Whether you’re an aspiring beekeeper or you are one already, there are several critical times of the year you need to be aware of.
Like any other agricultural endeavor, beekeeping requires a lot of advance planning. You can’t just wake up one day and set up a beehive like you would your new grill.
It can take months of preparation to be ready in time.
In order to be successful as a beekeeper, you need to keep a running plan (preferably several months in advance) of what you need to do and when you need to do it. Having this plan in place will ensure you don’t miss any important events.
In this blog post, you’ll discover what those important events are and what you need to do to successfully prepare for them ahead of time.
In short, you'll discover the Beekeeping Timeline.
Details of the Beekeeping Timeline
Note: this timeline and the accompanying suggestions are most appropriate for beekeepers in the United States. Timelines may need to be adjusted to fit the needs of your specific locality.
Below is a full breakdown of the Beekeeping Timeline complete with the actions you need to take as well as the dates you need to have them done by.
NOTE: Target dates are marked in red
Below is the Beekeeping Timeline broken down in a visual, easy-to-digest format. Feel free to download the PDF version by clicking the link below.
Let’s start our timeline before the end of the calendar year. In our case, we’re starting in December.
The beginning of December is when you need to be seriously thinking about starting your preparations for the upcoming season. You don’t want to be caught rushing around at the last second trying to get your ducks in a row when bee packages are delivered in April/May.
Here’s what your priorities should be during this time:
Pre-Order Your Bee Packages
Starting December 1st, your main priority should be finding a supplier for bee packages for the upcoming season.
You’ll want to start looking early so that you can find a supplier that provides what you’re looking for and that you can trust.
By January 15th, you should have a good idea of who you’d like to use as your vendor.
January 15th - March 15th
Bee package suppliers usually allow pre-orders through March 15th, but once you get past that date, you run the risk of missing the order deadlines.
You should pre-order your packages as soon as possible to avoid missing that cutoff date.
Here are some questions you might ask when looking for a vendor for your supplies:
- Do they allow you to sign up for email notifications for bee packages before they receive pricing & availability from the apiaries?
- Do they have a bee package pre-order process in place and is it simple?
- Do they provide more than one specie of bee?
- How well do they communicate with you once you’ve ordered
- Do they give you a tentative schedule of when your bee packages should arrive?
- Do they keep you well informed of any changes to that schedule
- What does their package pickup event look like?
- Do they provide instructions for installing packages prior to, during, or immediately after you pickup your packages?
Note: we’re working on a new course to show you how to install your bee packages. We’ll notify all of our newsletter subscribers when we release it in the Education Center. We’ll also update the links on this page.
You should familiarize yourself with the installation process before you pickup your packages so you are ready to install your bees as soon as you pick them up.
We recommend starting your search early so that you have enough time to evaluate potential vendors before pre-ordering your bee packages.
Pre-Order Your Tools & Woodenware
This is a crucial step in the Beekeeping Timeline. Do not skip over this step or put it off!
At a minimum, you should make sure you have everything that comes in a Starter Kit. These items are the bare minimum you need to have to be successful.
Note: we created a full online course about the Starter Kit. You can take that course for free here.
Submit your pre-orders for supplies and woodenware by March 15th so that you and the vendor have sufficient time to prepare. If you wait till after March 15th, it creates a time crunch for both sides.
For your convenience, here are two follow-up questions you might ask about your bee package vendor:
- Do they provide beekeeping supplies in addition to bee packages?
- Will they let me pick up my supplies at the same time as my bees?
We’ve found that most of our beekeepers value picking up other supplies at the same time as their bee packages.
However, it’s not as common as you might think for vendors to offer both bee packages and supplies. Even fewer will let you pick them both up at the same time because they want to focus only on distributing packages.
While you don’t need to pre-order your supplies immediately after your packages are ordered, it’s best to take care of this sooner rather than later.
