General Care and Maintenance of your Backyard Beehive
Once you’ve installed your colony of bees in their hive in your backyard, you need to care for them. While, to a certain extent, they will look after themselves, there are some seasonal tasks you need to undertake.
Many beekeeping tasks can be divided by the season – this is more weather dependent than date-dependent, though. It’s a good idea to keep a check on your bees, but it must not be overdone as it can be disruptive to their natural activities.
General tasks for year-round include:
- Repair damaged parts
- Install a rain cover/shade
- Provide adequate ventilation
- Provide a windbreak
- Control termites and other pests
- Protect from predators e.g. mice
Care of your Beehive – Winter
This is the time of year when the queen produces a minimum number of eggs. Bee numbers will also be smaller. During winter:
- Complete all disease treatments
- Ensure hives are sheltered from the wind
- check hives from the outside only – do not open the hive to inspect the frames
- ensure the entrance is kept clear of weeds, grass, and other obstacles for proper ventilation
- renew your beekeeper registration
- prepare the boxes, frames, and other equipment for the coming season
Spring Beehive Tasks
The bees are most likely now raising queen cells in preparation for swarming, and the queen will be producing more eggs. There will be more bee activity at the entrance to the hive and swarm instinct will be triggered by nectar and pollen as now spring flowers bloom. Drones buzzing around the entrance indicate swarming preparation is happening. Overall bee numbers increase.
- Inspect the hives for queen cells every 9-14 days
- Place an empty hive in case your bees begin swarming
- Purchase a queen to re-queen your colony if you suspect the queen has died
- Purchase bees to start a hive
- If necessary, stack a super on top of your hive to provide a place for bees to build comb.
- In late spring, collect surplus honey
- Consider establishing a new colony in an additional hive.
- If you have more than one hive, split the colonies so there are an equal number of bees across hives
- Harvest honey from established hives and harvest honeycomb not used in winter once flowers are blooming
Looking after your Hive in Summer
The egg production is at its peak in early summer, but this begins to decrease by late summer. Queen cell raising decreases. Late summer is the last opportunity to buy a new queen.
- Ensure hives get some shade
- Inspect hives every 3-6 weeks, weather permitting.
- Harvest surplus honey and stack a super on only if necessary.
- Stop supplemental feeding
- Ensure your bees have a safe water source near the hive
- Monitor for mite infestations
- Ensure combs are hanging straight
Autumn – Time to Prepare for Winter
Hive activity begins to settle down in early autumn, and the egg production by the queen reduces. The worker bees will drive almost all drone bees out of the hive. By late autumn, egg production is at its minimum.
- Collect any surplus honey, but only during the first two months of autumn.
- Close down the hive: compact the bees into just one or two boxes, with winter stores.
- If your colony doesn’t have enough honey stores, supplement by feeding sugar syrup. This needs to be done unless the daytime temperature remains below 13C, as below this, the bees are inactive.
- From late autumn, check hives only from the outside. They should not be opened during cold weather. Prepare the boxes and frames for the coming season.
And don’t forget to plant bee-friendly plants and flowers!