Understanding the Beekeeping Cycle

It’s important for new beekeepers to understand the beekeeping cycle. This topic came about as I had been perusing a book on cattle and came across a paragraph on the subject of ‘the cattle cycle’. The book is a gift for a family member, who has been raising cattle now for several decades now.

Beekeeping follows the cycles of the season. This is especially important for new beekeepers to learn and understand. The cycles differ from region to region in the country. I will only be talking about how the cycle runs for our region in NE Kansas.

Fall/Winter Activity

September to January can be considered the beginning of the new beekeeping year for the colony. The prosperity of hive depends greatly on the condition of the colony during this time of year. Diminishing colony population, beginning in late summer, along with the reduction of food sources – incoming nectar (carbo-hydrates) & pollen (protein) causes a reduction in brood-rearing. Bees born during this time of year will be the younger, longer-lived bees to carry the colony through to the next year.

I like to call this reduction the ‘period of decline’ in the beekeeping season.

As the temperatures begin to lower, the bees come together and form a cluster. They will break and fly on days of sun and when the temperature climbs to the lower 50’s (F) and  higher.  The more the temps drop, the tighter the cluster will form with the outer layer of bees in the cluster becoming tightly compressed, insulating the bees on the inside of the cluster. Clusters expand and contract with the rise and fall of day and night-time temperatures. In warming periods, when possible, the colony cluster will break and shift positions to maintain contact with combs containing honey and food resources.

Colony strength in winter usually depends on the amount of food stores and the population of younger bees that would have been produced in the fall. An ample supple of pollen & honey for winter with a healthy population of younger bees produced in the fall generally means a higher spring population.

Spring Activity

The “period of growth” for the colony starts in mid-January in our area with the lengthening of the daylight, which I’ve seen by an increase in egg-laying by the queen. The new brood is not significant at first but aids in the beginning of the replacement of bees that have already died during the winter. Older bees will continue to die off but the younger bees from the new brood rearing cycle will begin their replacement.

New sources of food from the Maples, which usually bloom in mid- to late February will kick the colony into higher gear for the stimulation of rearing brood.


Updates on this discussion will follow in the near future (posted 1*21*2014)

Thoughts on Over-wintering in 3 deeps…

3 Deep Langstroth colonies 2013Wyandotte, Johnson, and Miami Counties, Kansas 

Fall 2013/Winter 2014 &

Fall 2014/Winter 2015




In 2013, I over-wintered each of my bee colonies in 3 deeps or 2 deeps and a medium honey super. I decided to do this earlier in the summer of 2013 as I had concerns about coming out of the hot, dry year we had just come through. Of course, when is it not a hot and dry year in Kansas?

I will post pictures and blog on the progress. So far, I’m grateful for not having the worry to need to look after for feed. All hives were treated organically for mites in July/August 2013 and populations looked great in October 2013. It’s standard in Minnesota and Wisconsin to practice over-wintering colonies in 3-deeps.

The honey bee survival issues are complex: weather, pesticides, nutrition, beekeeper practices, diseases, mites and other pests. The weather from year to year is not exact nor consistent. Rather than continue to worry about the volume of colony size going into fall/winter and amount of honey stores, I decided to treat for mites in a timely manner-at their peak population and let the colonies hive with additional resources of naturally stored honey and pollen, as well as space for a larger colony population.

Only time will tell me next early spring as winter losses are not really discernible until after the fact. The presence of mites is certainly a factor as a stressor. The survivors should come out with lots of bees, left over stores of honey and pollen so I won’t have to worry about checking for feed and stimulation. Colonies with large populations will be ready for splitting in early April when I should be able to get queen cell production in high gear.

January 2015 3 Deep Colony in Paola, KS

January 2015 3 Deep Colony in Paola, KS














2015 February

The results from last spring were that I did not have to worry about feeding the 3-deep overwintered colonies. Nearly 50% of my colonies were in 3-deeps for 2014/2015 Fall/Winter season as well. Generally speaking, the other 50% were over-wintered in 1-deep and 1-Western sized supers (7 & 5/8″), which I did have some concerns about those and I did feed at least 1 gallon 2:1 sugar syrup in November/December. I’m feed those again in early February 2015 for “peace of mind” as I’m sure they would not have made it in good shape as they had without being feed. I’m looking forward to splitting as many colonies in order to grow.

