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Seasonal Advice Moving Forward....


The best advice is to read each month's advice.

Some information is given ahead of time for planning and preparation.  

Learning from the Past

Seasonal Advice for March

This is the month that many beekeepers find which made it through winter, and which hives died. Questions are asked, educated guesses are made, and hopefully all beekeepers learn something moving forward.


Did the hive starve? Did the colony get stuck on brood and not move to the food? Did they have dysentery? Did they have high levels of nosema? Was there enough brood raised last fall to carry the colony through winter with enough bees for normal function of the hive? Did pesticides degrade the colony in overall health? Was mites an issue? Do you keep queens around too long increasing the chances of queen failure? Was mother nature just more harsh than normal? Afterall, not all hives are intended to make it through every year. It just does not work that way in nature.


Did you as the beekeeper do what should have been done last fall? Did you combine weak hives? Or did you do what most do and try to save each and every hive, increasing your hive winter death toll higher than what it should of been? A weak queen (and a weak colony) being "saved" by a beekeeper also means these will be the traits passed on this year with any queens being mated.


Was there too much moisture in the hive by feeding syrup in cold weather? Or did you heed the advice given on this page last fall?


Most hives died due to factors that began last fall. Go back and read the advice from last year and see if any clues could be gained as to why your colonies died.

The Start of the New Colony

Seasonal advice for February

February, which is the coldest part of the year in the north, is also the month that most hives start rearing brood. It is amazing how based on the longer daylight of each passing day, that the bees instinctively know that it is time to start rearing brood. Questions yu must ask are; Is there enough food, both honey and pollen, for them to get the job done? If not, you as the beekeeper needs to step in and provide what they require.


February is also the time to get bees ordered as waiting any longer may find you scrambling for later delivery dates or finding out that bees sell out every year.


Not much most beekeepers can do with the actual colony at this time of the year. Too cold to work the bees, and most hives are better left undisturbed.

Getting a Head Start

Seasonal Advice for January


At the first chance you get, inspect your hives. It seems there is always a break in the cold temperatures, warm enough to take a peak into the hives. Take note of any dead hives. Did they die in cluster? Piled on the bottom board? Scattered throughout the hive? Did they run out of stores and starve? Learning from each situation and circumstance will make you a better beekeeper moving from one year to the next.


A good suggestion is that any dead hives up till the end of the year usually means disease and/or mite issues. This could of caused smaller than normal clusters (Inadequate fall brood) not able to cope with the cold, premature shrinking of the cluster as the bees lifespan was shortened, and a poorly functioning cluster due to sickness.


Hives strong enough to make it to January usually are not effected by disease or mites. Most hives dying from this point forward are lost due to starvation. Beekeepers simply fail to feed light hives as the bees start early season brood rearing. The first half of the winter season may see bees utilize only 30% of their stored honey or feed. But once brood rearing starts, the bees in the same amount of time will burn through the remaining 70% and be on the verge of starvation in late February. Don't let them die now on something you have the ability to handle.


If you do have winter dead outs, get the hives out of the bee yards. Store them in a shed or unheated garage. Your wooden ware will last many more years if only hives with bees sit outside in the bee yards.


Put together new hives, get them painted, and get winter tasked completed. Bees bringing in pollen and early spring temperatures will be here in about 8 weeks. That time will fly by.


If you need bees, get them ordered. Do not wait till spring to order your bees. Most providers will be sold out by that time. Many new beekeepers wait to long and miss starting beekeeping every year.


Scan the PennApic "events" page and start marking your calendar of dates of programs you plan to attend and assist. Pass along the date and information of the PennApic spring workshop in March to those thinking of starting beekeepng this coming year.

Year End Savings

Seasonal Advice for December


Many equipment suppliers have year end specials and free shipping programs. So if you need more equipment, this is a good time to order. And you also take advantage of this years prices in case they go up next year.


As the year comes to an end, go over your records. Sit down and think about how the year played out. Ask yourself; What did I do wrong? What went right? What are my changes for the new year? What will make me a better beekeeper this coming year? 


