Seasonal Tasks

Hive Inspection

Hive Inspection needs

Take with you: Spare box. Inside the closed plastic box is a box of frames with foundation and drawn comb. Bucket with soapy water to kill any hive beetles and/or to tip out the burning remains from the smoker when finished. Hive tool, brush, gloves, matches, box fuel such as gum leaves or pine needles. All on top of a clean plastic sheet (old tablecloth) that can be washed after use.

Drawn comb Plastic frame

Drawn comb on plastic frame

Seasonal Tasks

  • Early Spring
  • Mid Spring
  • Early Summer
  • Summer
  • Autumn
  • Winter
  • Late Winter

Spring in Gippsland

Early Spring - First few weeks in September

This could be a difficult time for the bees as we often get a few days of beautiful warm weather which gets the bees out and flying, followed by really cold almost winter conditions again.

  1. Check they have enough food in the hive. Heft the hive (lift up the back and see if it feels heavy or light) If it feels light, the bees may need some food to get them through these first few weeks of early spring.
  2. Choices: Take a frame of capped honey from a disease free hive that has plenty and put it into a weak hive
  3. Feed dry sugar by placing it in a tray and putting the tray on the top mat under the lid. There is always enough moisture in Gippsland for the bees to eat the sugar.
  4. Feed sugar syrup only if there is a guaranteed nectar flow, otherwise the bees will go out of the hive looking for the source and may die if the weather has turned cold again.
  5. Feeding sugar syrup may start the queen laying too early and if the bees have gone back into a cluster because of the cold spell, the brood may get chilled and die.
  6. Don't open the hive until the weather warms up

Spring Management

  1. Resist opening the lid and looking at your bees in cold or cool weather. The Nosema disease is deadly on stressed bees, so:
  2. Do not open hives till a warm day in spring about 20 deg.
  3. Do not shift bees
  4. Do not feed sugar syrup, unless bees are starving (feed dry sugar) or have plenty of pollen coming in.
  5. Most important - do not disturb clustered bees.
  6. Do not split the brood in cool weather or if the hive is weak
  7. Weak hives should be either re queened or united with a strong nucleus colony to help bring them back to honey gathering strength.
  8. Only open hives when necessary
  9. Do not be tempted to lift out brood frames as spring breezes can be fatal to young brood.
  10. Between September and December in the swarming season, inspect hives every 10 days to check on queen cells developing.
  11. Provided that there were no queen cells at your previous inspection, this interval will give you time to act if the bees have started queen cells in the meantime.
  12. If you are lucky enough to encounter a heavy nectar/honey flow, you may have to shorten the two week interval temporarily to ensure the bees have enough storage space.

Mid Spring in Gippsland

Mid Spring - End of September to Middle of October

Some beekeepers follow this method:

  1. As long as the weather is warm (20 deg or above), and the breeze is warm and the bees are flying well and preferably on a nectar flow.
  2. Inspect the brood box, check for disease (see Pests & Diseases). Place the lid upside down on the ground, take the honey super off and place it on the lid.
  3. Remove the queen excluder
  4. Move frames so that 2 frames with honey (if available), are on each of the outside walls.
  5. Move 2 frames with pollen (if available) 2nd in from the wall on each side.
  6. Remove 2 frames of (preferably sealed brood) brood, removing the bees into the space the frames have come out from. Lightly brush any spare bees off the brood frames ensuring the queen is left in the brood box and put the 2 frames with brood into the centre of the honey super, the hive bees will look after the brood. If the weather is not warm enough the brood will chill so don't do this too early in spring.
  7. Check the brood frames to see how the queen is laying. Do the brood frames have capped brood in every cell or are there various empty cells? If so the hive may need re queening. (see re queening)
  8. Insert 2 clean drawn frames (or foundation) 3rd from the wall on each side ready for the queen to lay eggs in. (In the spot you removed the brood frames from) Leave the 2 centre brood frames.
  9. In two or three weeks repeat this procedure so that you have a good strong hive for collection of nectar.


Early Summer

Late Spring and early summer could be a time for collecting swarms.

