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Members advice on what you may consider doing monthly in the apiary 

( Notice Guidance is provided specifically for Polkemmet Association Apiaries )

 

March

When the sun shines some of the bees are out and flying, however weather conditions are still very variable, so ensure adequate stores are available in your hives and NUC's to cover any sustained periods of inclement weather. Some flowers are starting to appear (mainly snowdrops and some gorse). It is suggested that, if you want an early start to colony build up, pollen substitute may also be added as a further feeding supplement.

April

With increasing better weather, this month is typically the month when first full hive inspections can be done. These should be done on a warm sunny day (temperature at least 10degC) with little wind, so the bees are more content when disturbed. Look for

  • Queen/eggs,

  • Open & Sealed brood, and any possible disease, significantly EFB in open brood and AFB in sealed brood, both of which are notifiable. Chalkbrood is particularly prevalent at around this time but unless severe usually resolves itself with time. Varroa  may still be a problem so assess whether a further Spring treatment will be needed.

  • Stores available and supplement if needed.  With increased temperature, switch from using fondant to 1:1 (1Litre water to 1 kg sugar syrup ) using a rapid feeder. You may also choose use a Hive Alive Supplement in the syrup for extra boost. If you find that there is too much honey in the brood chamber then it is advisable to scratch the brood honey surface to encourage the bees to consume or move the stores, and put a super on. This will give the Queen more room to lay and act as a swarm prevention measure.

It is also advisable to do a spring clean of the hive, the minimum being cleaning the debris accumulated over the winter period on the hive floor. Marking Queens is also useful at this time of year, when there are fewer bees and the Queen can be more easily found.

You should consider moving over-wintered NUCs into full hives if they have built up sufficiently. Consider what equipment you may need in the coming season and order as required, especially with regard to the future swarm prevention/control methods you plan to use. Likewise consider the extra frames and foundation needed for the coming season both for brood and supers.

May

Hurrah we are now well into the Northern Hemisphere's Bee year and World Bee Day is on 20th May!!

Colonies should be well into their increase now with 6 to 8 frames of bees on frames in the brood box. Unfortunately some colonies having survived the winter haven't prospered and for example due to a late mated queen last year, may actually be on decline rather than increase. In this case the queen hasn't enough sperm from her mating flights to sustain worker laying and will start producing drone brood instead. This drone laying queen can be identified, from having an irregular drone laying pattern, little brood, and single eggs at the bottom of cells. Whereas a drone laying worker  tends to lay multiple eggs per cell and these can be on the cell walls rather than at the bottom.

 

As the queen is still present, the hive is still queen-right and appears content, however without intervention the colony will eventually collapse. With drone brood being laid, there is no chance of raising a new queen without adding frame of worker eggs from another hive or NUC. These must be disease free, and it is also advisable to shake in more nurse bees, and possibly add a frame of sealed brood to reinforce this weakened colony. This ensures enough bees are available to raise the brood. All being well, with good weather the colony should recover and sort themselves out. For example see : "Fixing a drone laying queen", Gwenyn Grufydd

A laying worker is a more serious problem and usually the only solution is to do a shook swarm, in the hope that the laying worker doesn't return to the hive. However you may try this fix, again in the hope of success. In the worst case you may end up sacrificing the brood/hive and just let the forage bees distribute themselves among other queen-right hives.  

Finally May is the month that swarming may start to occur, so supers need to be added to those colonies which need the space i.e. those with 6-8 frames of bees in the brood box or in the current top super. This should suppress the  urge for the colony to swarm, and is part of general swarm prevention. If queen cells are found during inspections then you are into swarm control mode, and some of the swarm control techniques mentioned in "Resources" need to be implemented.

