*Note this is based on south-central PA, temperatures and times can vary depending on where you are located in PA. Some of the northern mountain areas are 2-3 weeks behind us in seasons.
- Oxalic Acid Vapor works well to purge mites, after the winter solstice and colonies are broodless. Try to find a 45-50 degree day.
- Check that all hives have adequate stores, add winter patties, or sugar, or candy boards as needed (a 1-4% pollen amount is fine for winter feed). January through March are common months for bees to starve. This is also when colonies can start consuming more of their resources than they did in the first half of the winter.
- When checking stores, make sure there is no unusual moisture buildup. Top insulation or quilt boxes typically help with that, but are not completely necessary.
- Make sure entrances are not blocked, so bees can take a cleansing flight on warmer days.
- If needing to purchase bees, reserve nucs now!
- Prep equipment for spring and take advantage of price discounts at this time of year!
- Check colony weights and winter stores. Add food if necessary.
- Brood rearing begins in overwintered colonies (very large colonies may have started as early as January).
- In southern part of state, can start to add small amount of pollen patty in late February–depending on weather probably early March in northern counties. As you go into spring, it’s important to remember that if you’re using pollen patties, don’t give too much–base it on the hive size and how much they are consuming. I often use 1/4 or 1/3 of a patty to ensure it does not attract pests.
- Continue feeding pollen patties until plenty of natural early pollens (like Maple) are available.
- Continue to make sure all colonies have food–this is a common time for colonies to starve as they build up. Extra frames of honey or hard feed are still best until it warms up. Depending on location and weather, you can probably switch from hard sugars to light syrup at some point in March (approximately 1:1 syrup).
- This is also a good month to make sure you’re free of varroa mites. You should be starting the season out primarily clear of mites. If you’ve never done a mite check, I recommend buying something like the Easy Check. Here is a video showing how to do a mite count. Here is a handy tool for deciding what your treatment options are, based on time of year and other factors.
- Go into the year understanding the science behind why varroa control is important. The mites and all of the associated viruses and bacteria they spread weaken and can eventually kill your colonies. They also impact native pollinators such as bumble bees, so you do not want to be contributing to spreading varroa.
- Providing a water source prior to the start of the season is usually the best (so they won’t find your neighbor’s pool). They do seem to like water with minerals or some salinity/chlorine. Bees will continue to rely on this water source during the season.
- Late March (or early April) is a good time to start putting out moth/yellow jacket traps before they get started and out of control.
- If you’re new to beekeeping or starting over, this is a good time to make sure things are ready for your bees.
- If you have a chance of bears or other predators, start out with fencing (preferably some electric) rather than waiting for a problem to occur.
- If you have overwintered colonies, you’ve made it–well done! If by chance you had a colony make it through without mite treatments, be prepared for earlier problems and more significant colony issues from mites this year–not a good thing.
- If you have strong hives, you can remove the mouse guard now for full access to bring in pollen and nectar.
- If you have overwintered colonies, as the local pollen sources increase, you can put a pause on the pollen patties, unless you have a weak hive that is not doing much foraging.
- You can continue to feed weak hives until natural nectar sources kick into full swing. Here is a table of syrup recipe amounts.
- If you have overwintered colonies, start to assess the performance of your queen and make plans for this year or next year to replace her. Yes, queens can last for years, but younger queens have less chance of swarming, better performance and better overwintering.
- If you have overwintered colonies, get things ready for spring buildup, swarm season, and supering. Be proactive and ready!
- Large hives will be producing greater numbers of drones.
- Be proactive throughout the season to watch for signs of problems like varroa, EFB, AFB, chalkbrood.
- If you’re just starting with bees, you can take advantage the natural nectar flow and also do supplemental feeding if they accept it. Some years you may turn a first year nuc into honey producing hive, but some years you may building it only to the point of a strong hive to overwinter.
- Any weak hives that aren’t doing a lot of foraging could be fed some pollen patty until you see them bringing it in.
- May or June (or August) are great months to requeen if you’re considering it.
- Keep ahead of swarming with supers and space for strong hives.
- Keep feeding any new colonies unless you have a strong nectar flow and they’re bringing it in. Either way, if you’re new to beekeeping and trying make a lot of new combs, a 1:1 syrup will encourage it.
