all your supers. There is no need for them now, and you will want to tighten up the hive by removing excess supers.
- REMOVE QUEEN EXCLUDERS to ensure that your queen isn't trapped and left behind over the winter.
- Weigh your hives. This is guess work unless you invest in a hive scale. Find something around the house that weighs around 70 pounds. Lift it up slightly with one hand. This will give you an idea what 70 pounds feels like. Now, go to your hives and with one hand, slightly lift the back. Only lift it an inch or two so that you can sense how heavy it feels. It needs to feel around 70 pounds. If not, you will want to start feeding the hive 2:1 sugar water.
- Install entrance reducers and mouse guards late in the month of September.
- Feed 2 gallons of 2:1 sugar syrup (by weight) with Fumidil-B for control of Nosema after removing honey crop.
Detailed Task “How to”:
Removing Surplus Honey
- The bees will fill the combs and cap the honey when they have cured it to 20 percent or less water. Some of the frames of honey may not be capped until several days after the nectar flow has stopped.
- The frames and supers of honey that are capped can be removed from the colony. The frames and supers of uncapped honey can be removed after two weeks of warm dry weather or three weeks of humid or wet weather.
- Honey must be processed and packed within three to four days after removal from the hive to prevent wax moth damage or honey can be stored at 10 F for long periods of time. Be prepared to process the honey when you remove the super from the hive.
- Open the colony and inspect the supers of honey. Frames of capped and uncapped honey can be exchanged between supers.
- The super of honey will be occupied by many bees. The excessive use of smoke to drive the bees out of the super may taint the flavor of the honey.
- Place an outer cover turned bottom side up with the empty super in the cover near the colony. An inner cover with a bee escape, a flat piece of plywood or an outer cover is needed to cover the super as you place the frames of honey that are free of bees into the super.
- Remove a frame of honey from the super of honey removed from the colony. Hold the frame by the ends of the top bar in front of the colony a short distance above the entrance. One or two short, strong shakes will dislodge all the bees. Immediately place the frame into the empty super and cover the super to prevent the bees from returning to the frame. Shake the bees from the remaining frames and load the super, keeping it completely covered except to enter the frames of honey. This method can be used very effectively with a small number of colonies.
- Place the outer board in direct sun and let it warm for 15 minutes. Then moisten the felt liner of the fume board with a repellent such as Bee Go and place the fume board on top of the supers to be removed. The Bee Go will drive the bees out of the super within 15 minutes. Avoid excessive amounts of Bee Go. Do not wet the felt liner to the dripping point.
- A queen may expand the brood nest up into the honey supers. Check all supers of honey to be removed for brood. Locate the queen and return her to the brood nest below. Exchange frames with brood for frames of capped honey consolidating all of the brood into one super. Place the super with brood on top of the brood chamber below the queen excluder. Honey stored in brood frames is food for the bees and should not be packed for human consumption.
Re-queening a Colony
- Re-queen a honey bee colony every year for better performance and production. The serviceable life of 99 percent of the queens is exhausted by the end of her second year in the colony. Re-queening every other year is the least desirable practice. When the aged queen fails during the stress of the spring buildup, the colony organization becomes disrupted and the colony is nonproductive.
- Order queens from a reputable breeder with a good line of bee stock. Place your orders well in advance so the breeder may raise the number of queens you need and mail them to you on the date you request delivery.
- August is a good month to re-queen a colony. When queens are introduced in August and not accepted by a colony, there is time to reorder and introduce the second queen to the colony.
- When you are inspecting colonies in July or August, locate the queen and confine her to the lower brood chamber with a queen excluder over this chamber. When your queens arrive, you will have reduced the time required to find the queen in the colony.
- When the caged queens arrive, remove the paper over the screen and place two or three drops of clean water on the screen away from the candy. Place the queen cages in a cool dark room until you are ready to introduce the queens into the colonies.
- When you are ready to introduce the queens into the colonies, prepare the cages for introduction into the colonies. Remove the paper wrapping and stamps from the cages.
- Remove the cork from the end of the cage to expose the candy which seals the queen in the cage. Place the queen cage in the shade near the hive into which the new caged queen will be introduced.
- Open the hive and locate the queen. She is usually on a frame with young brood and eggs.
- Remove the queen from the hive. Introduce the new caged queen into the hive by placing the cage screened side down on top of frames of brood.
- Feed the colony a one to one sugar syrup to which two to three drops of vanilla extract has been added.
- Check the queen cage in three days for release of the queen. Make a hole through the candy if she has not been released with a nail or toothpick. Do not look for the queen if she has been released for 10 days.
October - There are less reasons for the bees to leave the hive. Flying is cut way down. The queen is laying fewer eggs. They are now shifting to winter mode. The goal over the past few months has been to have the bees fill the upper brood chamber during the fall flow, forcing the queen down into the bottom brood chamber. If you do not have enough room, the bees will fill the upper and lower brood chambers with honey and deprive the colony of space for brood rearing. If this happens, instead of having lots of young bees for the winter, you will have lots of older bees, and the colony will not successfully winter. Always err on the side of too much room, rather than too little.
- Prepare your hives for winter. A wind break should be considered. Entrance cleats should be placed in the front opening, along with a mouse guard, to restrict mice from entering the hive.
- A word about bees and winter. A large, healthy hive will not die from cold weather. They stay warm by clustering in the hive. They keep each other warm. The temperature in the hive is only warm within the cluster. They do not warm the entire inside of their hive, only the cluster. They can survive extreme cold weather. But, moisture can develop within the hive as bees do give off moisture like we do. If this moisture gathers above them, it can drip onto the cluster. This is what can kill bees during the winter. They are much like us. We can be cold and get by. But, we cannot stay alive long if we become wet and cold. Bees can get wet in the summer and it is not a problem. But you must prevent your hive from becoming cold and wet from condensation developing within the hive. Install a quilt box with absorbent material as the uppermost box of the hive to absorb excess moisture and keep the hive at a reasonable humidity level.
