When you inspect a hive, you're usually checking the temper, space, activity, brood, and laying pattern. But there are additional duties you should be doing or at least keeping an eye out for depending on the season as well.
I created a chart to help you understand what these seasonal tasks are and when they should be done. Thank Angela for this guide! She is a student and asked about the seasonal tasks beekeepers do.
When using this guide, use the temperature range for each season as your main guide for when your duties will be changing. What month it is is not as important. Keep in mind, beekeeping is not an exact science. Some years you have a rainy spring and some years it's warm in March! You have to listen to your bees and notice what's going on in your environment. You do this by observing what's blooming, how active the bees are, what the queen is doing and the outside temperature.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Early Spring
When it is over 55F and the bees are getting active and leaving the hive in the daytime, maybe the queen is just starting to lay eggs, this is when you want to provide food for the bees. Give them a feeder with 1:1 sugar to water mixed with Honey B Healthy so they have food. It's important to make sure they don't starve.
Don't open the hive when its below 60F. The bees may be clustered up and you do not want to break their cluster. When it is warm enough outside to inspect a hive, you can open it up, but do not check on the hive for long. Just make sure they are well fed.
Once the bees have been active and leaving the hive daily for over a month and there is pupae in the hive, this is when you can start your monthly mite tests. Be proactive and treat if your level is over 4. Treatments stay in the hive for 6 weeks, so make sure you put them in early enough to not affect your honey flow in the summer. Our recommend treatment during this time of year is Apivar (synthetic chemical) or Formic acid (organic treatment). See our article about how to use Apivar Strips.
In the early/mid Spring, give the bees syrup if they do not have enough honey.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Late Spring to the End of Summer
Once the population is strong (over 5 fames of brood) in your hive and the bees are building honeycomb and bringing in honey, this is the time to prevent swarming and make sure they have empty honey supers on top of the hive.
You still want to do a monthly mite test, but hopefully you will not have to treat. However, if mite levels are over 7, put in a treatment and take off the honey supers. Otherwise, leave the bees to gather honey.
At this time, check your bees every 7-10 days.
See our blog post about summer heat, bearding, robbing, dearth, hurricanes and other issues that may come up for you while keeping bees in the Summer.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Late Summer to Early Fall
Once you notice the empty frames in your hive are still empty 1-2 weeks later, the activity has gone down and the bees aren't festooning (building honeycomb), this is when you can stop swarm prevention and adding empty supers. It's time to harvest!
Once you finish harvesting, treat for mites! It is very important to treat early so that there are little to no mites in your hive when the Winter bees are in the larvae stage. The Winter bees manage the hive in the Winter through to Spring and it's very important that they are healthy.
You can also put the sugar syrup back into the hive. The bees might experience another nectar flow, usually goldenrod in the Fall, but they can still benefit from extra feeding. Let the bees keep all of the honey they gather in the Fall. Make sure there's a few empty frames for this honey flow.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Fall to Early Winter
Once it starts to get below 70F in the daytime, you want to prepare your hive for the Winter. Put an entrance reducer on the hive, take out empty frames and take out the sugar water feed once it is below 65F.
You cannot leave sugar syrup in the hive over the Winter! The moisture will evaporate and cause condensation in the hive. This can kill your bees.
Before you close up the hive for the Winter, do one last mite treatment with oxalic acid. The OA is very effective at killing mites on the adult bees. It just requires one application with a vaporizer. There is a lot of robbing that goes on in the Fall. Mites can spread to your hive quickly and in large numbers.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Winter
Now that it is below 55F and the bees are clustered in their hive, it is time to leave them bee for awhile.
Check on the bees about once a week. Do not open the hive! Just take your hive tool and scoop any dead bees out that might be blocking the lower entrance. Also shovel any snow that might be blocking the lower entrance.
Beekeeping Tasks in the Late Winter to Early Spring
Once you are a few months into Winter, every 1-2 weeks check on the hive and see how much it weighs. Do not open it! Just tip it a little to gauge the weight. If it feels light, open the outer cover just enough to dump a bag of white sugar into that very first upper box or feeder you have. Another way to see if the bees are starving is by peeking under the outer cover. If you see bees through the hole of the telescoping inner cover, they are starving and searching for food. Do this on a warm, sunny day when you see a few bees leaving the hive.
Do not check on your bees or try to inspect the hive, even if there is a warm day. Just make sure they have enough food to sustain themselves. Wait until it is over 60F and the bees are coming and going from the entrance before you begin your weekly inspections.
Another great resource to help you understand what the beekeeper should be doing month to month can be found on this handout from Cornell University.
I would consider this chart intermediate beekeeping. It's for people who already have a beginner level of knowledge about beekeeping.
If you're having trouble understanding the chart, that's ok! It just means you need to understand beginner beekeeping first. Beekeeping for Beginners is our online beekeeping class and is a great place to learn beginner, intermediate and advanced beekeeping all in one place. You can also check out our How to Become a Beekeeper blog section for beginner beekeeping topics and don't forget about our free getting started guide.
Want to learn more about beekeeping?
Join our newsletter for blog updates, beekeeping videos, sales and contests.