Pick one new aspect of beekeeping (queen rearing, splitting, comb honey, candles, etc.) and make a commitment to yourself on learning a new subject within the bee industry.


Consider passing along an old bee book that has been collecting dust on the bookshelf. Help another new beekeeper get started.

Give Thanks

Seasonal Advice for November


November is a time to sit back and ponder all your winter prep. It is too cold to do much except on the warmest days. And it really is too late to correct much if your hives are not ready by this time of the year. So here is some advice as we wrap up the end of the year.


* Make some notes while you can still remember what went right, and what you could of done differently with your fall prep. A journal or bee calendar is very handy. Did you start your preparation too late? What would you of done differently if not for running out of time before cold weather?


* Order bee equipment by the end of the year to get this year?s rates. Many items slowly creep up in price from year to year.


* Clean out any equipment you can now. Paint what needs painted. Later in December and January it will be much colder. Especially if you have an unheated garage or workshop.


* Read a good bee book you have been wanting to read. Reread a book you haven?t picked up in awhile. It is amazing how many little tricks, ideas, and suggestions, that you lose or forget as the years roll by. Getting back to basics and taking a beginners viewpoint is sometimes very refreshing.


* Consider dedicating more time to the bee association. Is this the year you become a mentor to another beginner? If you make a commitment now, can you help out more than you did last year? Bee association functions require many people contributing to make the whole event a success.


* Keep in mind that we will have a spring workshop. It is free to attend. Now is the time to talk to others about getting into beekeeping. Educating the public, speaking at schools, and encouraging others to start beekeeping never really stops.


* Keep an eye on when (or if) your hives die throughout the winter. While opening up your hives is not always the best thing to do, monitoring the colony to see any problems can be very revealing. Are the bees dying off too soon? (old bees, tracheal mites, pesticides) Is the cluster stuck on brood later than normal? Are they eating stores too fast? Waiting till spring to open a dead hive that died months earlier sometimes hides signs and information you could use next year.


* Regardless of how your season played out, give thanks. Someone is always far worse off than you. Beekeepers are the ultimate optimists. We always think that tomorrow, next week, next month, or next season will be better. Even when it really wasn't that bad to begin with.


Season of Change

Advice for October


With October, comes many doubts, concerns, and questions about feeding, wrapping, and about anything we can think of in ways to prepare the hives for the quickly approaching cold weather. So we will answer some basic questions in attempts to help you properly prepare. Some of these questions were sent into PennApic in the past several days.


Question: I still have a couple light hives. When do I stop feeding syrup, and change over to fondant or other solid feed?

Answer: Normally, by mid-October, we had had several cold nights and the temps start to drop seemingly day by day. Fondant and additional sugar (normally granulated), should be placed after a cold period or the first frost. Until that timeframe, ants will be attracted to the sugar, fondant may become soft in warm weather, and the honeybees if active enough, will carry out granulated sugar and deposit it outside the hive. These problem normally are not seen in colder weather. Do not continue to feed syrup in cold weather as this increases moisture issues inside the hive which is detrimental to the bees.



Question: Should I wrap or insulate my hives in any way?

Answer: The design and material we use in the standard hive provides little insulated value or protection from the cold. Years ago, it seemed the bees could handle what was thrown their way. But in today’s world of beekeeping, small things add up. Bees deal with pesticides, mites, viral and bacterial issues, and a host of other problems. So the little items beekeepers can do to help the bees, the better off they will be.


The r-value of a one inch piece of white pine (which is measured as ¾ inch thick) is one. The bees are much better off in feral colony situation where perhaps 4-5 inched of wood in a huge tree offers better insulation. Thermal imagery shows that bees definitely take advantage of trapped heat at the top of the beehive. Late winter or early spring queen rearing takes advantage of this trapped heat.


So hive wrapping (as long as moisture is not a problem), and insulated tops, just might be something not needed years ago, but could help the bees through winter nowadays. Smaller clusters, hives operating at less than 100% due to issues impacting bees, and health concerns, might just dictate changes in the way we keep bees beyond the normal everyday practices used previously.



Question: Should I close off my screened bottom boards due to wind?

