Local Monthly Beekeeping Activities

Here’s a list by month of the various duties activities and chores that we have and will published.  These suggestions will help keep your hives in good condition.

January

January may be winter at its cruelest, but it is also the first sign of spring for the beekeeper.  The first brood rearing begins in the hive and just like the world; the bees are beginning to think of good weather, nectar, pollen and freedom.

On sunny days with minimal wind and a temperature in the 40’s, you may see bees taking their cleansing flights and preparing for spring.

In our area it is time to:

  • Begin planning for the new beekeeping year.  Review your colony records from last year to determine any changes or additions you would like to do.

  • Visit your hives to check for wind or animal damage.  Make sure the hive openings are clear so the bees can get in and out for the cleansing flights.

  • Make sure the colonies have food.  On nice days open the out covers and see if the bees are clustered and active around the inner cover hole.  Several different options are open for feeding including dry sugar, candy boards or fondant.

  • Review your equipment and make any repairs that are necessary and build any new equipment so you are ready for the upcoming year.

  • If you aren’t a member of a beekeeping club, join.  It’s a great opportunity to meet other beekeepers and exchange ideas, tips, thoughts and stories.  This is in addition to the great topics and speakers.  For more information on The Cook DuPage Beekeeper’s Association and instructions on how to join, click here.

February

February brings the hint of spring, with the reality of winter.  During warmer years, the first maple and willow pollen may appear.  The queen has been laying eggs and the hive is building brood, using up the stored honey supplies quicker to keep the brood warm.

In our area it is time to:

Order your packages and queens for the upcoming season, replacing winter loss and/or expanding your beekeeping operation.

  • Monitor the colonies food stores.  The weight of the hive will provide some ideas on how much food is available inside.  Feed those colonies low on stores with sugar, fondant, or place a candy board on the hive to help the bees through the remains of winter.

  • Check for activity in the hive (look to see if the bees are taking cleansing flights during the warmer days, or listen to the hive to see if there’s a buzz going on inside).   Remember a grouping of dead bees on the outside is a good sign that there is life on the inside.  If you do lose a hive see what may have caused their demise.

  • Feed pollen cakes and patties to help build up the food stores and keep the hive strong.

  • Help the bees with their housekeeping by clearing the dead bees on the bottom board out with a coat hanger or some other device (be sure to put the entrance reduce back on, you don’t want any mice getting in at this point).

March

March is time for the beekeeper to kick it into high gear.  The new beekeeping season is almost upon us and you want to be ahead of the wave.

In our area it’s time to:

  • Finish repairing and assembling the equipment you will need for your bees.  Be sure you have enough bottom boards, hive bodies, inner covers, frames and telescoping outer covers.  The hive bodies and supers may be painted to protect them from the elements, or camouflage them into the background.

  • Identify where you are going to put your hives.  Exposure to the south or east establishes a good location for the hive, especially if it is protected from the north and west winds.

  • If you are placing hives in a new location, check the local ordinances to be sure that bees are allowed in your location.

  • On a warm sunny day, do a quick hive inspection to determine the status of the hive.  Feed if necessary and if the queen has laid a lot of eggs in the upper brood chamber, reverse the chambers to provide more room for brood so you get a good build up.

  • Check the hives for lost colonies.  Identify the reason and prepare the hive for a new colony.

  • If feeding is necessary, continue with a candy board or granulated sugar, be prepared to switch over to a 1 – 1 sugar water solution.  If you are in doubt on if the bees should be fed, do it.  Late winter and early spring are still dangerous time for starvation to occur.

  • Feed the bees some protein, place a pollen patty into the hive to help build up the colony.  There are thoughts that pollen patty can help improve the health of the bees.

  • If you have determined you will treat your bees for foulbrood and nosema, now is a good time to do so.  Follow the directions for using Terramycin or Fumagillin.

  • As the weather warms, remove the winter wrappings if you applied them last year.

April

HAPPY NEW BEEKEEPING YEAR!!!!!

April is typically the month that new hives starts in our Area.  The first package bees are delivered and installed between the 15th and 30th and the buzz of bees wings fill the air.