After over a decade, we are going back to solid bottom boards! Kenny Edmonds, Parkville, MO., is making solid bottom boards. The price is right and the wood is good! I am following Randy Oliver (Commercial Beekeeper, Biologist) in Northern California in that it’s going to be a process of phasing the screen bottoms out.






On a side note, it appears that I will be accepting 6-8 colonies for the Kansas Honey Producers’ Association state hives. The honey production from these colonies is used to supply our honey sales and promotion at the Kansas State Fair each September.

Stay tuned for updates regarding the KHPA state hives.


It’s a simple goal: to improve stock for local conditions in the North-eastern Kansas area.

What is needed is to teach how to raise queens; how to graft larvae; learn the principals of selecting stock breeding.

All that we are attempting is to trick the bees in making new queens.

What I do afterwards is transporting ripe queen cells and placing them where I intend to use and need them.

Record keeping is an important part of queen rearing and for the distribution of queens. Not least among the problems in this, is in actually getting information on the queens afterwards. Notes on introduction, colony behavior and performance with the new queens are the basics of what are required to allow meaningful assessment to be made. From past experience many beekeepers just don’t observe their colonies with a view to recording what they see, and it is difficult to see where you’re going if you are not looking. We live in hope.

In our craft it is the norm for us beekeepers to work alone with their bees. In this project, where the planning and practical work is shared with others, one has the feeling we are participating in something really worthwhile and of real value to beekeeping in the area, that we are doing rather than talking. The enthusiasm of everyone involved in this project has been excellent, and I know I am not alone in looking forward to the next beekeeping season with keen anticipation.

Italian Honey Bee

Italian beesApis mellifera ligustica – Originally from Italy, this is by far the most popular honey bee and is the default bee that most beekeepers use. Italian bees are yellow in color, relatively gentle, overwinter well and build up quickly in spring. They are easily provoked to rob weaker neighboring colonies and sometimes exhaust honey stores rapidly in winter.

Pros and Cons of the Italian Honey Bee honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Good beginner bee
  • Excellent comb builders
  • Only moderate tendency to swarm
  • Relatively easy and calm to work with
  • Resistant to European Foul Brood
  • Strong cleaning behavior
  • Lower range propolis producer
  • Great comb bulders
  • Continous brood rearing continues after honey flow ceases
  • More likely to starve during long winters as they tend to exhaust honey stores
  • Poor flight orientation, highly prone to drifting
  • Aggressive foragers, causing tendency to rob

Carniolan Honey Bee

Carniolan beesApis mellifera carnica – These bees originated in the Austrian Alps, northern Yugoslavia and the Danube valley. Gray/brown in color, they are extremely gentle, conserve winter food stores well and build up quickly in spring. Carniolan bees construct new comb slowly and swarm frequently.

Pros and Cons of the Carniolan honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Earlier morning forager
  • Forages on colder and wetter days than most other bees
  • Overwinters well on small stores, as queen stops laying in the fall
  • Explosive build up in early spring
  • Exceptionally gentle and easy to work
  • May interrupt brood rearing during times of drought
  • Does not typically propolize heavily
  • Creates less brace and burr comb
  • Crosses well with other varieties
  • Likely to swarm unless carefully managed
  • If pollen is scarce brood rearing greatly diminishes


Buckfast Honey Bee

Apis Mellifera: hybrid
Brother Adam at the Buckfast Abbey in England crossed a great many races of bees with the British bee in hopes of creating a superior breed. The results are what is now know as the Buckfast Bee.

Pros and Cons of the Buckfast honey bee
Pros Cons
  • Highly Tracheal Mite Tolerant
  • Extremely gentle, with low sting instinct
  • Resistant to Chalkbrood
  • Low swarm instinct
  • Overwinters exceptionally well
  • Well suited to cool, wet climates
  • Not widely available
  • Builds up slowly in spring
  • Poor early spring pollinators

Africanized Honey Bee

Africanized honey beeApis mellifera scutellata and its hybrids
This bee originated from Africa.

Pros Cons
  • Resistant to Mites
  • Low swarm instinct
  • Well suited to warm, dry
  • Very defensive
  • High swarm instinct
  • Does not overwinter well