The Twelve Months of Beekeeping

It is time once again for my annual Christmas beekeeping song. This is my third year of creative genius, with past years featuring holiday classics such as I Heard the Bees on Christmas Day and The mites before Christmas.

This year, I bring you The Twelves Months of Beekeeping. The item for each month is meant to represent what a new beekeeper might experience in their first year. Please enjoy.

In the first month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
a beekeeping course for me.

150326 Bee School CakeLike any endeavor, it is good to learn from others. Beekeeping is no different, and the winter months are a great time to start. Many beekeeping clubs provide a beginner’s course that starts in January or February, setting you up to start a hive in the coming spring.

My local club, the Prince William Regional Beekeeping Association, normally starts a class in February. You sign up for the course, though, in January. The picture here shows the congratulatory cake from the course my daughter and I took in 2015.

In the second month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

The Langstroth hive is the most popular hive in the United States and much of the world. Aside from its versatility, most beekeeping equipment in the U.S. is made with such hives in mind. February is a good month to order your equipment, and consider starting with two to three hives. That way if one hive falters or otherwise has problems, you can more easily notice the difference. Plus, a second hive provides backup resources (bees and brood) to help a troubled hive recover.

In the third month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

The winter months are also a good time to read about beekeeping and bee biology. Dr. Thomas Seeley is a professor at Cornell University and a well-know researcher and speaker on bee biology. It just so happens he has written three books: The Wisdom of the Hive about the social behavior of bees, Honeybee Democracy about how bees make decisions and in particular about swarming, and Following the Wild Bees about bee hunting. He is a great writer if you enjoy the scientific method and the details of bee behavior. His most recent book (the bee hunting one) is on my Christmas list.

In the fourth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

More than one beekeeper has told me that you can never have enough hive tools. This tool is essential for prying Langstroth boxes and frames apart. Some beekeepers go without a beekeeping suit or don’t use a smoker, but every beekeeper uses a hive tool. They are a bit small and easily misplaced, so having extras is a good idea. I, in fact, have four.

In the fifth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me150419 First Nuc.

A five-frame nucleus hive is a great way to get started with bees. Typically referred to as a nuc, this is an established hive ready to be moved into a regular-sized box. Of course, our two hives (from February) would need two nucs. You can buy a four-frame or even three-frame nuc, though a five-frame is most common.

In Virginia where I live, local nucs are typically available between April and June. Package bees are available earlier, but they take about a month to become established, so starting with a nuc in May (the fifth month) is pretty common.

The picture here is my very first nuc back in 2015.

In the sixth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

In the spring and early summer, trees provide the biggest source of nectar for bees. A large tree can provide the equivalent of two acres of blooms. In Virginia, trees can start blooming in late February. See my Bloom where you are planted page for specific dates in my area over the last few years.

The nucleus hives we received in May will catch the tail end of the tree blooms. June is a little late for many trees, though the phrase fits nicely in our song.

In the seventh month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
dive combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

Honey JarAs the trees and flowers finish their early summer blooms and the temperatures heat up, our area normally enters a dearth period with little or no flowers available. Early July is when many local beekeepers extract their honey, hopefully more than seven jars although that would surely make a nice gift.

The picture here shows my first jar of honey in 2017, which I did indeed extract in July.

In the eighth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
eight strips of formic,
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

No beekeeper really wants to treat their hives for the dreaded Varroa mite. The queen reduces her laying as summer progresses to shrink the colony size for the coming winter. Varroa, on the other hand, has been expanding in the hive through spring and summer. As the bee population decreases, Varroa increases, with the potential to overwhelm the hive later in the year. As a result, most beekeepers who treat their hives do so after the honey harvest but before the potential fall nectar flow.

Formic acid is an organic compound often used as a summer treatment. Normally only one or two strips per hive are used, even though our song calls for eight.

In the ninth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
nine fields a flowering,
eight strips of formic,
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

It may seem like cheating to use blooming trees for the sixth month and flowering fields for the ninth, though it really is rather accurate. A flowering field is a great source of fall nectar, and nine of them would be truly wonderful for any beekeeper. Virginia does not always get a fall flow of nectar, though when it does the best sources are field plants such as goldenrod, thistle, and aster.

The site tenbytenplusten.com promotes the idea of 10 feet by 10 feet pollinator plots. If everyone could plant or support such a plot of flowering plants, it would be a huge help to native pollinators. I am hoping to plant some fall plants in 2018 to do my part.

In the tenth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
ten candy boards,
nine fields a flowering
eight strips of formic,
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

171124m candy boardOctober is a good time for winter preparations in Virginia. Reduce the entrances, remove extra boxes, and otherwise let the bees prepare for winter. Virginia is not overly cold in winter, so hives need 40 to 60 pounds of honey available to safely make it to spring.

If a hive is low on food, providing a candy board may be helpful. A candy board is basically a slab of hardened sugar, which the humidity generated by clustered bees will soften. I put candy boards on my Langstroth hives in November this year as some added insurance for the winter.

In the eleventh month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
eleven conference sessions,
ten candy boards,
nine fields a flowering
eight strips of formic,
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

As the bees settle in for the winter and the days shorten, this is a great time to attend a beekeeping conference to expand your knowledge and meet other beekeepers. The Virginia State Beekeeping Association (VSBA) holds a one-day Fall conference the first weekend in November. This year’s conference featured five different sessions, so in a two day conference you could easily have eleven.

You can probably find a conference in your state or local area. Virginia is hosting the Eastern Apiculture Society’s 2018 conference at the Hampton Roads Convention Center from August 13 to 17. It is a week-long affair full of hands-on courses, exhibitors, and great speakers.

And finally, the last verse.

In the twelfth month of beekeeping, my true love gave to me
twelve beeks a worryin’,
eleven conference sessions,
ten candy boards,
nine fields a flowering
eight strips of formic,
seven jars of honey,
six trees a blooming,
five combs of bees,
four hive tools,
three Seeley books,
two Langstroth hives,
and a beekeeping course for me.

Beek, of course, is cool beekeeping slang for beekeeper. At the end of the year beekeepers everywhere wonder how their hives are doing. First year beekeepers are especially prone to worry. It is too cold to check, so you visit on warm days to make sure the bees are flying. Or perhaps you do an oxalic dribble on a day when the weather is right and you know a hive is stressed by mites.

This is also the time of year to think about the equipment you want for the coming season, what new techniques you could try, and otherwise prepare for the new year. After December 21, the shortest day of the year, the bees sense the lengthening days and coming warmth and the queen will start laying eggs to expand the brood nest.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The song, of course, relates to the Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus Christ. The Twelve Days of Christmas, or Twelvetide, is typically celebrated from December 25 to January 5. The song is especially popular with young children, who seem to enjoy the repetition in the song that makes it easier to remember.

This exact origin of the verse is unknown. The song first appears in a 1780 children’s book called Mirth With-out Mischief, which is available as a reproduction.

I hope your holiday, however you celebrate it, is happy and merry. In my family, we say “Merry Christmas.”

May you prosper and find honey.

7 thoughts on “The Twelve Months of Beekeeping

    • Yes, January 5 was the end of the 12 days and you missed that too. No worries, hope you had a happy family Christmas and great New Year. Here’s to improving the bees in 2018.

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