Beekeeping is a year-round responsibility. The difference between having bees and keeping bees really comes down to your ability to invest in the success of the colony. To do this successfully, we as beekeepers have to acknowledge both the financial costs and investments in time and attention to our bees. Corwin Bell, a beekeeper, owner of BackyardHive, and creator of the Cathedral Hive has coined the phrase "Bee Guardian." I really like this idea of us being guardians to our bees. To be properly be true guardians of our bees, we must have a solid understanding of the annual responsibilities we need to plan for both during busy and winter seasons.
"Beekeeping is a year-round responsibility. The difference between having bees and keeping bees really comes down to your ability to invest in the success of the colony."
There are, without end, plenty of different management styles. Grab 3 beekeepers in a room and ask them a question and you'll get about 6 answers; all drastically contradictory and fueled with passion compared to the one before it. It is expected that many beekeepers may disagree with this management plan. The goal of this post is to give beekeepers a guide to their annual management. It is not a black-and-white protocol. Treatment-free beekeepers, for example, will take issue with many of the integrated pest management (IPM) techniques listed in this post. Beekeepers focused on replicating hives for pollination or sale vs. creating production hive for honey sales will disagree with the extracting of honey and would rather give that honey back to the bees.
This is NOT the only way to keep bees.
An additional caveat is this plan will differ greatly depending on the state, Enviroment, elevation, and climate you choose to keep your bees. For the sake of clarification, these plans best align with the climate and environments found across most of Virginia on average each year.
Know your Zone. Knowing your agricultural or planting zone as outlined by the USDA is a key identifier for your annual planning when it comes to pollinators. You can go to the USDA website and find out by zip code where you are located.
When we look at the "bee season" at a macro level, we divide the year into four sections that align with the seasons. General planning and tasks also line up with what's going on outside the hive related to weather, hours of sunlight and humidity. We will take a look at tasks, considerations, planning and preparation needed monthly to ensure the survival of the colony.
JANUARY in VIRGINIA
Contrary to popular belief, the hive is not "dormant" or in hibernation over the winter months. While the population and metabolism have decreased, the hive is hopefully very alive, with a queen still laying a small number of eggs surrounded by a tight cluster. They have hopefully stored enough food for winter, as they will need to consume calories in order to burn energy to create heat. Occasionally in January Virginia experiences some "warm days" over 50 degrees (f). Depending on the population, health, and strength of the hive, temperatures between 45-50 degrees (f) will trigger them to break cluster and do some house cleaning. cleansing flights are common and allow the colony to clear out some of the mess collected over the winter months. Use these warm days to check food stores and replace with DRY feed whenever possible.
Snowfall in Virginia is a funky thing. It comes and goes in a varying levels of severity sometimes sticking around for weeks and freezing over while other "blizzards" are whipped from existence by the following abnormally warm afternoon. After a large snowfall, check on the hives to ensure the entrances are free of obstruction. The name of the game all winter-long is ventilation. The two biggest obstructions to proper ventilation are snow and dead bees building up at the entrance.
I'm a visual person so I like to see things written out in front of me so I can organize my tasks. Get yourself a white board and draft out your expected needs for the next season. Review your available equipment and order, assemble, and clean any equipment you may need for the upcoming spring. You can NEVER have enough nuc boxes.
Winter is a great time to learn. If you are a beekeeper, you probably got some bee-related stuff for the holidays. Read up on the latest research being published, watch videos, read books and get your mind ready for what the colonies are going to challenge you with during the busy season.
FEBRUARY in VIRGINIA
Traditionally February is one of Virginia's more snow-filled months. Continue to be diligent with checking the ventilation of