In our area it’s time to:

  • Finish the assembly and preparation of your hives, hive stands and other parts.

  • For new beekeepers, download the forms to register your bees with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (click here).

  • Mix up some bee food.  Springtime is the “light” syrup time where 1 part sugar is mixed with 1 part water (a 5 lb bag of sugar to 2.5 quarts of water).  Heat the mixture until it is clear.  Cool and store until needed.

  • Monitor the pollen patty, if necessary you may need to add another.

  • Inspect your existing hives for strength and any diseases or mites.

  • Review your in hive frames to see if you should remove any that are damaged, or have an excess amount of pollen.  You may even want to replace a few frames of drawn comb to provide more room and ventilation for your overwintered bees.

  • Check to see if the brood boxes should be flipped to put the empty bottom box on the top and allow the bees to move up.  The more space the bees think they have the less likely they are to swarm.

  • Review the procedure for installing your bees  and prepare to install any packages you receive.

  • If you have ordered a package of bees by mail, be sure to let your post office know so they won’t be surprised.

  • If treating with chemical, be sure to complete your treatments 4 weeks before the first serious nectar flow begins.  DO NOT add supers before the 4 weeks have passed.

 May

May begins with one of the most important holiday to the bees, May Day!  A chance to celebrate the workers of the world.  After the traditional May Day parade, it is time for the worker bees to get busy.  This is the beginning of the major nectar and pollen time in our area.

In our area it’s time to:

  • Make sure your bees have enough room and are kept busy.  For a new hive, monitor how much comb has been drawn out in the hive bodies and add another body as they “run out of room”.  If necessary, move some of the undrawn frames in a space or two to allow the bees to draw comb there.  Be careful though that you do not compromise the brood pattern.  It may also be the time to reverse the hive bodies if you haven’t done this already.

  • For an older hive, it may be time to review the frames and see if you can swap out some older pollen filled frames for new ones.  This gives the bees an opportunity to be busy as well as increase some of the space in the hive and improve circulation.

  • Be prepared to “super up”.  If medicating remember that FOUR (4) weeks need to pass from the last medication treatment until the super can be added to the hive.  For new beekeepers, think of adding the super once 8 frames have been drawn out in the last hive body of the core hive area (the yearly living space for your bees).

  • Review the strength of your hive.  By mid May it will be time to remove the entrance reducer and allow the bees to have free access in and out, they are going to be busy and you don’t want to slow down the movement of honey and pollen in and out of the hive.

  • Monitor the hive for queen cups and cells.  It’s especially important to watch for Swarm Cells.  These cells usually are found at the bottom of the frame and are an indication that the hive may be to crowded and ready to swarm.

  • If feeding your hive, keep an eye on the volume, we are approaching a time when the natural nectar will take over and the need for feed drops to nothing.  Remove the feeder if they are not taking any nourishment.

 June

The nectar flow is in full swing at this point and the prudent beekeeper is watching their hives to make sure there is room for brood and storage.  It’s also a time when the bees like to spread their wings and look to divide the colony by swarming.  In our area it’s time to:

  • SUPER UP – keep an eye on the hive to make sure the bees have room to store the honey and pollen.  The super can fill quickly so a weekly review is suggested to make sure you are ahead of the colony.

  • Trim the grass/weeds around your hive.  Keeping the vegetation low around the hives give your bees a clear flight path to the hive, and makes finding a dropped hive tool and other beekeeping paraphernalia easy to spot when dropped.   It also helps keep the air flow open around the hive, and doesn’t block the circulation to those who are using a ventilated bottom board.

  • Watch for warm weather.  Your bees do their darnedest to keep the hive at the right temperature, help them out by making sure that the hive has the opportunity to get plenty of air.

  • Keep an eye out for swarm cells and take appropriate action if you are seeing the cells begin.

  • Review the various pests and diseases that can infect and affect your hive and bee on the lookout for the warning signs.