Collecting Swarms – by Bill Ringin

The natural way bees increase the number of colonies is by swarming. A swarm is a cluster of bees, containing a queen that has flown from an existing or parent colony.  The aim of the swarm is to establish a new colony.

Swarming occurs in spring to early summer – usually September through to December when a large brood nest is present and nectar and pollen are in good supply.  Prior to swarming the colony begins to prepare queen cells to provide new queens. When these are sealed and generally around mid-morning on a sunny day about half the bees along with the queen tumble out of the colony entrance and after a short flight, settle on a nearby object forming a cluster.  At this time the bees are quite docile, having gorged on honey prior to leaving the parent colony.

This is the best time to capture the swarm.  Scout bees will begin flying out looking for a suitable new home.  This cluster may move several times if no suitable place is located. Back at the parent colony the new queens begin to emerge and one of these, after mating, will become its new queen. (The old queen having departed with the swarm).

Catching a swarm
Prior to working with bees the smoker should be well alight and protective gear in place. If the swarm has clustered on a small branch the beekeeper may be able to, after light smoking, cut the branch and drop the cluster, using a jerk of the branch, into an open box containing a couple of drawn frames and some frames of foundation. Do not use 'stickies' (frames that have just had the honey extracted).

Swarm and box

Photo courtesy: Bill Ringin

Swarm on branch

Hiving a swarm

Photo courtesy: Linda Filsell

Ian Smith demonstrated this method used by Alan McDonald at Marong Field Day. Sticks are placed under the box and lid to allow bees to crawl into the box to join the swarm

Swarm in box

Photo courtesy: Linda Filsell

Later in the day, all the bees are now in the box, ready for the stick to be removed and lid to go on. The box picked up and put on the bottom board that is close by. Hive will be closed ready for removal to its new site.

If the bees are on a larger object they may, after light smoking, be dislodged by a sharp bump or use of a soft bee brush, placed into a box – then close the box.  Any air born bees and some you may have missed will reform a cluster so after a few minutes these can be collected and added to the box. 

More rapid acceptance of the box as their new home can be achieved if a frame with some un-capped brood is added, however this may not always be available.
If it is possible to allow the box to sit and bees settle until dusk this is best.  If this is not feasible secure the box, closing any entrance and it can be shifted to its desired location and the entrance opened.

On some occasions due to access or height problems swarms may be difficult to box and it might be helpful to catch them in a cardboard box, bucket or other container.  These should be temporarily bee proof – a tea towel can often do the trick – prior to putting them in a proper box. I once caught a swarm with a long handled fishing net lined with hessian.

Encouraging the bees to enter a box (hive)
To aid the bees entering a box via the entrance, a piece of wood, cardboard or stiff paper can be placed as a ramp leading to, but not obstructing the opening.
If notified of a swarm, the sooner you respond, the more likely they will still be clustered where you were told.  Also enquire about the height and access of the swarm.  A ladder and other equipment may be needed

Summer - Harvesting Honey

Harvesting honey can take place depending on the seasons from December through to April. It will also differ from East to West Gippsland.

When deciding how much honey to harvest, you need to leave ample stores in the hive to over winter and have some in reserve in case next spring has a bad stretch of weather. Leave about 8 full frames of honey to keep the bees going from April - October. Or risk losing your bees. If you don't have enough honey, then go to the Autumn Tasks to see how to feed.

Clearing Boards advantages

Some of you may use clearing boards that are added under the honey supers 24 hours beforehand.  Bees can get out but not back in again so that you can collect your honey supers more easily.

Clearing Boards disadvantages

There are downsides to this such as an extra trip to the hives to install the clearer boards.  While no bees are looking after the honey, beetles can cause a problem.  Some examples of bee escapes work better than others so the supers are not completely free of bees.

Remove frames from your hive that have at least 85%  sealed honey (ripened).  This honey is ready for extraction and will keep. 

Frame of capped honey

Sealed/ capped/ ripened honey, ready for extraction (spinning out).

If you have a 3 frame extractor, remove frames from your hive bearing in mind that each set of 3 frames need to be of similar weight so that the extractor spins smoothly. The same goes for other sized extractors.

