The activity of bees and their lives are strongly influenced by the changing seasons. Each month brings about new changes in behavior to a beehive and its occupants. Obviously, a beehive is less active during the colder months and more active when the weather is warm, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the hive while they are inactive.
That raises the question: is starting a beehive better in cold weather or warm weather? Understanding how and when to start a beehive is best determined by first knowing how bee activity changes according to weather.
Bee Activity by Season
Each season brings its own challenges to a hive and the bees react accordingly. The activity level of a bee is dictated by the weather and cold weather inhibits their movement. In fact, bees left out in the elements, unprotected will often not survive the winter.
A high-level concentration of bees in a beehive will be better able to tolerate the cold than a hive with fewer bees. But any hive is in danger of succumbing to the cold if the temperature drops too low. Your role is to act as custodian of the hive, keeping it safe and in good condition throughout the year. The rest is up to the bees!
During the winter, the bees will form a tight cluster around the queen to ensure her survival and keep each other as protected as possible during the coldest months. Only female worker bees will be in the hive at this point, having forced out the drones who no longer serve any purpose.
The bees will eat about 50 pounds of honey during this period, but will run out of food before the winter weather eases. You will need to provide the hive with sugar to supplement their appetites toward the end of the season. In the meantime, your main objective is to keep snow and ice off the hive and ensure there is an emergency food supply available.
Of course, since bees will be confined to a hive, starting a beehive in the winter makes no sense.
Honeybees will often begin spring close to starvation, and so you will often need to provide an emergency food supply until the flowers begin to bloom and the bees begin to harvest their own food supply again.
If you are starting a beehive in the spring, it is generally necessary to help the bees by feeding them sugar syrup. This will help them build resources inside the hive until they are able to find an adequate supply of foraging resources in the area, at which point they will hopefully become self-sufficient.
As the weather warms up, the queen will more produce eggs and their food stores will gradually replenish. You should monitor the bees to make sure that everything is going according to plan and that they are producing adequate food for themselves. It may be necessary to supply them with them with emergency food rations until you observe that they have an adequate food source of their own.
By May, the activity in the hive should be in full swing and the drones that were eliminated when winter began will have been largely replaced. You should maintain your normal beekeeping routines at this time, including medicating the colony and adding more supers as the need for them arises. This period may see an explosion in the hive population, so be sure to keep up with the maintenance of the hive.
June and July see the worker bees in constant motion collecting pollen, producing honey and tending to the queen. The drones will be thickest through this period, but you will see their population begin to diminish in August as their usefulness to the queen wanes.
Be mindful of predators and other insects that may be attracted to the honey and may cause damage to the hive or the bees. As September begins, the drones’ presence will drastically change and you will see the population of the hive decline as the drones are dismissed by the worker bees.
At this point, you will probably have harvested the hive’s honey, but be sure to leave around 60-70 pounds of honey for the bees to survive the harsh months ahead. The queen will lay fewer eggs now as the workers’ activity begins to die down.
This is when the beekeeper should medicate the bees and supplement their food with sugar syrup. As fall progresses, the bees will begin to huddle around the queen and there will be little activity from them. You should use this time to reinforce the security of the hive to keep out rodents and predators that will make a meal out of a hibernating brood colony.
November and December will call for little more than cursory inspections to make sure that everything is as it should be.
Weather Conditions for a New Hive
When spring begins and the weather begins to warm is the ideal time for bees to start a new hive. Their activity levels build along with the blooming of flowers and they can tend to and build their hive as the season flourishes. Cold weather will inhibit the bees’ movements and they will not work on the hive until the season changes. Spring may begin later in some regions than others, so you should plan for your specific region.
Timing to Start in the Spring
When starting a beehive, the spring is ideal time. As soon as the weather begins to warm up and flowers start to bloom, you can set up your hive. Plan well and get your bees into the hive as soon as possible to allow them the time to gather as much nectar as possible through the next few months. By the time fall rolls around, the hive should be well established and honey should have been produced in abundance, barring any unforeseen complications.
When to Order Bees
You need to order your bees to arrive in early spring to get them installed in the hive on time. Ordering and receipt of your bees are two different things! Be sure to order well in advance to ensure your bees do indeed arrive on time. Talk to local beekeepers to identify the optimum time to order from local suppliers.
Don’t jump the gun and accept delivery before the weather warms up in your area (obviously this differs across the country). You want the bees roused enough to begin building the hive and making it their own quickly. For beginners, do careful research on when your region will ring in the spring fully and prepare for your hive from there.