Here’s a list, by month, of typical beekeeping duties, activities, and chores for the Cook and DuPage County area. These suggestions will help keep your hives in good condition.
If you are not a member of a beekeeping club, any month is a perfect time to join one! It’s a great opportunity to meet other beekeepers, learn how to keep bees, and exchange ideas, tips, and stories. This is in addition to the great topics and speakers that you will get access to. For information on joining the Cook-DuPage Beekeepers Association, click here. Click on the months of interest to expand the monthly activity lists.
January may be winter at its cruelest, but it is also the first sign of spring for the beekeeper. Brood-rearing begins in the hive and the bees are starting to prepare for better weather, nectar, pollen, and freedom from being confined to the hive. On sunny days with minimal wind and a temperature in the 40’s or higher, you may see bees taking cleansing flights and preparing for spring. In our area it is time to:
- Begin planning for your new beekeeping year. Review your colony records from last year to determine any changes or additions you would like to make.
- Visit your hives to check for wind or animal damage. Make sure the hive openings are clear so the bees can get in and out for cleansing flights.
- Make sure the colonies have food. On nice days, quickly open the outer covers and see if the bees are clustered and active around the inner cover hole. Several different options are available for feeding if needed, including dry sugar, candy boards, or fondant.
- Assess your equipment. Make any repairs that are necessary and start building any new equipment needed for the upcoming year.
February brings a hint of spring, although winter weather is still expected. During warmer years, the first maple and willow tree pollen may appear. The queen has probably started laying eggs. The hive is building Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More and using up stored honey supplies to keep the Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More warm. In our area it is time to:
- Order new packages and queens for the upcoming season.
- Monitor the food stores for existing colonies. The weight of a hive will provide some indication on how much food is available inside. Feed colonies that are low on stores with sugar, fondant, or a candy board to help your bees through the remaining winter period.
- Check for hive activity (i.e., look to see if the bees are taking cleansing flights during warmer days or listen to the hive to see if there’s a buzz going on inside). The appearance of dead bees on the outside can be a sign that there is life on the inside and the colony is cleaning house. If you do lose a colony, try to evaluate what may have caused its demise.
- Feed pollen cakes or patties to help build up food stores and keep the hive strong.
- Help your bees with their housekeeping by clearing dead bees from the bottom board using a coat hanger or some other device. Be sure to put the entrance reducer back on — you don’t want any mice getting in.
March is time for the beekeeper to kick it into high gear. The new beekeeping season is almost upon us and you want to be fully prepared. In our area it is time to:
- Finish repairing and assembling the equipment you will need for your bees. Be sure you have enough bottom boards, hive bodies, inner covers, frames and telescoping outer covers. The hive bodies and supers may be painted to protect them from the elements or to camouflage them into the background.
- Identify where you are going to put your hives. Exposure to the south or east establishes a good location for the hive, especially if it is protected from north and west winds.
- If you are placing hives in a new location, check local ordinances to be sure that bees are allowed in your location.
- On a warm sunny day, do a quick hive inspection to determine the status of existing hives. Feed if necessary and if the queen has laid a lot of eggs in the upper Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More chamber, reverse the chambers to provide more room for Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More so you get a good build up.
- Check the hives for lost colonies (“deadouts”). Identify the reason they might have died and prepare the hive for a new colony.
- If feeding is necessary, continue with a candy board or granulated sugar. Be prepared to switch over to a 1:1 sugar water solution. If you are in doubt about whether the bees should be fed, do it. Late winter and early spring are still common times for starvation to occur.
- Feed the bees some protein by placing a pollen patty into the hive to help build up the colony. There are thoughts that pollen patties can help improve the health of the bees.
- If you have determined you will treat your bees for foulbrood and nosema, now is a good time to do so. Follow the directions for any chemical treatments.
- As the weather warms, remove any winter wrappings you applied near the end of the previous year.
HAPPY NEW BEEKEEPING YEAR!!!!!
Although beekeeping is a year-round activity, April is typically the month that new hives get started in our area. The first package bees are typically delivered and installed in mid- to late April and the buzz of bees fill the air. In our area it is time to:
- Finish the assembly and preparation of your hives, hive stands, and other parts.
