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Spring Planning Calendar

 

To Do List for Each Month: Planning Ahead

At this time of year there are a lot of questions about what the beekeeper should be doing. We have been busy teaching the annual Bee School with our beekeeping club. As part of our efforts to prepare these new beekeepers we have prepared this month by month summary of what is happening in our area, what the bees are doing at that time, and what the beekeeper needs to be doing.

This list is prepared specifically for our area of Southwest Missouri. However, if you adjust the time line to reflect the weather patterns in your area, it should be helpful to you as well.

January:

In most winters, we see a day over 50 degrees almost every week. Watch the weather – when these warm days are coming, plan to get out to the hives in the afternoon and do a quick check. Only open the hives if the temperature is above 50 and the bees are flying.
The winter solstice has passed and the days start slowly lengthening. The increase in daylight hours signals wildlife to start spring preparations. The bees know this.

What the bees are doing: Mostly huddling for warmth. They will take short cleansing flights to evacuate their bowels on sunny days. There is little to no brood in the hive at this time.
Early pollen sources are available (like witch hazel) but most of the time, the weather prevents the bees from getting it. On the few warm days, bees will be bringing in pollen.

  • What the beekeeper is doing:
    • When warm days occur; put your ear to the side of the hive and listen for the buzz of live bees
    • Pop the lid and add a sugar cake if needed. DO NOT PULL ANY FRAMES – unless some emergency measure is needed. There is almost nothing you can do that won't cause more harm than good at this time of the year.
    • Reduce the entrances if not done already.
    • Review your records. Which genetic lines did best? Who produced the most honey? Who performed the best. Which lines consistently do well year after year? Plan to breed those lines. Plan which lines to cull (by re-queening with daughters from the best lines).
    • Make plans for how to achieve the goals this coming year. How many hives do you want? How many nucs to sell?
    • Build/prep equipment: frames, foundation, boxes: deeps-mediums-comb, bottoms, lids, hive stands, yards. Now is the time to build, by March it is too late.
    • Fix and repair old equipment
    • Reviewing records on where to put bait hives next year. Mapping where you got swarm and removal calls from years past.

February:

We start seeing a lot more variability in the weather in February. There are lots of very cold nights (5-20 degrees), and often warm days over 60 or even 70 degrees. Become a weather watcher and plan to look at the hives on warm days.
Witch hazel shrubs bloom. The first maples and elms bloom in mid to late February. Bees bring in lots of pollen. Dandelions, crocus, daffodills start blooming.

What the bees are doing: The bees are responding to the lengthening daylight hours and warmer temperatures by increasing brood production. This means they are increasing the amount of honey and pollen they are eating.
The bees will be bringing in pollen on warm days when the trees bloom. This stimulates them into further increase in activity. Some hives will actually start putting nectar into upper boxes when trees bloom! This is why pollen substitute patties are usually unnecessary.
The bees cluster during the cold days and nights but quickly become active on those days when the temperatures rise above 45 degrees or so.

  • What the beekeeper is doing:
    • Check hives on warm days – are bees flying? If not, check the hive for dead outs.
    • Clean out dead outs and prep them for receiving splits in April
    • continue to make plans
    • continue to build and repair equipment. This is the last chance. By Mid-March there won't be enough time to finish equipment.
    • Preparing hives or nuc boxes for splits and swarms.
    • Preparing queen rearing frames
    • Preparing bait hives
    • Contact land owners for permission to put up bait hives
    • Securing permission for new bee yards
    • securing pollination contracts?

March:

By Mid march the bee season is in full swing (this has caught me by surprise several times!) - be prepared! Although there are still cold snaps, the days and night are warmer on average and there are more daylight hours.

What the bees are doing: The bees are continuing to ramp up their activities. They are raising more brood and eating more. Their food consumption can increase by 700%! This is why strong hives often starve in March, just when the winter seems over, the colony can starve if we are not attentive. This may be a reason to feed pollen substitute patties (mostly for the sugar content) if there are extended cold snaps.
They are working early nectar sources (dandelions, purple dead nettle, etc). They start to rear the population they will need to harvest the strong nectar flow in April. They need to start working 6 weeks ahead to achieve the maximum population numbers mid April. Because of this rapid population increase, the hives can quickly become cramped and the queen can run out of room to lay. This stimulates swarming.
Strong hives can swarm by the end of March – that's how active they can be!