July

July brings the beekeeper with the first fruits of the bees labor.  While we are still in the summer nectar flow, the beekeeper should check to see if it’s time to harvest some of the spring honey gathered and capped in the supers installed earlier.  The first harvesting typically takes place after July 15th, which provides you with the opportunity to return the extracted frames to the hive to gather some of the remaining summer honey and prepare for the fall nectar flow that comes in September.   In our area it’s time to:

  • Check the hive for congestion, and the quality of the queen.  Is she producing a good number of eggs and laying them in an acceptable brood pattern?  Are there a larger than normal number of drone cells?  Are there supersedure cells or swarm cells being built.  Make sure you act appropriately to any issues within the hive.

  • Check for mites and small hive beetles in the hive.  They can hamper the colony, spread disease and annoy the bees.  Don’t use any chemical to treat for the problem, look to more organic ways to reduce these stressors in the colony.

  • Be sure the bees are properly hydrated.  While they spend a lot of time removing moisture from nectar, they also use a lot of water to cook  their hives during periods of high daytime temperatures.  If you are supplying water to the hive, make sure it remains full so your bees don’t go looking for another source.

  •   Because of the heat and humidity, help your hives out by properly ventilating them.

  • Continue to add supers as needed.  Make sure the bees are not overcrowded and have room to store the nectar and pollen they are collecting.

  • If you do extract, don’t be to greedy.  While there is a nectar flow currently going on, it dries up in August and doesn’t return until September.  Make sure you leave the colony with some stores to help them make it through this dearth.

  • Be sure to return the supers to the hive for cleaning our and refilling.  Using frames previously drawn out will save your bees lots of time, energy and honey when compared to drawing wax on new foundation.

  • Time the return of the freshly extracted frames for late in the day.  There have been some cases where the smell of “wet” honey stimulates bees from surrounding colonies to rob the hive, and that can cause losses to all the hives.

  • If robbing does occur, reduce or restrict the entrance for a couple of days.  It will keep the alien bees out, and give the hive an opportunity to consolidate the “wet” honey and begin the capping process.

  • Continue to keep an eye on the grass and weeds around your hive.  Make sure you keep the flight path open for the girls to get in and out.

 August

 The summer honey flow has rounded the clubhouse turn and is heading for the finish line.  Nectar and pollen sources are dropping daily and usually stops in mid August.  In our area it’s time to:

  • Inspect the colonies to assure everything is in order.  Check for diseases, mites and small hive beetles.

  • Continue to monitor your water source to assure the bees have enough water to cool the hive.

  • Ventilate in warm weather to help maintain the proper temperature and humidity in the hive.

  • If you were waiting for the end of the summer nectar flow to harvest, now is the time.

  • Return  the freshly extracted frames late in the day.  There have been some cases where the smell of “wet” honey stimulates bees from surrounding colonies to rob the hive, and that can cause losses to all the hives.

  • If robbing does occur, reduce or restrict the entrance for a couple of days.  It will keep the alien bees out, and give the hive an opportunity to consolidate the “wet” honey and begin the capping process.

  • If you are not returning all the supers to the hive, or are removing them after cleaning out, be sure to prep the supers and frames for storage with paradichlorobenzine (PDB) moth nuggets (IMPORTANT NOTE Be sure you use the appropriate moth crystals.  A specific type is needed in order to assure future safety for your bees and your honey consumers).  Another option is to freeze the frames to kill the wax moth larvae.

  • Once the nectar flow subsides, return the hive bodies to normal position, not staggered or ventilated, to reduce robbing.

  • Comb honey should be removed from the hive, trimmed and packaged.  You may want to freeze the packaged comb for 48 hours to kill any wax moth larvae before selling.

September

The second honey flow to help build the colony up begins in late August and continues into September.   With the arrival of fall and the coming of winter, it’s time to:

  • Remove the last of your honey supers for extraction.  Be sure that your hive has proper stores for the upcoming winter and early spring by making sure 60 – 80 pounds of honey are available.  You may need to leave a super in place if the lower hive bodies are not filled.

  • Inspect for diseases, mites and the quality of your queen.  If necessary or planned, re-queen in early September.