Again, you don’t want to be scrambling around at the last minute trying to get woodenware for your bees. Waiting too long presents a difficult situation for both the beekeeper and the supplier.
If you're going to assemble your own woodenware, make sure you order it a few weeks before the target date so that you have enough time to get your woodenware ready before you need it.
Bottom line: As long as you have your woodenware ready to go by March 15th, you'll still be within the guidelines of the Beekeeping Timeline.
Temperature gets around 55° F
Feed Your Bees (If Necessary)
A small, but important step on the Beekeeping Timeline is to feed your bees sugar water during the early spring if needed. Since there are usually few flowers out in early spring, your bees will rely on the sugar water to survive until they can begin foraging.
You may not need to feed your bees at all if there are flowers out. Only feed your bees sugar water if you have to in order to keep them alive.
Once there are enough flowers out, you should stop providing them sugar water. Honey is much healthier for them to eat than sugar water.
Once your temperature gets above 55° F (approximately 12.5°C), you may need to feed your bees until enough flowers come out that they can gather nectar on their own. In some places, you may need to feed the bees for several weeks. In other locations, you may not need to at all.
The important thing here is to only feed your bees sugar water if there are no flowers out. Once there are enough flowers, your bees will take care of themselves.
First weekend in April to the second weekend in May
Pickup & Install Your Bee Packages
Next to extraction time, bee package pickup day is possibly the most exciting part of the year for backyard beekeepers.
Your specific package pickup day will vary from year to year, but you can reasonably expect that it will happen sometime between the first weekend in April and the second weekend in May.
There’s a lot of work that goes into bee package pickup events and it’s easy to miss details. As such, you’ll want to make sure to gather all of the information well in advance of your pickup day.
It’s also a good idea to review the information given to you on or right before your assigned day.
Here’s some things you’ll need to find out from your vendor:
- Pickup date, time, & location
- Procedures for pickup
- Policies for picking up other woodenware and tools (if applicable)
- Primary method of contact in the event of a schedule change
- Instructions for installing your bee packages (usually for first-time beekeepers)
- Process for follow-up questions and additional help
After you receive these details from your vendor, make sure to jot them down somewhere you can easily access them. Review the information briefly before you leave to pick up your packages and ask your vendor for help if you need it.
If your vendor won’t provide this type of help, we suggest finding a different vendor.
Package Pickup Day to Extraction Day
Check On Your Bees Occasionally
Once you’ve installed your bees, you get to play the waiting game. This is the rinse and repeat part of the Beekeeping Timeline.
The one caveat is that you might need to temporarily feed your bees some sugar water if there aren’t enough flowers out for them to collect nectar from. As mentioned before, once there are enough flowers, you don't need to do this anymore.
During the season, you need to check in on your bees once in a while to make sure they’re doing ok. We recommend checking your bees every 2 weeks if they are struggling or every 3-4 weeks if they aren’t.
This cycle of checking will take place from the day you install your bees till you extract in late summer or early fall.
Order Additional Hive Bodies or Supers
You obviously need a hive body to house your bees in when you first get started, but what about once they get going?
It’s extremely important that you have extra woodenware ready to go before your bees fill up their topmost box with wax and honey.
Once your bees completely fill up their last box, they begin to swarm and will leave your hive shortly thereafter. Thus, you’ll need to add an additional box to prevent swarming.
Pro Tip #1 - The 80% Rule
Put a second hive body on top of the bottom box when it’s about 80% full. Similarly, put additional hive bodies or supers on top of that box when it’s about 80% full. Keep this cycle going to prevent your bees from swarming.
We call this the 80% Rule.
Following the 80% rule will help you keep ahead of your bees so they don’t fill up their last box and leave the hive.
Pro Tip #2
Order your extra woodenware well in advance so that you aren’t waiting for your supplier to ship/deliver it to you while your bees pass the 80% mark.
We recommend ordering your extra woodenware no later than May 15th.
