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The following information gives you details of what the bees are doing month by month, what you as the beekeeper need to do to keep them happy and approximately how long you need to spend on managing the hive each month.

January

The queen, surrounded by thousands of workers will be in a rugby-football shaped cluster in the hive. There is little activity except on a warm day when workers take the opportunity for making defecation flights. There will be no drones present, but some worker brood will be raised.

Little work is required at this time of the month. If the ground is covered with snow, shield the entrance to cut out the light and prevent workers flying and perishing in the snow.

Estimate less than one hour for the month.

February

The queen, still surrounded by workers in the cluster, lays a few more eggs each day. There are still only workers in the hive and again take occasional cleansing flights on warm sunny days.

Little work is required, other than prepare equipment which will be needed in May.

Possibly one hour for the month.

March

This is the month when colonies can die of starvation. If the bees were adequately supplied in the autumn, this should not happen, but, it still does. With lengthening days, the queen steadily increases her rate of lay; more brood means more food consumed and the bees are not brining any nectar in.

On a fine day, when the bees are flying, you can take a quick look inside without disturbing the bees too much by removing the frames. If no sealed stores are seen, small quantity of syrup should be fed.

One or two hours during the month.

April

Hopefully, the weather will improve and some early blossom appears. Flowering currant (Ribes) is usually the earliest nectar yielder, but oil seed rape (OSR) crops flower at about the same time.

The odd drone should start to appear and the rate of brood rearing should increase dramatically to give rapid expansion of the colony. On a fine day when the bees are flying, find and mark the queen so that she can be recognised more easily later on. Put a queen excluder and super of drawn combs when necessary.

Two or three hours for the month.

May

With good weather, nectar and pollen can come in thick and fast. The queen will be reaching her greatest rate of lay and there should be brood across most of the brood box.

Add supers as necessary. Some honey can be removed; it must be removed if oil seed rape is grown nearby. Watch out for swarming preparations. Inspect hive weekly. Have a spare hive ready, and artificially swarm where necessary.

Five or six hours for the month.

June

Unswarmed colonies will be very populous. The queen’s rate of lay should drop.

If rape was worked by the bees the honey in the hive will need extracting, in which case care should be taken to ensure that the bees do not starve during the ‘June Gap’. Keep up weekly swarm control inspections for unswarmed colonies; artificially swarm when necessary.

Five or six hours for the month.

July

If the weather is good the main nectar flow will occur. The hive population diminishes as the queen’s rate of lay drops. Drones are still present.

Add supers as necessary. Continue weekly swarm control inspections if still necessary. Possibly reunite colonies.

Four to six hours for the month.

August

The colony strength diminishes fast. Drones are still present. Outside activity is reduced since there is little nectar available.

Swarm control inspections are no longer necessary. Possibly restrict the size of the entrance to prevent robbing by wasps or other bees. Replace the old queen with a new laying queen if one has been reared. Forget the bees – you can go on holiday!

One or two hours for the month.

September

Drones are likely to disappear overnight. Hive population is much reduced. Queens often stop laying completely.

Remove the honey. Leave bees to their own devices. Start winter feeding towards the end of the month.

Two to three hours for the month.

October

Very little activity – the bees are preparing for winter.

Finish winter feeding. Put on the mouse guards. Check hive is secure for winter.

One or two hours for the month.

November

Even less activity. Bees will probably go into a cluster.

One hour for the month.

December

The bees are in a cluster.

Enjoy Christmas!

Nothing for this month.