Seasonal Beekeeping Checklists: Spring and Summer

by | May 12, 2023 | Formic Pro, News Note, Seasonal Checklists

 

It’s finally that time of year again! Beekeepers across the Northern Hemisphere are stretching out their backs, shaking off the dust of winter, and getting ready for another season of hard and rewarding work with the bees. Whether it’s your first year or your fiftieth, there are a lot of things to remember and consider when starting a new season of beekeeping. In this article, I hope to centralize a lot of those ideas and reminders to create a spring and summer checklist for beekeepers at all scales. Since I am writing this from NOD Headquarters in Trenton, Ontario, Canada, this checklist will be more geared to beekeepers at Northern latitudes, but the broad messages are applicable around the world.

While these tasks are listed in approximate chronological order, it is important to remember that a mindful beekeeper manages their hives according to environmental conditions, not the date on the calendar. Outside temperatures, colony buildup, and the presence and amount of forage are all factors that should influence the timing of your management decisions.

Spring Varroa Management: To Treat, or Not to Treat?  It is well known that varroa preferentially choose drone brood in which to reproduce because the period when the cell is capped is longer than that of worker brood. Spring is when bee (and mite) populations are beginning to grow again, and drones are being reintroduced to the colony. So, leaving mite treatments until summer or early fall when mite populations can become out of control can have a greater effect on honey production than a spring mite treatment. The ideal IPM scenario would include pre-treatment monitoring to understand the level of mite infestation in your colony, but this is not always possible for all beekeepers. Attitudes seem to be shifting toward preventive mite treatment in the spring, even when infestation levels aren’t known, so beekeepers can ‘cover their bases.’ Rotating treatments in spring and fall, or year to year, will help to avoid the development of resistance to treatments in your bees.

 

Late Winter

 

Outdoor temperature = less than 5° C / 40° F

 

Beekeeping

Figure 1: Beekeeping notebook with a smoker and wrapped hives in early spring. Record keeping is crucial at all times of the year! Image credit: Hannah Neil

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Go through the previous year’s records…what did I learn last year? How can I carry those lessons into this season?
    • A note on record keeping: A wise beekeeping colleague of mine used to always say, “a short pencil is better than a long memory.” We all have good intentions to remember what we observe in the apiary, but don’t trust yourself to just remember. Keeping detailed records consistently is one of your greatest tools for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), making expansions, and keeping bees successfully (Figure 1).
  • What are my goals for the season? What equipment do I need to achieve these goals?
    • Buying as much equipment as you think you’ll need for the season before it begins is a good idea. For example, having extra honey supers in advance of the nectar flow buys you more time to extract and lessens the risk of swarming.
  • What administrative tasks may be required of me this beekeeping season?
    • Depending on your local laws and regulations, you may need to make sure your paperwork is in order to keep bees legally. The registration of beehives with your regional government or ensuring your vet-client relationship is up to date in order to access antibiotics (if legal in your area) may be required. Doing this early will free up your time when the season kicks off.

 

Early-Mid Spring

 

Outdoor temperature = 5° C / 40° F

 

  • Survival check. Observe activity at entrances and pop the lid if you’re unsure.
    • Assess how many colonies you anticipate having for the season and make a plan. Order nucs if necessary.
  • Assess the need for supplemental spring feeding by tilting your hives from the back.
    • A healthy double Langstroth hive should weigh no less than 32 kg (70 lb) in early spring to avoid starvation. If you are estimating weights by hand, each hive (singles and doubles) should feel quite heavy when you tip it forward. If a hive feels light, it can be fed 1:1 sucrose syrup.
  • Apply medications that have a long withdrawal period which are appropriate for this temperature range.
    • Some miticides and medications require a withdrawal period during which the treatment must be out of the hive for a minimum amount of time before honey supers can be applied. Applying these as early as possible allows you to capture early honey flows and manage swarming more easily.
    • Always ensure you know the local laws and use only products that are registered in your area.
  • Electric fence maintenance.
    • Make sure your bees are protected before bears and other critters can cause trouble.

      Figure 2: Hives wrapped in a 4-pack with feeder pails containing 1:1 sucrose syrup in the spring. Image credit: Hannah Neil.

  • Supplemental feeding, if necessary (Figure 2).
    • A 1:1 ratio by weight of sugar to water is suitable in spring.
    • Syrup can be coupled with registered Nosema spp. treatments or feed supplements depending on your goals, management style, and local laws.
    • If you decide to feed, you should continue until the first natural nectar forage is available.

 

Overnight outdoor temperature = over 0° C/32° F for 1-2 weeks

  • Remove winter wraps/insulation when temperatures are consistently above 10° C/ 50° F.
  • Bee yard and hive cleanup.
    • Scrape bottom boards, top bars, and lids of excess wax or debris.
    • Remove any dead colonies or unused equipment containing comb.
    • Clean out dead colonies by brushing off any dead bees from frames, cleaning up excess wax, inspecting for disease, and storing properly (not to be accessed by any robbing bees). Try to diagnose what led to the colony dying.
    • Rotate out 1-3 old dark combs.