June

There have been a number of reports to the association of swarms - most of these have simply been bumble-bee nests, which can safely be left to their own devices. A few actual swarms have already been collected and it's worth reading up on how to go about this and have the necessary equipment to hand if needed. Although collecting swarms is not recommended for inexperienced beekeepers. Likewise you may consider setting up some bait hives in positions where you think bees may be likely to swarm.  "How to use a bait hive" provides some useful information on using and positioning bait hives.

In beekeeping the month of June is synonymous with the "June Drop" which is the period  at the end of the Spring flowering season and the beginning of the summer season. During this period the lack of forage results in low availability of nectar and it is important to assess the amount of nectar stores in your hives to ensure that the bees have sufficient to cover them over this "drop". If not you may need to feed sugar syrup to supplement. Colonies may even have a brood-break or certainly experience a reduction in egg-laying over this period, depending on the forage available in the area.

As always, hive inspections should continue - weekly if possible, to look for

  • disease, (particularly foul brood, and varroa),

  • size and space available in the colony, taking swarm prevention measures if needed i.e.

    • colony splits​

    • extra supers

  • amount of colony stores

  • presence of the queen and/or eggs

  • Play cups/Queen Cells

 

You should also start seeing both drone cells and drones in your colonies.​

July

 

This is the main honey flow month so provided that the weather is fine, ensure that all hives have enough supers to accommodate the increased nectar brought in by the bees. Swarming is still possible, so beware if you start to see a diminishing of stores in the hive, as bees may gorge themselves a few weeks prior to actual swarming.

There should be plenty of forage available this month, blackberry, willow-herb etc. so with decent weather a good honey harvest should be forth-coming. Keep an eye on varroa levels, and if needed sacrifice drone brood as a means of reducing infestation. Thymol varroa treatments should not be used as they can contaminate the honey making it taste unpleasant to both bees & humans.

As standard, hive inspections should continue as normal and hive records updated appropriately.

 

August

This is the harvesting month when hopefully you can take and extract your honey supers. The SBA have a "Harvesting and Processing Honey" video covering the operations which may be useful. Capped honey has the lowest water content and should be extracted a a batch first, as legally for sale in the UK, honey must have a water content of 20% or less. Honey with a higher water content may ferment as natural yeasts can survive in this more dilute honey. Water content can be measured using Honey Refractometer which is different from those used in home brewing. Uncapped honey can still be extracted and may even make the less than 20% grade, but even if it doesn't can still be used in baking, or making mead etc. or even left for the bees, just not sold.

Prior to removing the supers it is best to place the supers above a clearer board for a few hours, The clearer board allows the bees to descend into the brood box from the supers but prevents them going back up ( A one way valve for bees !). This makes it a lot easier to remove the supers, with only a few lingering bees needing to be brushed off. Most wooden crown boards can also double as clearer boards through the use of bee escapes.. There are a few types of bee escapes, but the most popular are "Porter" which fit into the slots in the crown wooden boards, and the "Rhombus" which attaches below the slot and may need to be placed on top of an eke in order to cater for its depth. The "Rhombus" is generally preferred, but both work well. In the absence of a clearer board, bees can be shaken off the combs or even blown off using an unlit smoker or garden blower, which can be a bit aggressive.

Extracting the honey is a sticky affair and needs to be done in a hygienic environment, typically your kitchen. The brute force method, if you don't have access to a honey extractor is to crush the comb and place it into a double honey strainer, and straining cloth above a food-grade container. The honey will gradually flow and be collected. Most associations however have a honey extractor/spinner that can be borrowed, for this once or twice a year event. The advantage to using an extractor is that the wax honey comb in the frames can be preserved, allowing the bees a head start in the following year since they don't  need to draw out foundation before storing nectar.

The frames are first uncapped, on both sides. This can be done using an uncapping fork, heated knife or even a hot air gun. The cappings should be retained as they can be placed back on top of the crown board of the colony they came from. The bees scavenge any remnants of honey from these to add to their winter stores in the brood box.