- For new beekeepers, download the forms to register your bees with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (click here to get the Illinois Apiary Registration information).
- Mix up some bee food. Springtime is the “light” syrup time where 1 part sugar is mixed with 1 part water (a 5 lb bag of sugar to 2.5 quarts of water). Heat the mixture just until it is clear (do not boil). Cool and store in refrigerator until needed.
- Monitor pollen patties in hives. If depleted, you may need to add another.
- Inspect your existing hives for strength and any diseases or mites.
- Review your hive frames to see if you should remove any that are damaged or have an excess amount of pollen. You may even want to replace a few frames of drawn comb to provide more room and ventilation for your overwintered bees.
- For established colonies, check to see if the Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More boxes should be moved to put empty bottom boxes on the top and allow the bees to move up. The more space the bees think they have the less likely they are to swarm.
- Speaking of swarms – if you are interested in capturing swarms, this would be a good time to start putting swarm traps out. You might be able to capture a swarm that you can set up in a new hive! You may also want to consider adding your name to the list of members that will go out and recover swarms!
- Review the procedure for installing new bees and prepare to install any packages you receive. [Here’s a past CDBA presentation about installing packages]
- If treating with chemicals, try to complete your treatments at least 4 weeks before the first serious nectar flow begins. DO NOT add supers before the 4 weeks have passed.
May begins with one of the most important holidays to bees – May Day – a chance to celebrate the workers of the world! After the traditional May Day parade, it is time for the worker bees to get busy. This is the beginning of the major nectar and pollen period in our area. In our area it is time to:
- Make sure your bees have enough room and are kept busy. Periodically monitor how much comb has been drawn out in the hive bodies and add another body as they run out of room. If necessary, move some undrawn frames inward a space or two to allow the bees to draw comb there. Be careful though that you do not compromise the Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More pattern. It may also be the time to reverse the hive bodies if you haven’t done this already.
- For an older hive, it may be time to examine the frames and see if you can swap out some older pollen-filled frames for new ones. This gives the bees an opportunity to stay busy as well as increasing space in the hive and improving air circulation.
- Be prepared to “super up.” If medicating remember that FOUR (4) weeks need to pass from the last medication treatment until supers can be added to the hives. Add a new super once 8 frames have been drawn out in the last hive body of the core hive area (the yearly living space for your bees).
- Review the strength of your hive. By mid-May it will be time to remove the entrance reducer and allow the bees to have free access in and out — they are going to be busy and you don’t want to slow down the movement of honey and pollen into the hive!
- Monitor the hive for queen cups and cells. It is especially important to watch for Swarm Cells. These cells are usually found along the bottom margins of frames and are an indication that the hive may be too crowded and ready to swarm.
- Speaking of swarms –this would still be a good time to set out swarm traps. You may also want to consider adding your name to the list of members that will go out and recover swarms!
- If feeding your hive, keep an eye on the volume changes in syrup levels — the time is approaching when natural nectar sources will take over and the need for feed drops to nothing. Remove the feeder if your bees are not using the syrup.
The nectar flow should be in full swing at this point and the prudent beekeeper is watching their hives to make sure there is room for Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More and storage. It is also a time when the bees like to spread their wings and look to divide the colony by swarming. In our area it is time to:
- SUPER UP – keep an eye on the hive to make sure the bees have room to store honey and pollen. The super can fill quickly so a weekly review is suggested to make sure you are keeping up.
- Trim the grass/weeds around your hive. Keeping the vegetation low around the hives gives your bees a clear flight path to the hive and makes a dropped hive tool and other beekeeping paraphernalia easier to spot. It also helps keep air flowing around the hive and maintains circulation through ventilated bottom boards.
- Watch your forecast for warm weather. Your bees do their darnedest to keep the hive at the right temperature — help them out by making sure that the hive has adequate ventilation when it is going to be hot.
- Be on the lookout for swarm cells along frame margins and take appropriate action if you see them. This is still a good time to maintain some swarm traps and/or add your name to the list of members that will go out and recover swarms!