Equipment can be bought, borrowed or hired and all equipment must be spotlessly clean:

  • Uncapping Knife:  Plain, electric or Gas or an uncapping machine (see image)
  • Capping scratcher or kitchen fork
  • Container for the cappings (can be a bucket)
  • Extractor 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 frame extractors, or very large commercial ones.
  • Sterile Jars, plastic containers for the honey.
You can get as sophisticated as you like, or keep it as simple as you like.

Uncapping container

Uncapping container and electric knife

Uncapping Machine

Uncapping Machine at Marong Field Day

If you don’t have an uncapping plastic container as in the image, then uncap the frame at the end of a bench top with a bucket standing on the ground for the cappings to fall in to. Slice downwards where possible.

Frame being uncapped

Dennis Roberts with the electric uncapping knife and Bill Park.

As the hot electric knife removes the cappings they drop into the plastic container.

Extracting honey

Bill Park demonstrating how to extract honey at the Dumbalk field day.

Pot of cappings

Pot of cappings in warm water.

Safety: Do not allow to boil wax could overflow and start a fire.

Pots of honey

Jars of honey

The gate of the extractor has been left open so that the honey can flow into the bucket. If you don’t have a honey bucket, leave the gate shut and periodically fill up sterile jars or plastic containers straight from the extractor.

If you have a non-powered uncapping knife, have a tray (that the knife can sit in) of hot water over a small gas flame keeping the water hot so that you can continually put the knife into the hot water to uncap otherwise it won’t do the job. Or use an old Fry pan big enough for the knife to sit in.

What to do with the cappings
If you have used a cappings container that has a mesh sieve, then the honey will run through and leave the wax behind.
The wax will still have a little honey mixed with it.  If your cappings have gone into a bucket then you may want to sieve it to get the honey out.
Add the cappings to a large pot of warm water where the honey will melt and the wax will be clean.

Safety: Be careful and don’t allow the water to boil or the melted wax floating on the water could overflow and contact the heat source; wax being flammable could cause a fire.     

Allow to cool slowly and the wax will solidify on the top of the water. When cold it can be lifted from the top and impurities can be scraped off the bottom.

Some people have made mead (honey wine) from the wash water.  If you plan to do this, find a good formula for mead.  Mead and other honey recipes are available in Ann Cliff’s book advertised on this Website.

Small amounts of wax can be put into a solar wax melter.  It is a box in which a tray of wax is put. 

The box is then covered with a pane of glass and placed in the sun.  Often the interior of the box is painted black to absorb heat.   Place on a small incline so the wax will melt and flow to the bottom part of the pan into a container.  Queen excluders can also be put in to melt the wax from them.


Harvesting of honey may still be taking place depending on the season, making sure you leave about 8 full frames of honey to last through till October.

Check your hives for honey stores and disease

Check your brood box for brood at various stages, a good laying queen will survive winter. If this is not the case, then re-queening may be necessary as the current queen may not survive the winter.

Order your mated queens to arrive about late March/April for autumn re queening or late October for spring re queening.

Supplementary Feeding of Bees in Autumn by Ron Branch

I mainly supplementary feed in the autumn to try and induce the queen to continue laying before the onset of colder weather and to provide some extra stores in the hive.

This I find, due to having younger bees in the hive, is the biggest help in preventing Nosema problems in the spring. A lot of autumn crops are heavy yielders of nectar but poor in the quantity of pollen. Theoretically by providing pollen or pollen substitute this should help alleviate this imbalance.

Try to place hives in early autumn where the bees should collect an abundance of high protein pollen. Depending on the amount being collected I may have to supply the hives with a substitute.

At this time of the season if sugar syrup is required I use a thick mix (a ratio of around two parts sugar to one part water). I use a top feeder that holds around 3 litres of syrup and is easy to fill.

I tend to leave the feeders empty for a week or so before again refilling. The degree of activity in the hive causes the queen to continue laying resulting in younger bees approaching spring.

I discontinue any feeding by late autumn and don't disturb the hives during winter except to lift the back of the hive to determine the weight. I may give a light hive a frame of stored honey.

Winter - Main reasons for hives failing in winter are:

  1. Starvation
  2. Failing Queens
  3. Disease
  4. Too many frames for bees to look after
  5. Starvation - Starvation and Starvation!

