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Best Time of Year to Start a Beehive & How to Do It

The best time of year to start a beehive is in the springtime. This is the start of bee season, where the bees will have plenty of time to establish their hive before winter.

Many factors need to be considered: climate zone, where you live, nearby wildlife, and more. 

Some people prefer starting their hives as early as possible, so they have ample time for their bees to grow before winter sets in. 

Others like waiting until after fruit trees bloom because this provides them with abundant natural food sources.

In this article, we’ll talk more about when to start a beehive, why it’s important for the health of the beehive, and more.

When to Start a Beehive (Spring)

Most beekeepers believe that the best time to start a new beehive is during the spring. Starting in the spring has several advantages, such as strong nectar flow, blooming flowers, etc.

Springtime offers plenty of blooming flowers and ample opportunity for bees to collect nectar and pollen. 

When starting a new beehive, you want to provide your bees with the best possible conditions. Hence, there’s no set date that’s better than others, but spring is generally better than any other season.

The best months to start a beehive is April and May, depending on the season.

beehive in springtime

Bee Population Is Increasing

During the spring, established hives who’ve survived during the col winter months are beginning to increase activity. The first order of business is to increase the population.

New beekeepers can use this information for starting their own beehives.

During spring, bees’ natural instincts tell them to increase population, which is the first step when establishing a new hive as well. 

Nectar flow is strong, and flowers are blooming, providing the ideal circumstances for hive survival and growth.

Flowers Are Beginning to Bloom

The best time to start a beehive is when the flowers are beginning to bloom. This way, the bees will have plenty of food to eat when they’re building their hive and feeding the brood. 

In addition, when the flowers are blooming, the weather is generally warmer. Bees work during sunny and warm days, meaning they’ll be able to get to work immediately.

You need to adjust the timing depending on the local flowers in your area. In some places, flowers bloom later than in other places. Hence, you need to keep an eye out for the flowers around you.

spring-time-flowers-and-bees

Bees Swarm at This Time of Year

Bees tend to swarm in late spring (May), as this is when bees most often experience a large growth in their population numbers.

When establishing a new hive, it’s important to keep them from swarming. Make sure you have extra hive boxes in place, in case you need to add more space to the hive.

When Not to Start a Beehive (Winter)

Avoiding the wrong time is just as important as choosing the right time. The worst time to start a new beehive is during the winter, and there are several reasons for this.

  1. Bees can’t forage during the winter
  2. The bee population is decreasing
  3. Honey sources are scarce

These three things, when added up, reduce the chance of bees surviving through the winter, especially when it’s a new hive.

bee apiary at winter

Bees Can’t Forage During the Winter

One of the most important things to remember when starting a beehive is that bees cannot forage during the winter. 

In other words, if you start a beehive during the winter, the bees won’t be able to find food, resulting in sure death.

This is due to cold temperatures (bees don’t fly in temperatures less than 50°F or 10°C), as well as the fact that flowers don’t bloom during winter.

The best time to start a hive is in the Spring or summer when bees can feed on an abundance of flowers. If you start a hive during the winter, your bees will likely die.

There are a few things you can do to help your bees get through the winter. 

One is to make sure they have a sufficient food supply. You can do this by feeding them sugar water or honey.

Another thing you can do, if you’re starting a hive late in the season, is to start with a small group of bees. This way, if they all die over the winter, you aren’t wasting your time in creating a hive in the first place.

Related: When are bees least active?

apiary at winter

Bee Population Is Decreasing

The bee population of hives, also established hives, decrease during the winter. This is simply because the bees can’t forage, hence they can’t keep up the same activity levels.

If you start a new hive at this time of year, the queen won’t reproduce as rapidly, which can end up with your hive dying before it even got started.

Honey Sources Are Scarce

It is not advisable to start a beehive during winter because honey sources are scarce. Honeybees use nectar to make honey, which they then feed on.

To compensate for the lack of nectar during the winter, honeybees build up storage in the late summer and early fall. They feed on this throughout the winter to stay alive.

If you choose to start a hive during the winter, the bees won’t be able to build up storage beforehand. It’ll require you to feed them if they’re to stay alive.

bee workers on beehive

Bee Activity by Season

Bee activity changes depending on the season. 

  • In the Spring, they are busy collecting nectar and pollen to make honey. 
  • Summer is a time for the bees to build up their hive and raise their young. 
  • In the fall, the bees start to prepare for winter by storing food and pollen in the hive.
  • In the winter, bees go dormant, only spending energy to keep themselves and their queen warm and safe.

Let’s take an in-depth look at each season and learn more about the bees’ activity by season.

Spring

Spring is an exciting time of the year for beekeepers. This is when bees start to “wake up” from the dormant winter period. They fly outside their hives once again after months of inactivity. 

However, it can be daunting for new beekeepers who are not sure how to manage their bees during this season.

In the spring, the queen will also start increasing the population of the hive. This is due to them finally having an abundance of food again. 

The queen bee needs to refill the hive with worker bees, as a large portion of the workers die during the winter.

In late spring (May) bees usually start swarming. This is because the queen will have laid so many eggs, that the hive is starting to become overcrowded.