You’ll need either a hive body or a super and generally 10 of the appropriate sized frames to go with it.
Here are links to all of the additional woodenware items you should need throughout the season:
If you want to assemble and paint your woodenware yourself, you can purchase your woodenware unassembled (assuming your supplier offers this option). If you’d rather have everything ready to go, choose assembled when you checkout.
Once you have all of your woodenware, put the extra boxes with frames on top of your hives as needed.
Remember to follow the 80% Rule!
Extract Your Honey
Honey extraction is what beekeepers live for.
It's everybody's favorite part of the Beekeeping Timeline and for good reason. There is nothing more satisfying than watching liquid gold pouring down out of your extractor.
Note: We’re also preparing a course to show you how to extract your honey. Like the bee package installation course, all of our newsletter subscribers will get notified when we release the extraction course and we’ll update the links on this page.
In order to be successful in your extraction, it’s important that you plan in advance.
You need to get your honey extraction equipment well before you actually extract. We recommend that you make your orders no later than August 10th so that you have sufficient time for it to arrive.
Here’s a list of the essential equipment you’ll need to extract your honey:
If you don’t have any of this equipment, you can often get them as an equipment kit at a cheaper price than buying each piece separately.
Usually, the only difference between the different kits is the extractor so make sure you know what type of extractor you want and how much you’re willing to pay for it.
August 20th to October 5th
Extraction typically happens between August 20th and October 5th depending on moisture, temperature, latitude, and the productivity of your bees.
You don’t want to extract much later than October 5th because your bees need time to regroup after you rob the hive.
If you extract too late, your bees won’t have enough time to build their hive back up before the cold weather sets in and you’ll likely lose them.
Winter Your Hives
Varies By Location - We are usually between October 30th and November 15th
After you’re done extracting, it’s time to get the bees ready for the winter.
Note: We have a free online course available to teach you how to winter your beehives. Make sure you’re familiar with the 3 Principles of Hive Wintering before you begin your preparations.
The timing for wintering your hives can vary dramatically depending on the typical weather patterns in your location. Our wintering generally happens sometime between October 30th and November 15th.
If you live in a warm location (e.g. Florida), it may not get cold enough to necessitate wintering your hives. If you’re in a colder place, you might need to winter earlier.
The best indicator that you need to winter your hives is when your temperatures are consistently in the 20° to 35° F range (approximately -6° to 1° C).
At this temperature, your bees will remain in the hive to maintain warmth in their winter cluster. You can be sure that at these temperatures, it’s safe to winter your bees.
Once your wintering is finished, you are done for the year! Your bees will take care of everything else.
Recap of the Beekeeping Timeline
As a quick recap, here’s the important dates in the Beekeeping Timeline you need to be aware of:
- December 1st - Find a bee package supplier & get on a pre-order list (if available)
- January 15th - March 15th - Pre-order your bee packages
- March 15th - Pre-order your tools & woodenware
- Temperatures Above 55° - Feed your bees sugar water if necessary
- April 1st - May 10th - Pick up your bee packages on your specified day and install them as soon as possible
- Package Pickup - Extraction - Periodically inspect your hives
- May 15th - Order additional woodenware & supplies as needed
- August 10th - Order extraction equipment as needed
- August 20th - October 5th - Extract your honey!
- Temperature Consistently Below 35° F - Winter your hives
The Beekeeping Timeline is more of a cycle than just a one-time deal. You may find yourself going through many of the same steps each year depending on how your bees fare during the season.
Hopefully, they will survive the winter which will allow you to skip a few steps in the process.
If they don’t make it through the winter, you should start at the beginning of the timeline and focus on the steps that you need to fulfill.
If you’ll follow the Beekeeping Timeline, you’ll be far more successful and far less stressed as a beekeeper.
Was the Beekeeping Timeline helpful for you? Are there other events you think should be added? Any you think should be taken away? Does the timing of these events match what you've experienced?
Let us know in the comments below!