- Review the various pests and diseases that can infect and affect your hive and be on the lookout for the warning signs.
July brings the beekeeper the first fruits of the bees’ labor. While we are still in the summer nectar flow, the beekeeper should check to see if it is time to harvest some of the spring honey gathered and capped in the supers installed earlier. The first harvesting typically takes place after July 15th, which provides you with the opportunity to return the extracted frames to the hive to gather some of the remaining summer honey and prepare for the fall nectar flow that generally comes in September. In our area it is time to:
- Check the hive for congestion, and the quality of the queen. Is she producing a good number of eggs and laying them in an acceptable Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More pattern? Is there a larger than normal number of drone cells? Are there supersedure cells or swarm cells being built? Make sure you act appropriately to any issues within the hive.
- Check for mites and small hive beetles in the hive. They can hamper the colony, spread disease, and annoy the bees. If possible, avoid overusing any chemical to treat for the problem — look for more organic pest management practices to reduce these stressors in the colony.
- Be sure the bees are properly hydrated. While they spend a lot of time removing moisture from nectar, they also need a lot of water to cool their hives during periods of high daytime temperatures. If you are supplying water to the hive, make sure the source is maintained so your bees don’t go looking for another source.
- Because of the heat and humidity, help your hives out by properly ventilating them.
- Continue to add supers as needed. Make sure the bees are not overcrowded and have room to store the nectar and pollen they are collecting.
- If you do extract honey at this time, don’t get too greedy. While there is a nectar flow currently going on, it often dries up in August and doesn’t return until September. Make sure you leave the colony enough to help them make it through a dearth.
- Be sure to return the supers to the hive for cleaning and refilling. Using frames that are already drawn out will save your bees lots of time, energy, and honey when compared to drawing wax on new foundation.
- Time the return of the freshly extracted frames for late in the day. There have been some cases where the smell of “wet” honey stimulates bees from surrounding colonies to rob a hive, and that can cause losses to all the hives.
- If robbing does occur, reduce or restrict the entrance for a couple of days. It will keep the robbing bees out and will give the hive an opportunity to consolidate the “wet” honey and begin the capping process.
- Continue to keep an eye on grass and weeds around your hive. Make sure you keep the flight path open for the girls to get in and out.
The summer honey flow has rounded the clubhouse turn and is heading for the finish line. Nectar and pollen sources are dropping daily and are usually limited in mid-August. In our area it is time to:
- Inspect your colonies to assure everything is in order. Check for diseases, mites, and small hive beetles.
- Continue to monitor your water source to assure the bees have enough water to cool the hive.
- Ventilate in warm weather to help maintain the proper temperature and humidity in the hive.
- If you were waiting for the end of the summer nectar flow to harvest, now is the time.
- Return freshly extracted frames late in the day. Sometimes the smell of “wet” honey stimulates bees from surrounding colonies to rob a hive, and that can cause losses to all the hives.
- If robbing does occur, reduce or restrict the entrance for a couple of days. It will help keep robbing bees out and will give the hive an opportunity to consolidate the “wet” honey and begin the capping process.
- If you are not returning all the supers to the hive, or are removing them after cleaning out, be sure to prep the supers and frames for storage. Moth-proof the supers and store them away until the spring. Freezing the frames for a few days will kill wax moth larvae.
- Once the nectar flow subsides, return hive bodies to a normal position (not staggered or cracked open for ventilation) to reduce robbing. You might want to install robbing screens as a precaution.
- Comb honey should be removed from the hive, trimmed and packaged. You may want to freeze the packaged comb for 48 hours to kill any wax moth larvae before selling.
A second honey flow to help build the colony up usually begins in late August and continues into September. With the arrival of fall and the coming of winter, it is time to:
- Remove your honey supers for extraction. Be sure that your hive has sufficient stores for the upcoming winter and early spring by leaving 60 – 80 pounds of honey. You may need to leave a super in place if the lower hive bodies are not filled.
- Inspect for diseases, mites, and the quality of your queen. If necessary or planned, re-queen in early September.