Related: When do bees come out?

bee-coming-out-during-spring-season

Summer

Summer is also a period of peak bee activity. The warm weather and ample blooms make it an ideal season for bees to collect nectar and pollen. 

Bees prefer to work when the weather is warm and sunny, making summer a productive period.

Summer is also a time when honey production is at its highest. Beekeepers need to harvest honey from their hives in order to make room for the new honey that will be produced later in the year.

Bees are also very busy during the summer months pollinating crops. Farmers rely on bees to help pollinate their crops, so they can produce a bountiful harvest. 

Without bees, many of our crops would not be able to produce fruit or vegetables.

Depending on the summer conditions, bees will have higher or lower mortality rates during the winter. A warm and sunny summer provides honey bees with the best chance of surviving through the winter, as they get to make more honey. [1]

bumblebee on a beautiful lanscape

Fall

Fall is the time of year when bees produce and store honey and nectar for their winter stores.

By the end of summer, bee colonies will typically produce more honey than they can comfortably guard and consume themselves. 

It’s important that beekeepers don’t harvest too much honey by the early fall. During this season, bees need to store as much as possible, in order to have enough for winter.

Bees will continue to forage during these months, storing both nectars for carbohydrates and pollen for proteins, which they’ll then consume during the winter.

bees flying in large numbers

Winter

Bees don’t hibernate through the winter. They remain active and awake, but they slow down their activity to the point where they barely move.

Winter activity depends on your local climate. Some climates are warm enough, to the point where bees can forage all winter long.

Bees’ main job during the winter is to keep their colonies warm. Bees make use of thermoregulation [2], meaning, they change the temperature of their hive, relative to the temperature outside of the hive.

To keep the queen safe and warm, they form a cluster around her. The worker bees will vibrate (or shiver) their flight muscles to create heat, while the queen bee will be positioned in the middle of the cluster.

The outer bees work as insulation, while the inner bees keep the entire cluster warm. They will also feed on their honey storage.

Related: Where do bees go In the winter? 

winter bee season

Weather Conditions for a New Beehive

When it comes to setting up a new beehive, there are a few factors you need to consider – including the weather conditions.

Bees work when the weather is warm and sunny and doesn’t care much for rainy or windy days, where they’ll retreat to their hive.

Extreme weather conditions can be a problem for bees. 

For example, if it’s too hot, the bees will work harder to cool the hive down and could eventually die from heat exhaustion. If it’s too cold, the bees will struggle to keep the hive warm and could freeze to death.

Related: Bee temperature tolerance

Do You Have to Buy Bees to Start a Hive?

No, you don’t have to buy bees to start a hive, but it’s the best and easiest option.

When starting a beehive, you need a queen, or preferably 5,000 to 10,000 workers. The workers will be able to forage, making sure the queen does her job: reproduce.

Another option is to catch your own bee queen. If you do this, you’ll first have to find a queen bee. Next, you have to set up a hive for her, where she can lay her first eggs.

If you choose to follow the second method, the queen bee first has to produce workers. Until they’re born, she’ll have to forage herself, which may not provide the best chances of colony growth.

artificial queen bee

How Many Beehives Do You Need to Start?

When starting out, it’s best to start with a single beehive. There’s no need to start multiple at a time, especially if you’re new to beekeeping. Focus on your single hive, and make sure it stays healthy.

This does of course depend on your knowledge, as well as the size of your garden.

If you have a small yard, you might not need more than one beehive. Once the hive is large enough, it will produce enough honey to support itself and give you some extra for sharing or selling.

If you don’t have a lot of flowers around you, it’s also best to stick to one hive. As you place more hives in the same area, the bees will have to fly farther to forage, decreasing the efficiency.

This could also result in swarming, as the bees look for better places to nest, where flowers are plentiful.

If you have a larger yard or you want to produce more honey, it might make sense for you to purchase more than one beehive. 

This would allow you to split your bees up between two hives and help boost the production of both the individual hives and the total yield from your land.

Beekeeper holds open frame with honeycombs filled with honey

How Much Does It Cost to Start a New Hive?

Starting a new hive can be an expensive hobby. There are a number of costs associated with setting up a new colony, from the initial purchase of bees and equipment to the recurring expenses of feeding and maintaining the hive.

The cost of starting a hive varies depending on the size of the operation and the amount of equipment needed. 

A small hobby hive may cost only a few hundred dollars, while a large commercial operation could easily exceed $10,000.

The biggest expense in starting a new hive is usually the purchase of bees. Honeybees can be bought from a variety of sources, including beekeepers, farmers’ markets, and online retailers. 

Prices for bees vary depending on the quantity and quality of the stock, but will usually sit between $150 to $300.

In addition to bees, other necessary equipment for starting a hive includes a hive body, frames, foundation, a cover, a smoker, and protective gear.

beekeeper-fumigates-the-beehive-harvest-honey

Conclusion

Spring is the best time of year to start a beehive. During this time of year, the bees have the best possible conditions to survive and grow into an established hive.

You don’t want to start a beehive during the winter. New beehives rarely make it out of winter, as the harsh conditions, and low nectar flow, cause them to die before they can get settled.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.