Answer: In less than ideal locations where wind is going to be an issue, sliding in a board will be helpful. But keep in mind, wind has always been a concern of over wintering bees long before the use of screened bottom boards. Site selection is paramount in giving your bees the best chances of survival. Southern exposure to the sun, wind protection, and avoiding low damp moist locations, is good solid advice we should all take note. If your bees are in the open where winter winds will hit the hives, consider building a wind barrier. Barriers can be as simple as stacked bales of hay, to wind fences.



Question: I have a hive that it seems the queen is going bad. Do I still have time to requeen and save this hive?

Answer: The short answer is…no! If the hive has not raised adequate brood in the past 4-6 weeks, there will not be sufficient young bees going into winter to allow the cluster to survive. It is the bees raised in September that will carry the hive through winter. Without these bees, the cluster will quickly get smaller throughout November and December as attrition takes it’s toll. Then the cluster usually freezes out on a cold period in January or February.

The best advice for troubled late hives is to combine if possible. ONLY do this if chemical tainting, disease, and other issues are not factors for the hives decline.



* If you have done so yet, get the entrance reducers and mouse guards installed.


* Bring in any woodenware that might be outside. Your boxes will last much longer not outside in the elements.


* Get your “oops” paint now. Nobody orders exterior paint in December. So supply of cheap paint is limited.


* Double check your hives stand for a good steady base. And make sure tops have enough holding the top on, as winter winds can be very strong.



Hoping for a Good Fall Flow

Advice for September


September is a transitional period in your hives. Cooler night, a fall flow, and the beekeepers hasty winter preparations, all tug at the bees desires and natural instincts.


Some things to keep in mind:


* You should have at least 6-8 frames of brood. These are the bees that will allow the colony to survive through winter. A lack of brood results in smaller than normal clusters and usually dead hives once the summer bees die-off and the cluster is insufficient to handle severe cold snaps in December or January.


* Do not be surprised if you have a fall swarm. While some have called these "suicidal swarms" and other nonsensical events, it has been clearly established that in areas with a fall flow, swarming will occur. Portions of the northeast, as well as places like Florida with Brazilian peppers, will see late season swarming. Studies have shown that 20% of swarming is in the fall. Areas with no nectar flow do not see this fall swarming. So do not be surprised if you have a hive swarm. It also tells you that even though we have been breeding bees for hundreds of years, the ingrained nature of bees swarming in times of plenty is a strong urge, even if the calendar says September.


* Get last minute equipment changes done ASAP! The bees rearrange and settle in where they know best where stores are, the cluster needs to be, etc. Late season equipment manipulations are not good when bees can not seal up cracks and move things around inside the hive.


* Weak hives at the beginning of September almost always translates into weak hives at the end of September. Combine or cull out any weak hives.


*Install mouse guards. I know if I wait till later, it usually does not get done.


* Once good brood has been established feed through the end of September. Internal feeding is best once a good area of fall brood has been accomplished. Be prepared in October to put fondant or solid food on the hives. I will write a bulletin later in regards to fondant feeding and further winter prep.


*Do NOT leave on half filled supers on top of the hive. Place them at the bottom of the hive, remove and let the bees rob out the honey allowing them to repack it in the brood chamber, or keep in the freezer for later feeding. Bees are well past wax production. So remove half filled comb and drawn foundation. A empty void area on top of the hives does not allow the bees to utilize trapped heat, where they should be during late winter, with the beginning of brood production in January.


Most hives have been bringing in massive amounts of pollen. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, I have not seen much nectar storage. But if it goes towards brood production, this is a good thing. Do not feed pollen patties beyond what the bees bring in during the fall season. With small hive beetles, it is still questionable how the bees will handle late season pests, especially after the cooler nights dictate clustering, allowing pests to perhaps do late season damage. We may be better off not having too much stored pollen in the fall and just compensating with patty feeding later.