  • What the beekeeper is doing:
    • Add feed if necessary in early March. Watch the weather, if there are cold periods coming, add a sugar cake to protect the bees. If producing brood is a goal, you might add a pollen substitute patty (this should only be a goal for nuc producers! It is counter-productive for regular beekeepers. The bees know when to increase their brood production, they don't need us messing with their natural schedule. We do more harm than good.)
    • Remove the winter rim by Mid March. There is enough nectar flowing that the bees don't need sugar blocks or can be fed sugar water. And, the bees will fill the rim with fresh comb that can't be managed. It is wasteful to have to destroy this fresh comb as we remove it. Much better to have that fresh comb drawn in frames than in an open rim.
    • Open the hive entrance at least half way, more if it is warmer. They weather the cold snaps much better than we expect.
    • Some hives may need reversed. Some hives move down naturally. If there is brood in the lower box, don't reverse.
    • Watch for build up to swarming in late March. A few, exceptional hives may need to be split by late March. Some hives may need to have a box added already.
    • Better have enough frames and foundation prepped to handle the explosion of activity in late March - April.
    • Have boxes/hives ready to receive splits and swarms in April
    • Place bait hives
    • Prepare the comb honey boxes/frames

April:

April is one of the busiest months for the bees and therefore for the beekeeper. The weather gets consistently warm, but there are short cold snaps. April and May are the biggest nectar flows of the year. These two months represent about 80% of the bee's harvest for the year.

What the bees are doing: The bees will be working at full speed now. They have been building their population steadily for the last 6 weeks in preparation for this time. They need to have the maximum workforce of the year by the end of this month to take advantage of the main nectar flow (April and May). So the hives are brimming with bees. The queen is competing with the workers for empty cells. She wants to lay more eggs, they want to fill the cells with nectar so they can dehydrate it as honey. When they are using all available cells, they will want to swarm
Most of the hives will want to swarm by mid April. Some will swarm by the first of April. Things get real crowded, real quick.
Because they have raised a lot of young bees in the last 6 weeks, and because they want to create as much brood rearing space and nectar storage space as possible, they are at their peak wax production in late April. Now is the time to get new combs drawn.
They are raising brood, gathering nectar, building comb, and producing honey at a breakneck rate!

  • What the beekeeper is doing:
    • Adjust the entrance for temperature and strength.
    • open the screen bottom at least a little
    • Rotate out old frames and replace with new foundation or starter strips. Placement of these new frames is critical. Now is the time to get new comb drawn!
    • Use frame replacement to re-arrange the hive. Put Brood to the bottom, empty space above brood and to the edges. Create room for wax drawing and nectar storage. Expand the brood nest to reduce swarming tendencies.
    • Queen replacement possibility. Poor performers get requeened. Use these poor performers to rear queens by adding frames of eggs from strong lines. Or, requeen with daughters from strong lines.
    • Chasing swarms. Don't be surprised to get several swarms calls on good days.
    • Place Bait hives
    • start early splits
    • start queen rearing
    • add comb honey boxes/frames on strong hives
    • Stack more boxes on most hives. Most hives can have 2-4 boxes added
    • Be prepared for rapid population expansion of Carniolans and “Russians” (which are Carni-Ital hybrids). These races can grow to swarming size crazy fast!
    • Start splitting and queen rearing every week

May: Second biggest nectar gathering month of the year. Everything seems to be in bloom! Usually no more frosts. Day are getting very warm and long. The bees are working so fast it is hard to keep up. Swarm calls come in fast and furious. Beekeepers work 7 days a week.

  • What the bees are doing:
    • Gathering nectar like mad. They must gather 9 month's worth of nectar in April, May and June. That is a lot of work. They are in overdrive during May.
    • Dehydrating the nectar – which means they need twice the space to spread it out and fan air over it.
    • Their populations peak by the end of the month (part of why they swarm). The colony is at it's largest by the end of May
    • building comb. May is the peak of comb drawing for the girls. Get all the comb drawn that you can because it will start to taper off in June and be done by July
    • swarming. Our swarm season lasts through May. Keep an eye on them.
  • What the beekeeper is doing:
    • Add boxes. Add them early!
    • Open the screen bottom
    • Make sure there is a lot of empty space in the hive. Lots of foundation/starter strips. Lots of empty comb.
    • Continue raising new queens and starting new colonies by splitting. Be careful not to split too much and hinder the colony's ability to harvest honey.
    • Replace poor performing queens to protect the genetic quality of the operation
    • Harvest the comb honey supers and early spring varietals.
    • Check bait boxes
    • Capturing swarms

Take a careful look at this list and look ahead to what equipment you'll need to have ready to be prepared for next month!

 

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