Monitor the hive entrance for build up of dead bees and blockage.
Check regularly for any damage or wind / weather getting in.
Ensure the roof is secure; bricks, blocks and/or a strap will do the job.
In January, when the weather is cold, but not below freezing, treat your hives with oxalic acid solution to control varroa. Record the varroa drop in the following two weeks so that you know how badly your colonies were infested.
Gently heft (lift) the hive to check food weight. If light put a block of fondant over the crown board feedhole, and check regularly to see if it is being consumed.
Plan what you want to do in your apiary in the coming year.
During early March continue to monitor the hive entrance for damage by weather or attack, animal or human!
Pay close attention to the weight of the hive if weather is warming up. The colony should be growing quickly and food consumption will increase considerably.
Replace fondant when it is consumed.
Later in the month consider giving full strength syrup (made by adding 1kg sugar to one pint of hand-hot water) instead of fondant if you wish to continue feeding because food is short or if you want to try to stimulate the colony into early growth.
Buy your stock of new frames, foundation and hive parts for the coming year.
The colony should be growing very quickly now so food supply will need to be maintained. If the hives are light feed with syrup until forage becomes available .
On a warm day remove the eke, entrance block and mouse guard if fitted. Check the floor, and clear or replace it with a clean one as necessary.
Put on a queen excluder and at least one super to give space for the growing numbers. If your bees can reach oil seed rape, they will start foraging on it towards the end of the month and will need storage space.
If the weather is mild regular brood box inspections can begin: every 14 days if the queen is clipped, every 7 days if she is not.
Be vigilant. Swarming can begin in late April!
Consider putting one or more ‘bait hives’ in the apiary to catch swarms.
Begin thorough and regular inspections of the brood comb.
Work old comb to the outside so that it can be removed and replaced. Old comb harbours disease and should be replaced systematically as good practice. Aim to change one third of the frames each year.
Place new frames and foundation either side of the brood nest to allow the queen to increase her nest size. Congestion can cause swarming. If necessary remove outside frames, but ensure enough food and pollen remains. (Frames with food can be given back in the Autumn after storing in a freezer.)
Check whether your bees are making honey from oil seed rape: if so remove and extract the supers as soon as they are full. (Oil Seed Rape honey will crystallise very quickly in the comb.)
Additional supers may now be required.
Continue to examine at 7 or 14 day intervals for any signs of disease or swarming.
The brood should be able to fill most of the brood chamber this month.
Swarming will continue through June so continue to be vigilant.
You may be able to take off some frames of capped honey or even complete supers. Ensure you have empty frames or supers to replace those taken.
July and August
Swarming should be over by early July, allowing the colony to concentrate on collecting nectar.
Set up wasp traps a few metres from your hives (jam jars containing water and a spoonful of jam work well).
Honey can be harvested in early August allowing the bees to keep what more they make for themselves.
After the honey has been harvested, remove the queen excluder, and put a crown board below any supers that you are leaving on to be cleaned out.
Treat the brood box for varroa. MAQS strips, Apiguard gel or ApiLife Var strips are curently recommended. (Make sure your hives are well ventilated when using MAQ strips. Read Wally Shaw’s article on varroa control.) Record the varroa drop in the following two weeks so that you know how badly your colonies are infested.
In early August reduce the size of the entrance so the diminishing colony can defend itself against wasps.
Time to feed the colony for the winter, replacing the honey taken. Feed continuously with standard strength sugar syrup (1 kg added to one pint of water). The colony will need at least 15kg of syrup (more for the bigger hives) to take it through the cold months ahead.
Feeding needs to be completed before the end of the month to give the colony time to drive off the excess water.
Remove varroa gel or strips when treatment is completed.
Fit a mouse guard to the hive entrance.
October, November, December
At the beginning of October heft the hives to check that they are all heavy. If not, continue feeding.
With all the required food now in the brood chamber, all should be well for winter.
Strap or weigh down the roof against winter wind.
Make sure the hive slopes gently forwards so that rain will not run into the entrance.
If green woodpeckers are in your area, protect the hives by putting wire netting round all four sides.
Monitor the now small entrance regularly for the build up of dead bees. Bees are dying all the time and just a few can block the entrance leaving the others unable to get out for water or toileting.
Keep a regular check for woodpecker damage or rain getting in.
Be aware that deer or other animals could knock the hive over rubbing against to satisfy an itch.
Feeding should not be required yet, but keep an emergency block of fondant available just in case. Most of the colonies that die out do so because of starvation.
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