Getting Ready For Winter

Advice for August 


Yes, it's that time again. Winter prep is here. That time of the year that seemingly passes by quickly, with thoughts that you have plenty of time to do what is needed to get the hives prepared for winter. And some I am sure are mumbling "Are you nuts! It's 90 something degrees out, and I'm tired of opening hives every week. Winter prep? I just want to go sit in front of the air conditioning. Winter prep? Crazy talk!"


But lets put things in perspective. Less than 60 days from now it will be October. Yeah you heard me. October! First frost, football, and kids freezing in their Halloween costumes. October...a time when we think we can still have time to treat for mites, add food stores, and make things right in the hive. Oh, what foolish dreams.


What I am about to say, is not indicative of everything I do in my own hives. The information is based on helping all beekeepers, whether you treat, feed, or know what your doing.


The basics:


***Fall brood rearing in Pennsylvania should be for at least 60 days. This will ensure enough young bees to survive the winter and carry the hive into spring.


***Every bee you see in your hives right now, will be dead by December.


***Mite treatments should be applied prior to the fall brood cycle. This allows the fall brood to be raised without mite damaging viral and other impacting conditions. Knock the mites down prior to the fall brood cycle.


*** The fall brood cycle is from August 15th till October 15th. These are the bees that will be alive after the initial die-off in early winter. And you better have enough of them to ensure your clusters can survive late season cold spells.


So who is paying attention? Did you catch the part about August 15th? Did you check the calendar lately? That is less than two weeks from now.


So what should be done in the next two weeks?


1) Cull out any bad queens and combine weak hives. No sense spending money on feed, medication and your time, perpetuating bad genetics. Not all hens lay eggs, and not all queens are worth keeping.


2) Get off honey and equipment that you do not plan to over winter on the hive. This allows the bees to arrange and prepare the hive as they know best. Too many beekeepers mess with hives late in the year and change things on the bees. This is not a good situation.


3) If you leave half filled supers on, take them off in late September for feeding light hives. Or place them out and let your hives rob them out and pack in the brood chamber later, after fall brood rearing. And please understand, I said "light" hives, not weak hives. There is a difference. Light hives is a situation that any beekeeper can correct in a few moments. Weak hives is another whole issue. You should not have weak hives going into fall.


4) If you are going to treat, then get your treatments on now.

Many have heard me say before, "I as a beekeeper can always feed bees enough to get them through winter. But the one thing I can not do for my hives is squat and plop out an egg." And if your going to try, remember, we have a video page.


Old advice always centered around hefting up the hive in September and making an assessment based on hive weight. The idea was simple. If the hive was heavy, and there seemed to be enough bees, the hive was deemed "winter ready".


That idea and advice with today's beekeeping environment has cost beekeepers many dead hives. Eighty pounds of honey does not carry a hive thorough winter. An adequate cluster with young bees does.


So how do you ensure enough young bees? First, keep checking the hives. You should see about 6-8 frames of brood in September. But don't wait till September to make this a reality. And don't wait for the unreliable fall flow to stimulate your queen to start laying eggs as many have slowed down due to high temps and a lack of nectar.


Consider feeding away from the hive, 1/1 syrup. (add 5 pounds of sugar to a gallon container and fill with water) This simulates a flow, and stimulates the queen to start laying eggs. I usually start feeding by August 15th if I was doing this. Setting out boardman feeders on a picnic table works well. You can also simply use two strips of wood and straddle jars on the strips after putting several very small holes in the lids.


The concept is simple. But balance is the key. You want to feed, but also keep the brood chamber open with enough room for the queen to lay enough eggs. Way too many beginners feed all summer but especially after the summer solstice and bees quit drawing comb. This allows the bees to backfill the brood chamber to the point that the hive then is inhibited from rearing enough fall brood. So some comb management and forethought needs to be applied.


Concentrate on brood. If you have a light hive after the fall brood period, you can always top off the hive with enough fondant to keep them alive. But you can not do anything at that time about the lack of bees. And the one thing I heard all spring was the dead hives with small clusters, surrounded by 80 pounds of honey. That was a common situation last year. And a situation we should try to understand and correct. Those who attended the PennApic spring workshop probably remember discussions on this topic. Now is the time to use that knowledge.


Mike Thomas

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