To prevent starvation always leave 20kg – 30kg of honey in each hive above the brood,   (Ian Cane said about 8 full frames of honey under most conditions will keep the bees going from April - October). Honey not consumed over this period can be removed at a later date.
If they don’t have enough honey the bees may need to be fed sugar syrup. See Autumn tasks under Feeding.

Failing Queens
Old queens may not survive winter, look at Autumn Tasks and advice on re queening in Autumn. If your hive/s have not performed well over Summer and Autumn it could be that the queen is getting old and may not survive winter.


  1. Check hives regularly for any disease.  Get advice on disease if you are uncertain (from this GAA site under Pests and Diseases or Ray Gribbin from the DPI or the Internet). Experienced beekeepers can advise you.
  2. Keep hives strong and healthy
  3. Only keep enough frames that are covered in bees in the hive with no spare frames that could become diseased.

Reduce frames

Hives can be reduced to just the bottom box, or the bottom box and a super full of honey, depending on the strength of your hives. All frames must be covered in bees.

Reduce Hive Entrance to about 10 cm so that the smaller number of guard bees in winter can protect the entrance from pests. Use a Mouse Guard to reduce the entrance and prevent mice from using your hives as a warm nest over winter, eating your bees and comb. Mouse Guard

Small entrance Another method to reduce hive entrance.

Repair and paint boxes over winter!  By Bob Stevenson

Yes we all know this is your favourite job and you will find any excuse not to do it.
Bob Stevenson has some tips to make it easier.

  1. Sort boxes into ones that only need painting, and those that need repair and painting.
  2. Do the repairs first and use Aquadhere Waterproof yellow glue to repair joints.
  3. Use a  4” angle grinder with a rotary wire brush to remove the loose flakes of paint, or to take it back to the raw timber if you want.
  4. The jury is out on painting both the inside and outside of the boxes as some say this doesn't’t allow the wood to breath, so they only paint the outside.  Others prefer to paint both inside and out.
  5. Use a light coloured paint either water based or oil based but do not use paint containing lead.
  6. Bees don’t like the smell so paint early in the season so that by the time you use them, the smell has worn off.
  7. Change the bottom box over with a good box, so that the bottom box can be painted. (Don’t do this in cold weather).
  8. In warmer climates use lighter coloured paint.

Editor’s Note: Apparently in cooler countries you can paint them any colour as shown below! I have never seen it, but some hives are painted to match the beekeeper’s house!

Hives in colour

Photo Courtesy : University of Connecticut Apiary. New York Times photo 2008.


Late winter

Supplementary Feeding of Bees in Gippsland Article by Ron Branch

Recently I was asked about supplementary feeding of bees in Gippsland during late winter. (Early August). My reply was simply “Think again before going ahead”.
During August in Gippsland you invariably have a few fine sunny days where you may see more activity from the hive.

The warmer weather entices the bees to start breaking from their winter cluster in search of pollen and nectar.  This may happen for a few days but the weather will close in again causing the bees to again cluster. By providing sugar syrup to the hive you could possibly do more harm than good. (If the bees are starving feed dry sugar). (Look under the Autumn tasks to see procedures to help prevent starvation).

The syrup will entice the bees to go further in pursuit of the source and with the onset of poorer weather and lower temperatures the bees will expend unnecessary energy in a vain attempt (and may die) in their endeavours.

Another effect of feeding in late winter is that the queen may begin to increase her level of laying and with an increase in the brood area some may become chilled.
All that you have done is reduce the ability of the hive to survive.  Like I said at the beginning don’t supplementary feed unless there is a more or less ‘Sure Thing’ beginning to flower (Example Canola or Almond blossom).

What I would do is the opposite. Contract the hive into a smaller area to allow the hive to maintain the temperature inside the hive.  This could be done by reducing the available number of frames by sliding a sheet of ply down between the occupied and unoccupied frames and by reducing the size of the entrance.

In Summary

Don’t rush into supplementary feeding during late winter in Gippsland, be patient, think of alternate ways to overcome a shortage of supplies such as feeding dry sugar in the hive and remember that spring and a consistent increase in outside temperatures are not far away.