- Keep watching for swarming on all colonies. Make sure they have adequate space.
- Assess your queens. It’s always fine to replace a poorly performing queen–the sooner the better!
- Monitor for mites! May and June bring lots of drone brood, which varroa mites love.
- My overwintered colonies usually have honey to extract now–often a lot of spring tree honey.
- June and July are the months where the colonies are the largest. By mid July you may notice some more defensive behavior from colonies as they protect and compete for resources. When there is less forage available, older foragers may be hanging around the hive, and they are more likely to sting.
- KEEP ON TOP OF MITE COUNTS AND TREATMENTS. July is often the start of the end for colonies. Mites can quickly go from 0-bad, and even if you “can’t see a visible problem” they can be spreading diseases and weakening the colony. If you’ve never done a mite check, I recommend buying something like the Easy Check. Here is a video showing how to do a mite count. Here is a handy tool for deciding what your treatment options are, based on time of year and other factors.
- Keep monitoring colonies for swarming and space. This slows down as we get into July.
- Usually I pull of my second batch of honey in early-mid July, depending on conditions. This tends to be more wildflower honey with some tree nectar.
- Leave enough resources for the colonies if you’re pulling honey, and watch conditions for a dearth–often happens in mid-late July. If there is a drought/dearth, resources can be consumed very fast, and you may need to lightly feed and/or add some supplemental pollen.
- Continue your mite monitoring and applicable treatment. You need healthy bees as the colonies decline from their peak population.
- If your area is in a dearth, consider pollen patties and light feeding. Don’t open feed or encourage robbing. Be careful when inspecting hives with lots of honey that you don’t kick off a robbing frenzy by other hives.
- If you have small colonies, you may want to use an entrance reducer to prevent robbing.
- Continue to monitor and treat from mites. You’re reaching the point where if you’ve decided not to treat, it may be too late to save the colony.
- Continue to add pollen patties and feed, if necessary. Light 1:1 can still be used until mid-September (when I switch to heavier Pro Sweet).
- It is common that pollen and outside nectar sources later in the summer are from one or two sources that may or may not be the best for bees during the winter. Some supplemental feed and pollen can help balance that out. It’s easier to boost a colony’s food reserves now than later in the year. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you see goldenrod and aster blooming that the bees will have enough for winter.
- Reduce space or combine any weak colonies. Weak colonies now will not magically become strong colonies later in the fall. Lots of food will not make up for small colonies without enough bees.
- Finish/remove your mite treatments.
- Feed heavy syrup to any colonies not packed with stores.
- In early October a little pollen substitute is still ok.
- Start working on your fall/winter setup. Start planning for mouse guards at the entrances. Remove any entrance reducers when you install the mouse guards.
- Heavy feeding should be complete.
- Set up your colonies for winter. If you’re using quilt boxes/moisture boards, etc. put them on. Put some kind of insulation under the lid. Consider a wind break if you’re in a very windy, cold area. If you use screened bottom boards, you might consider adding a slide in board for less wind to blow in.
- Continue your protection (electric fence, etc.) for bears.
- Make sure all colonies are in whatever winter configuration you’ve decided to use.
- Unless a colony has no stores, wait for consistent cold weather to add any hard feed (sugar, winter patties, candy board, etc.) or they may just haul it out of the colony.
- Consider a December oxalic acid mite treatment to eliminate mites after the colonies are without brood. This is a great way to ensure a more complete mite kill–not trying to create any controversy, but sometimes despite your efforts at mite management, when other colonies near you collapse in the fall, they spread their mites to your colonies, making a winter treatment advisable.
- Here is another great calendar from Cornell, probably more specific to the southern-tier of New York state.
Sample Mite Treatment Plan (**this is only to give you an idea of the effort that is involved—it all depends on your mite counts and your location**). Note that Oxalic Acid and Formic are organic, and Apiguard is considered to be organic outside of the U.S. Apivar is not organic, and if it is used, you need time before adding any honey supers. I do not use Apivar on my honey, pollen, or propolis-producing colonies, but for a beginner trying to get bees through the winter, it has the lowest learning curve–most mite treatments work, as long as they are used correctly and at the right time.