 

Outdoor temperature = 15° C/59° F

  • Apply miticides and medications that correspond with this temperature range.
    • It is crucial to apply treatments according to the label and local regulations. Most treatments have an optimal temperature range for application, and these should be observed for maximum efficacy.
  • Full colony inspection.

    Figure 3: While checking your colonies to see if they are queenright, seeing eggs like this is a very good sign! Image credit: Hannah Neil.

    • Queen status (either visual ID or noting the presence of eggs) (Figure 3).
    • Assess the population of adult bees- weak (1-2 frames), medium (3-5 frames), or strong (5+ frames).
    • Visual monitoring for American Foulbrood and European Foulbrood by inspecting brood frames.
  • Combine weak colonies.
    • Whether or not you combine colonies will depend upon your beekeeping philosophy and management style.
    • It is important to inspect for brood disease before combining.
  • Monitor for varroa mites (Figure 4).
    • Spring thresholds for treatment in Ontario, Canada:
      • 2% using alcohol wash (6 mites in 300 bees or 4 mites in 200 bees)
      • 9 mites per day using sticky boards
    • Depending on the treatment you plan on using for varroa, monitoring can occur before and after your treatment period to assess effectiveness.

beekeeping

Figure 4: Shaking an alcohol wash to monitor for varroa mites. Image credit: Hannah Neil.

Mid-Late Spring

 

Outdoor temperature = 15° C/59° F and up

  • Based on your goals for the season, queen rearing and nuc production can begin.
    • Queen rearing activities should be started based on drone availability and fecundity (reproductive potential).
      • Drones take anywhere from 6-16 days to achieve sexual maturity after emergence. Drone fecundity can be assessed by “popping” the endophallus out of the drone’s abdomen with your thumb and forefinger crushing the thorax and observing the cornua (the “horns” that emerge and are used to grip the queen during mating). If they are yellow/orange-coloured, the drone is ready to mate; if they are clear or colourless, the drone is not yet sexually mature. Checking a few drones early in the season can help you decide when queen rearing should begin so that you have a sufficient number of drones for mating (Figure 5).

        beekeeping

        Figure 5: Drone fecundity test. The endophallus was manually everted by “popping” the drone’s thorax and observing the horn-like cornua for their colour. This drone is fertile and ready to mate! Image credit: Hannah Neil.

  • Swarm management for strong colonies and weekly checks begin.
    • Remove entrance reducers to improve airflow in the hive.
    • Make splits or nucs
    • Reverse brood chambers (top and bottom) if running double hive bodies.
      • This can break up the brood cluster, which typically forms a rough sphere in the centre of the hive, and “trick” the bees into thinking they have more space to rear brood.
    • Install honey supers if appropriate.
      • Based on withdrawal periods for medications and miticides, forage availability, and temperature.
    • Give strong hives frames of foundation to draw comb.
    • Depending on your management style, “equalizing” colony populations is an option.
      • Swap location of strong hives with weak hives to capture returning foragers from the strong hives.
      • Donate brood frames of strong hives to weaker hives (checking for disease first).

 

Late Spring-Early Summer

 

  • Prepare to begin to harvest honey.
    • Install queen excluders (if using) and honey supers as needed.
    • Ensure that withdrawal periods for medications and miticides have been observed before installing honey supers.

      Figure 6: Getting ready to harvest from a hive stacked high with honey supers in Saskatchewan, Canada. Image credit: Hannah Neil

  • Harvest honey when it is 70% capped (Figure 6).
    • Have extra empty supers ready to replace the full ones you removed.
  • Monitor for varroa mites.
    • This should be done monthly throughout the summer months and can be paired with honey harvest to avoid removing full honey supers unnecessarily.
  • Extract honey.
    • Add more supers and extract honey as needed.

 

Late Summer

 

  • Monitor for varroa and make fall treatment plan.
    • “Fall” (August) thresholds for treatment in Ontario, Canada:
      • 3% using alcohol wash.
      • 12 mites per day using sticky boards.
    • Reinstall entrance reducers when the main honey flow is over.

While my aim was to describe the main tasks that beekeepers should consider in the spring and summer, this checklist is by no means exhaustive. Depending on your goals, management style, and pest management strategy, you may have different items on your list… and that’s fine! I’ve been told many times that if you ask five beekeepers how to do something, you will end up with six different strategies. As long as biosecurity, IPM, and addressing the bees’ changing seasonal needs are at the forefront, it is possible to have success as a beekeeper.

All of us at NOD wish you a happy and productive beekeeping season ahead!

 


About Hannah Neil, Beekeeping Coordinator

Hannah Neil is the Beekeeping Coordinator at NOD Apiary Products Ltd. She is an eternally curious and passionate beekeeper with eight years of experience in the industry. She has worked in commercial beekeeping settings and applied honey bee research in the Canadian prairies as well as New Zealand. When she isn’t playing with bees, Hannah enjoys gardening, beeswax crafting, and walking her dog.

 

 

 

 

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