I was asked to let you have some thoughts about what all of us should be doing in the apiary, month by month, throughout 2022. It is quite an honour; I am delighted to be asked.

I began my beekeeping in 1985 after a course in Plymouth by the County Beekeeping Lecturer. Memories of my first year include:

  • Transporting my mother’s two colonies from Hampshire; somewhere along the A30, much to my wife’s alarm, several bees appeared on the inside of the windscreen. It was dark but we were passing a lit shop window so stopped, shooed them out and re-sealed an old woodpecker hole.
  • Seeing twenty or more Braula driven off a queen with tobacco smoke.
  • An afternoon grafting larvae at Seale Hayne, then the Devon agricultural college.

I have been running introductory classes for the Ipswich and East Suffolk BKA since 2000. And, because no-one else was, into courses in queen rearing and for general husbandry. I have been a BBKA Module Examiner and am a BBKA Correspondence Course Tutor. Nevertheless, I certainly do not know it all; very often the bees surprise us and I may say things you wish to query. If anyone wants to debate a point with me, please write.

Before beginning to write this article, I thought I would see what some of my far more erudite and qualified predecessors had said; it is all impressively good stuff, but what is seldom mentioned is the importance of place. For the health of the bees and a good honey crop, there must be nectar yielding plants within the bees’ range and recent research shows that this generally averages no more than ¾ kilometre in the countryside, ½ km in towns1. If there is not adequate forage, it would be better to keep the bees elsewhere. It is always convenient, however, to have the apiary close to home and that might be the most important thing for you.

At some point in December, most colonies will be broodless for a while2. Exactly when varies with temperature and colony idiosyncrasies from year to year, but in January all queens start laying in earnest. While day-length is the prime factor3, ambient temperature is important too. If there is brood, the bees keep it at 35°C and Varroa mites will have larval cells in which to reproduce. If a thymol treatment were used in August, for maximum effectiveness it will be too late to apply oxalic acid in January. Incidentally, the brood cluster is usually represented as being rugby ball shaped but Mark Greco’s diagnostic radio-entomology pictures shows it is more a T4.

Things to do in January - in no special order ....

  • Go on holiday! It is better not to leave the bees in the active season.
  • On a warmer sunny day, look for bees taking cleansing flights. Is every colony active? If one is quiet, gently lift the roof and crown board and sniff; if it smells OK, it probably is. Glass crown boards help but if you can, make your own.
  • Check hives are still securely tied down; I use a Waggoner’s hitch. A brick really is not good enough.
  • Check green woodpecker defences are still in place. These birds only go for bees when the ground is frozen and they cannot get at the ants they like to eat.
  • Heft all hives and note the weights; I use a Samsonite luggage scale. What were the weights last month? Do they still have enough food? When noting weights, are all your hives the same? Mine are not. I lost one colony last year because the woodwork was heavy; I thought they had enough food, but they did not. If you think they may be short, cut an X in the wrapper of some fondant and put it X side down either on the top bars or over a crown board hole. Add plenty of insulation above.

  • Put in a Varroa check board for three or four days and count the mite drop. The NBU guide says more than two per day is not good5. Debris on the board will show where the cluster is and that they are still alive.
  • Prepare, repair and replace equipment for the new season; clean queen excluders (I hope you use the wire ones), flame empty boxes. Our friendly local bee inspector says he likes to see the wood sweat but that is for AFB. Consider if any more equipment is needed. Make up frames but do not add foundation yet as, exposed to air, it may go hard and the bees do not like that.
  • Ensure there’s plenty of insulation under the roof.


All photos:  Jeremy Quinlan


  1. Leadbeater et al 2021 British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.
  2. Al Toufailia & Ratineks, 2018; Journal of Apicultural Research.
  3. Avitabile, A. (2015). Brood Rearing in Honeybee Colonies from Late Autumn to Early Spring. Journal of Apicultural Research, 17, 69-73 doi.org/10.1080/00218839.1978.11099905.
  4. http://www.radioentomology.com/: Video: The winter cluster in a honeybee (Apis mellifera) colony.
  5. https://nationalbeeunit.com/index.cfm?pageid=167. Advisory leaflet: Managing Varroa.