Over the years, I have figured out a few things about beekeeping in my area. Every area will be different, but the one that I care about is the one in which my beehives sit. Although seasons vary, they tend to follow a pattern which repeats each year. The changing levels of light and temperature, and the associated comings and goings of different forage plants, are inextricably linked to the behaviour of the bees.
Summer Is Not for Holidays
On Chart 1, we can see how the temperature changes over the year. In spring, the days get longer and warmer, and early forage becomes available. The queen starts to lay drone brood in April. My danger months for swarming are May and June, which means that I have to inspect hives at least weekly at this time. No holidays in May or June for this walrus. The best time for raising queens is when the bees are doing it anyway, but I can stretch this out as far as August. As long as drones are about and the weather is favourable, (20 Deg C and fine) queens will mate.
Chart 1 illustrates that where I live the summers are rarely especially hot and the winters are quite mild. My bees are not in an area that gets four feet deep snow; the dangers to my bees in winter are damp rather than cold. And varroa, of course.
Pollen Throughout the Year
My second chart, imaginatively labelled Chart 2, is based on data taken from one of my production colonies last year. The green line depicts the number of cells of brood in the hive (eggs plus larvae plus pupae). The orange line represents the number of adult bees. I have also added the primary forage plants for my bees at different times. Bee numbers grow incredibly rapidly in spring and early summer, fueled by the ample pollen and nectar available. I get a spring honey crop in June, and a summer crop in August; the two types of honey are distinctly different.
One noteworthy feature of Chart 2 is the blip upwards in the amount of brood in September/ October. Autumn is when the queen is laying the eggs that will become the “winter bees” which are so crucial for ensuring the colony’s survival through to the following spring.
Randy Oliver’s Varroa Model
Finally, Chart 3, from Randy Oliver’s varroa spreadsheet model, shows when I usually treat for varroa. After I have taken my honey harvest in August, I’ll treat with either Apivar or Thymol. Ideally, I will do an alcohol wash at this time to count the number of mites. I am a little ashamed to admit that often I apply the treatment without counting mite numbers.
I have assumed that the Apivar or Thymol is 92% effective over the weeks that it is in the hive. Sometimes large numbers of mites can invade colonies in late Autumn, especially if there is a heavily infested colony somewhere in the area. For this reason, I use an oxalic acid vapour in late November, when the amount of brood in the hive is minimal. I use something called a sublimox machine which is quick and effective, although I need to wear goggles and a mask. Inhalation of oxalic acid vapour is not a good idea. I assumed that it is 90% effective on the chart, which knocks the mites down to almost nothing.
Beekeeping Tasks by Month
My three charts show my beekeeping year. It goes roughly like this:
August: Mite count & mite treatment
September/October: Feed sugar syrup to colonies that need it
November/December: Oxalic acid treatment
February/March: Feed fondant to hives that need it
May/June: Regular inspections, check for swarming intent
Add supers to hives to provide space
June: Harvest the spring honey crop
June/July/August: Raise queens from my best stock
Use queens in newly made nucleus colonies
August: Harvest the summer honey
If conditions are kind and I do my job correctly, I will have healthy bees, plenty of honey, and I will sell some queens and nucs. Perhaps more importantly, I will have been a part of the miracle of nature that is the lifecycle of the honeybee. It’s rarely plain sailing though. There can be winter losses, poor weather causing low honey crops and preventing queens from mating, swarms, wasps, and maybe some disease. Each season throws up new challenges, but when the going gets tough, the walrus gets going!