- Consider “Not” wrapping the hive for winter, keep in mind that by wrapping your hive, you are increasing the chance for condensation to collect within the hive. If you must wrap, ensure that you have a quilt box on top to help mitigate moisture.
- Winter winds can be strong, so place a heavy concrete block on your hives or ratchet strap them all together. If you live in an area above 7000 feet or where there is no windbreak from high winds, consider wrapping your hive with a water proof insulation--additionally, add a quilt box or moisture board to help mitigate moisture.
- Watch out for robbing. This time of year is notorious for robbing behavior by rival bee hives and yellow jackets. Hover and darting behavior, fighting at the entrance, and a bottom board that looks like the bottom of a toaster is a sure sign of robbing behavior. Make sure to only feed internally and reduce the entrance to the smallest hole. Never put any resources such as pollen or sugar syrup or frames of honey within 50 feet of the hives as this encourages robbing behavior.
- Keep Yellow Jacket traps out and baited with fresh bait.
- Configure the hive for winter, with attention to ventilation and moisture control.
- Setup a wind break if necessary.
- Finish winter feeding. 2:1 Sugar/Water mix is recommended to reduce moisture in the hive.
- For light hives or just as an insurance policy, consider leaving a full honey super (ONLY A FULL ONE!) or a candy board filled with sugar cake, fondant, winter patties, or a combination of either to ensure that the bees will not starve to death in case of a warm winter or a long winter.
- Typically in Colorado, bees will starve to death around January through April if they have already eaten through their honey stores too early. We recommend 2 full deeps going into winter and a honey super/candy board if the hives are light, the winter is too warm, or the winter is too long.
Detailed Task “How to”:
Overwintering a Honey Bee Colony
- A colony of honey bees will over winter well when you prepare them for winter conditions. The colony must have enough bees to cover five or more brood frames. Smaller colonies usually will not survive the winter.
- A young prolific queen introduced into the colony in August lays a large number of eggs during September and October. The young bees emerging during the fall maintain the colony through the winter.
- Give the bees comb space for storing nectar and pollen in September and October. Remove the empty supers and store them under fumigation after mid-October. For the Rocky Mountain region, a colony should have either two hive bodies during the winter and the equivalent of 120 + pounds of honey. A full honey super or a candy board as extra insurance is always a good idea.
- A colony should have at least 40 pounds of honey in mid-October for winter stores. This is equal to one full super and six frames in the second super. One hive body filled with honey weighs about 60 pounds.
- Check the brood chamber for a laying queen and healthy brood in early October. Treat the colony three times at weekly intervals with Terramycin in sugar or once with Terramycin extender patty. Treat with Fumidil-B in November. Give a colony one gallon of the Fumidil B medicated syrup.
- Reduce the entrance opening by inserting the entrance reducer in early
- Ventilate the top of the colony in November to vent excess moisture from the colony during the winter months. Vents and exits can be made by cutting slots 5/8 inch or wider through the inner cover cleat. Turn the slotted inner cover upside down -cleated side down and slide the outer cover forward over the hive. For best practices, it is recommended to install a quilt box as the uppermost chamber on top of the hive to absorb excess moisture and keep the bees dry over the winter.
November - Even less activity this month. The cold weather will send them into a cluster. They may not yet go into a full winter cluster. They may break cluster frequently on warm days and re-cluster at night. But they will begin to cluster for the winter.
- Store your equipment away for the winter.
- Feed your light hives as long as the bees are taking the fluid.
- Finish up all winterization of your hives.
- On a cool day when the bees are all inside, weed-eat around your hives.
- Start purchasing next year's bee packages and equipment.
Detailed Task “How to”:
Feed Bees with Hard Candy
- The hard candy method is more work but reduces moisture problems associated with syrup feeding during the cold weather.
- Preparing the candy
- 12 pounds table sugar
- 1 ½ pounds honey
- 1 ¼ quart water
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- Heat the water while adding the sugar and honey. Stir continuously until the mixture is liquid. Remove the spoon; do not stir, but continue to heat the mixture. Heat the boiling mixture to 238° F. Do not stir while cooking. When the temperature reaches 238° F, remove from the heat source and add the cream of tartar. Cool the mixture to 125° F and stir vigorously until the mixture becomes cloudy white. Pour the mixture into a rectangular cake pan or candy feeder box.
- Candy molded in cake pan can be wrapped in wax paper and placed in the hive.
- A candy feed box can be constructed from a piece of one-half inch plywood the size of an inner cover. A 1 ¼-inch rail is nailed around the perimeter of the plywood to make a tray. Nail 12 roofing nails into the inside bottom of the plywood tray to anchor the candy after it hardens.
- Place the tray, candy-side down, over the bees. Cover the tray with the inner and outer covers.
December - The bees are in a tight cluster. Do not open your hives. The bees are happily clustered in the hive keeping warm. They will only leave the hive to take cleansing flights on warm, sunny days. Naturally dying bees will pile up at the door of your hive or in front of the hive if it warms up enough for other living bees to carry them outside.
- There's nothing you can do with the bees. Read a good book on beekeeping, and enjoy the holidays!
- Order your bee packages and equipment so that you can have it ready.
- Stay warm and keep the snow away from your hive entrance.
- Consider expanding your apiary next year by reading up and taking a class on splitting hives.