Seasonal task guide
~ Barry Clark, Local Bee Inspector & Beekeeper ~
We have compiled seasonal tips on the management of honeybees in the Prince George area of central British Columbia. Please remember that beekeeping is a year round process. What you do in the late summer and fall will determine what happens to your bees through the winter, and how you manage your bees in the spring will affect colony performance through the summer.
Spring beehive management overview:
March & April
Dead or Alive? Check your bees on a warm day (0 to +5C) in late winter or early spring to determine status. Do this by cracking the inner cover and taking a peak. Do not disturb the cluster and close up the colony quickly.
Updated: May 9, 2022
April & May
When daytime temperatures are above +10C, check colony strength by looking at the top bars of the top brood box.
Updated: May 9, 2022
June & July
This is our swarming season! The main nectar flow starts around mid June and runs through July, depending on the weather of course.
Updated: May 9, 2022
August & September
There is a lot to get done in the next eight weeks and it starts with harvesting your surplus honey. In the Prince George area you should consider taking off the honey (for your use) by the second week of August. Winter bees are raised in August and September. The varroa mite and the viruses they vector must not parasitize these bees. The queen will start to slow down egg production and the mite populations are usually at their highest levels at this time. It is most important to monitor for mite levels and take appropriate action to reduce their numbers as soon as the honey is harvested.
Harvest honey from your honey supers only. New beekeepers often take too much honey.
Extract the honey and return the wet supers to the bee colony for them to clean up. Once cleaned, remove and store for the winter.
Test for mites. Treat if your mite counts are between 2 and 3 % (6 to 9 mites or higher in a 300 bee sample). See instructions on how to do this.
Continue with colony inspections every 10 to 14 days to determine:
The queen is healthy and is laying a good brood pattern
The colony is disease free, and mite levels are low.
There is adequate food stores - pollen and honey.
If your queen is not laying a tight brood pattern or is laying drone eggs in with worker eggs, this time of year, it’s time to re-queen the colony with a mated queen.
Start feeding 2:1 sugar syrup if honey stores are low. Consider adding a pollen patty if there is not at least the equivalent of 2 frames of pollen stored in the hive. Be careful when feeding syrup not to spill on the outside of the hive. Spilled syrup attracts wasps, hornets, and other honeybees.
Wasps and hornets get nasty in August, sometimes sooner when the weather is hot. Reduce entrances to 5 cm (2 in) to allow your bees to defend their hive.
Honeybees may start robbing behaviour, watch for this. Reduced entrances will also help the bees defend their hives.
Continue with colony inspections with attention to mite levels and honey stores. A two brood box colony should weight at least 60 kg (130lb+) going into winter. A single brood box colony should be in the 40kg range. Our winters are long and often very cold. One way to check the weight of your hive is to familiarize yourself with what 60 kg feels like to lift. From the back of the hive, lift/tip the colony forward slightly and determine if it is close to what you think 60 kg should feel like.
Check to see where the brood is located in the brood boxes. The brood should be centred and predominately in the lower brood box. Make adjustments if required.
Continue feeding 2:1 sugar syrup until the bees stop taking it or you are satisfied with the weight of your hive/colony.
Keep your bear fences turned on!
If you haven’t already done this it is time to reduce your colony down to two brood boxes.
By early September if not sooner you should assess the strength of your colony. You need a strong hive with plenty of bees to get through the winter. At a minimum you should have one full brood box with bees covering frames from side to side.
Note: Experienced beekeepers can winter small units of bees, but this takes extra care and preparation. If the colony is weak, consider combining it with a strong colony. To do this you will need to eliminate the queen from the weak colony before combining the two.
Continue to watch for robbing behaviour in your apiary and take necessary steps if it occurs.
Updated: August 3, 2022
October to January
This time of year, if you haven’t kept mites under control, you have an unhealthy queen, or haven’t ensured your bees have enough food in their hive for winter – IT'S TOO LATE!!!
The colony will stop raising young soon, usually by the 2nd week of October.
Do a final inspection by mid October to check on colony size, location of the cluster, and a final mite check.
If the bees are in the top brood box, try to reverse the supers, and ensure there are honey frames above the brood in the bottom super and on both sides of the cluster.
Feeding sugar syrup now is not as effective as the weather gets colder.
This time of year many beekeepers will use Oxalic Acid in a vapour form to kill mites. Sublimation of Oxalic Acid is dangerous to the beekeeper. You must use a well-fitted respirator with organic acid filters, and eye protection. There is specialised equipment available at most bee supply outlets to administer Oxalic Acid in a vapour form. Please read and follow all safety and operating procedures for the unit you plan to use.
Prepare your colony for the winter months. Plan how you are going to insulate the hive, provide for ventilation, and guard against mice, voles, and shrews.
Your bees by now are in a cluster, huddled around the queen in their brood box.
It is time to insulate the colony for winter if you haven’t already.
Put mouse guards on the bottom entrance.
Ensure you insulate above the inner cover.
Have emergency feed available. Other feeds such as fondant and sugar boards can be considered as emergency feed.
Clean up your apiary, store equipment that isn’t being used.
December & January
This is the time of year to start your plan for next beekeeping season. If your bees are healthy, well fed, disease free, and well-insulated they should make it through to next spring. There is nothing more you can do now except:
Order new equipment and get it built.
Continue educating yourself on beekeeping through books, Internet, and club meetings.
Updated: October 3, 2022