  • Finish up your honey extraction and store the supers for winter.  You can reset the supers on the hive over the inner cover for a day (put an extra inner cover or screened cover on to prevent robbing) to let the bees remove any left over honey into the lower bodies.  Be sure to remove the supers after one day.  Then inspect the extracting supers for any painting or repairs that need to be done, note any frames that will need to be replaced, moth proof the supers and store them away until the spring.  IMPORTANT NOTEparadichlorobenzine (PDB) moth nuggets (Be sure you use the appropriate moth crystals.  A specific type is needed in order to assure future safety for your bees and your honey consumers).  Another option is to freeze the frames to kill the wax moth larvae

  • For colonies light on honey stores, begin feeding sugar syrup .  The fall mixure is a 2:1 ratio of sugar to syrup (5 lbs of sugar to 1 quart of water).

  • If you are chemically treating your bees you can begin in September to medicate them through feeding and/or other methods.

  • Review the over wintering hive bodies and supers and move frames of capped honey towards the edges and bring in the partially filled frames to the center to allow the bees better access at filling them up.  CAUTION  Be sure you don’t interrupt the brood pattern.

  • Combine weak colonies that do not appear to have enough honey or bees to survive the winter.

  • If you are planning on moving your hives before winter, now is the time to do it, so they are in place before the bees begin to cluster.

  • Keep marketing your honey.  September is one of the largest honey marketing months and a large amount of honey is sold at Farmer’s Markets and fall festivals.  Check with the National Honey Board for any promotional items that are available.

October

A rainbow of colors from trees and mums and cooling nights help Bold Orion bring autumn into our area.  By the end of the month the honey bee form their winter cluster.  In our area it’s time to:

  • Mouse-proof all the hives.  Place the cleats or restricted hive entrances into place to keep the mice out of the hives.

  • Look for signs of skunk activity.  Bees are favorite sources of protein for skunks and they love to hang out in front of the hive at night and eat the bees as they come out to see what the fuss is.  Placing carpet tack strips in front of the hive will deter the skunks, or a longer length of window screen will push the skunks back and give the bees a chance to get out and sting the skunk in the stomach.

  • Assess your hives to see if you need to combine weak hives to survive the winter.  Smaller hives may not survive a cold winter if the cluster is not large enough to maintain the necessary temperature in the hive.

  • Continue feeding colonies for winter with the 2:1 sugar recipe.  The bees will continue to feed as long as the daytime temperature remains warm.

  • If you are chemically treating your colonies continue along the reccomended path.

  • Allow for upper ventilation of the hive to help remove some of the humidity from the hive during the winter months.

  • Determine if you are going to protect the colonies over the winter by wrapping them, covering them or using a wind break and order or prep the materials for November placement.

  • Plan to attend the Cook DuPage Beekeepers Association Banquet.

November

November is a shoulder month, a time to prepare for the coming winter.  It’s a mix of warm and cool days where the last leaves have fallen and perhaps the first flakes of snow.

In our area it is time to:

  • Be sure to renew your annual Apiary Registration with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

  • Check that an entrance reducer is in place to help keep the small critters out of the hive.  Mice love to over winter in a nice warm and snuggly hive.

  • Apply winter protection, wrap the colony or use some other form of insulation for winter.

  • Remove Apistan strips and menthol packets after a minimum six week treatment.

  • Provide a windbreak for bees on North or West side of hives if they are open to the wind (a snow fence or some other protection).

  • Check the stock of your accounts and settle up your account with the owner.  Provide additional honey or holiday gift baskets for the upcoming season.

  • Visit any landowners where you may have kept your hives and pay rent for the use of their property, a couple jars of honey usually does the job.

  • If daytime temperatures remain warm, continue to feed your hives low on honey with a 2:1 sugar syrup.

December

December brings the cold wind, snow and Holiday cheer.  It’s a time to focus on family and friends.  Fortunately little attention is needed by the bees.

In our area it is time to:

  • Visit the bee yard if you have an opportunity to say “Happy Holidays” to the bees.

  • While there check to make sure that no damage has occurred to the hive from wind or critters.

  • Carefully go through all the beekeeping catalogs before you write your letter to Santa with your wish list (share the list with your family so they can “suggest” things to add to the list).

  • Sit in front of the fire with a cup of tea with honey and your favorite book or bee magazine and enjoy the fruits of  your and your hives labor.