Honey extractors come in two types:

"Radial" where the frames are placed in the extractor as if they are the spokes of a wheel, and honey from both sides of the frame can be extracted simultaneously. 

 

"Tangential" extractors have the frames placed facing the sides of the extractor drum like the tyre of a wheel. First one side of the frame is spun, partially removing the honey, then the frame turned to partially extract the other side, and the process repeated until all the honey is recovered.

 

Although not often noticeable, the cells have a slight incline towards the top bars of the frame, so the frames should be placed into a radial extractor with the bottom bars closest to the center, and for the tangential extractor, with the bottom bars first in the direction of travel. Ideally frames with approximately the same amount of honey should be placed in the extractor at the same time to try and minimise the extractor imbalance when spinning.

 

Frames should be spun slowly to begin with, and the speed increased. The aim, as well as extracting the honey is to not damage the comb structure of the frames. For tangential extractors, honey will be forced from the side facing the drum, but on the side away from the drum, it will be forced against the cells. Thus it can potential damage the comb if it is spun to quickly for too long. Basically spin briefly and slowly to start, and reverse the frames (keeping the bottom bars still first in the direction of travel) and repeat.

The honey will gather in the bottom of the extractor and it should not be allowed to fill to the level of the moving parts otherwise it will be churned. Open the honey gate and allow the honey to flow through a double honey filter  and cloth strainer into a settling tank/bucket. The filters will remove any wax or dead bee parts from contaminating the honey. At this stage the honey can contain a lot of small air bubbles so is best left in a cool dark place for a few days to settle before jarring. 

Finally the extracted frames should be placed back in the supers and placed over the crown board of the colonies from which they came. The bees will clean these up removing any honey from the cells which the extractor couldn't retrieve. This should take the bees only 2 or 3 days, after which the supers can be removed for storage until next season.

Useful information on labelling honey for small scale production and sale is available here, Customised labels can be designed and printed using a laser printer, or may be purchased directly with more limited customization, e.g. "Bee-equipment.co.uk" among others.

Once the supers are removed it is also worth considering whether to do a varroa treatment, as often these can't be used when honey is present. Likewise preparations for Autumn feeding of 2:1 sugar:water should be started - ensuring you have enough feeders for your NUCs and hives.

September

With the supers removed, it is now important to consider the varroa treatments that can be applied to ensure your colony has the best chance of surviving through the winter and not succumb to the viruses normally associated with the varroa mites. In the UK, varroa treatments must be approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and purchase and treatment records retained for up to 5 years. Only authorized products should be used. Details of the records needed are available on the Beebase website. Typical products in current use, and their application details are covered on the BeeCraft website During some treatments, typically those Thymol based, expect a decrease in brood as the queen laying rate decreases. For this reason some beekeepers prefer the Oxalic acid based treatments.

In preparation for the winter, it is important to ensure that enough stores are present for the bees to survive this cold period. To that end most beekeepers will start to feed 2:1 (sugar : water) syrup from mid-September to build up stores in the brood box. If a honey super, with adequate stores is left on the hive, this may not be necessary. Over the winter period, it is not advised to feed syrup and instead you should consider buying fondant now, in preparation for winter feeding.

You should also assess the strength of your colonies at this time and consider uniting weak or queen-less with queen-right colonies to provide a better chance of survival. 

Honey robbing will also become prevalent at this time, both by wasps and other bees due to the declining availability of forage. Entrance reducers should be used to restrict the hive entrance size giving the guard bees a smaller area to defend. Avoid spillages of sugar syrup and ensure no honey frames are left exposed, as this further encourages the bees robbing behavior. It is also useful to check your hives for any psychical damage that would  allow robbing wasps or bees to bypass the hive guard bees and gain entrance to the hive stores unchallenged.