- Finish up your honey extraction and store the supers for winter. You can place the supers on the hive over the inner cover for a day (put an extra inner cover or screened cover on to prevent robbing) to let the bees move any leftover honey into the lower bodies. Be sure to remove the supers after one day. Then inspect the supers for any painting or repairs that need to be done and note any frames that will need to be replaced.
- Moth-proof the supers and store them away until spring. Freezing the frames for a few days will kill wax moth larvae.
- For colonies light on honey stores, begin feeding sugar syrup. The fall mixture is a 2:1 ratio of sugar to syrup (5 lbs of sugar to 1 quart of water).
- If you are chemically treating your bees, you can begin to medicate them through feeding and/or other methods after you have harvested any honey that will be used for human consumption.
- Prepare for overwintering hive bodies and supers and move frames of capped honey towards the edges and bring in the partially filled frames to the center to allow the bees better access at filling them up. CAUTION – Be sure you don’t interrupt the Immature bees that have not yet emerged from their cells. Br... More pattern.
- Combine weak colonies that don’t seem to have enough honey or bees to survive the winter.
- If you are planning on moving your hives before winter, now is the time to do it so they are in place before the bees begin to form a winter cluster.
- Market your honey. September is one of the largest honey marketing months and a large amount of honey is sold at farmer’s markets and fall festivals. Check with the National Honey Board for any promotional items that might be available to help with marketing.
By the end of October the honeybee colony will begin forming their winter cluster. In our area it is time to:
- Mouse-proof your hives. Install cleats or restrict hive entrances to keep the mice out of the hives.
- Watch for signs of skunk activity. Bees are a favorite source of protein for skunks and they love to hang out in front of the hive at night and eat the bees as they come out to see what the fuss is. Placing carpet tack strips in front of the hive will deter skunks, or a longer length of window screen will keep the skunks back and give the bees a chance to get out and sting the skunk in sensitive areas.
- Assess your hives to see if you need to combine weak hives to survive the winter. Smaller hives may not survive a cold winter if the cluster is not large enough to maintain the necessary temperature in the hive.
- Continue feeding colonies for winter with the 2:1 sugar syrup. The bees will continue to feed if daytime temperatures remain warm.
- If you are chemically treating your colonies keep up with prescribed regimens.
- Provide ventilation near the top of the hive to help remove humidity and reduce condensation during winter months.
- Determine if you are going to protect the colonies over the winter by wrapping them, covering them, or using a wind break. Order or prep the materials so you have them ready in November.
- Plan to attend the Cook DuPage Beekeepers Association Fall Banquet.
November is an important shoulder month — a time to prepare for the coming winter. It’s a mix of warm and cool days where the last leaves have fallen and perhaps the first flakes of snow have come down. In our area it is time to:
- Renew your annual Apiary Registration with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. If you are already registered, you will probably get an e-mail reminder.
- Check that an entrance reducer is in place to help keep small critters out of the hive. Mice love to overwinter in a nice warm and snuggly hive.
- This is the time to apply winter protection, wrap the colony or use some other form of insulation for winter.
- If treating, remove any Apistan strips or menthol packets after a minimum six-week treatment.
- Provide a windbreak for bees on the north or west side of hives if they are open to the wind (a snow fence or some other protection).
- Visit any landowners that provided space for your hives and pay rent for the use of their property — some jars of honey will often do the job!
- If daytime temperatures remain warm, continue to feed any hives that are low on honey with a 2:1 sugar syrup.
December brings cold wind, snow, and Holiday cheer. It’s a time to focus on family and friends. Fortunately, little attention is needed by the bees! In our area it is time to:
- Visit the bee yard to say, “Happy Holidays!” to your bees. While there, check that no damage has occurred to the hive from wind or critters.
- Carefully go through beekeeping catalogs before you write your letter to Santa with your wish list (share the list with your family so they can “suggest” things to add).
- Package up some of the honey you extracted as gifts for neighbors, friends, and relatives. It is a good way to get your neighbors to appreciate your hives as much as you do!
- Sit in front of the fire with a cup of tea with honey and a good book or bee magazine and enjoy the fruits of your and your hives’ labor.