October

So the beekeeping year is winding down and there will be less activity in the apiary over the coming autumn/winter months. There may still be some activity from the bees as they seek and store nectar/pollen from late flowering ivy on the warmer days. All hive inspections will have stopped now, leaving the bees to cluster safely in the lower temperatures. Less frequent but an essential task, will be to ensure that the bees have sufficient food to enable them to generate the heat needed to survive in their cluster. This may require providing additional sugar fondant if and when required.

Fondant can be applied either directly on top bars of the frames or preferably on top of one of the holes in the crown board. When applied on top of the crown board, fondant checks can be made, while minimising the heat loss to the hive. An eke or super acting as a eke may be needed to provide the extra space needed to accommodate the thickness of fondant.

 

Often, particularly with wooden hives, further insulation is placed above the crown board and under the roof. This conserves the heat generated by the bees and can reduce their rate of food consummation as a result. Hive wraps are also available, which are fixed around the outer brood/super/eke boxes to further insulate the hive.

It is still necessary to pay close attention to the weather, as any storms and high winds may result in damage or overturning of the hives. So after such storms it is important to check the hives are still in position and weatherproof. Hives should be secured with hive straps and/or suitable weights on their rooves to minimise this possible storm damage.

The colder weather also encourages mice to seek shelter and a hive is a warm and well supplied home for them. Where needed, Mouse-guards should be fitted to prevent mice entering the hive and consuming the stores needed for the bees' winter survival. Once clustered the bees will no-longer defend against such invaders. Likewise if woodpeckers are a problem in your vicinity then the hives will need to be surrounded with wire mesh for protection and to deter them.

November

With the so far a milder Autumn/Winter the winter bees are flying a lot more than typically. Pollen from ivy is still being brought into the hive so with NUCs it is best to set the opening at half rather than use the excluder setting. The excluder may result in pollen being stripped from the bees as they enter. At first frosts, you can change the setting to the excluder position to  prevent any possible mouse damage. With more the active bees, the winter stores will be consumed more quickly so its important to still do checks every 2 to 3 weeks and feed fondant if deemed necessary. 

So with little else to do in the Apiary other than some regular checks ensuring that the bees have enough stores, now is the time to ensure everything is in good shape for next season.

1. Repair and clean any equipment,

2. Tidy up around your hives

3. Continue your bee education/research by reading relevant magazines, books and following the various YouTube channels specifically those of the SBA.

4. Take some time to review your hive records and consider what went well and what you have learnt from this current year.

5. Prepare a xmas list for friends and relatives with your next season beekeeping wants in mind

6. Look out for end-of-season beekeeping bargains from the main suppliers.

 

December

Much the same as November !

  • Check your hive feed levels regularly to prevent starvation, minimising the duration the hives are open for any checks in the cold weather.

  • Check Hives after high winds to ensure they are still intact.

  • Consider an Oxalic Acid (trickle or sublimation) treatment to control varroa when brood levels are low.

  • Enjoy the holiday season - maybe a good time to craft candles or other products from the years collected and rendered beeswax.

January

Days are starting to lengthen and in mild conditions brood may be starting to be raised as the colony begins its gradual expansion towards spring. Particularly if mild, bees can waste energy or foraging flights even though none is available yet. That, together with the start of raising brood mean winter stores may become depleted so again its important to check feed levels and feed fondant if required.

An approximate estimate of varroa levels can be made by cleaning the removable hive floor, replacing it, and counting the number of varroa mite drop  present on the floor in a week or mores time. The varroa calculator on the National Bee unit can be used to determine whether further treatment is needed.

February

So again, much like January:

  •  check hives regularly for food levels and ensure they are secure following any storms.

  • Continue monitoring the hive floor as a varroa check.

  • Look out for online and in-person seminars and lectures on beekeeping topics, and support your association as they start their beginners' beekeeping courses, and follow up mentoring.

  • Look out for Bee-keeping trade shows and auctions that may be local or national.

  • Make up frames in preparation for the start of the year.

  • Tempting as it, resist fully opening hives for any kind of inspection as it is still too early in the year and too cold.

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