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A Master Beekeeper’s Year in Review

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

EAS Master Beekeepers Earl and Carol Hoffman manage a 40-acre family farm in Michigan and have more than 32 years of experience teaching and coaching beekeepers. Together, they operate Essential Honeybees LLC, which raises queens, sells nucleus hives, and pollinates local organic vegetable farms. Even as Master Beekeepers with decades of experience under their belts, each year of beekeeping is different.

“We only control a small amount of the 1,000 inputs and 1,000 outputs that make up the art of beekeeping,” Earl said. “But there are many things you can do as a good shepherd to help the bees propagate their species and survive the winter.”

Earl and Carol recently completed their annual best practice of reviewing the year in beekeeping. They compared this year’s journey with those of years’ past and discussed their successes and failures in order to create their plans for spring. Earl was kind enough to share the highlights with us and you, our readers and fellow beekeepers.

Winter Care: January-February

The beekeeping year for Earl and Carol starts in January, mid-way through the winter as bees are hibernating. Every year, starting in January, Earl and Carol begin a routine of checking the hives once per month and contact their queen breeder to order mated spring queens. They apply Direct Fed Microbials (DFM) in spring, summer, and fall, on a cadence of every 30 days to promote establish good gut health, which can contribute to the bees’ ability to suppress some of the viruses that are vectored by mites, and detoxify pesticides.

Early Spring Prep: March-April

The priority in early spring is to set the hives up for success. In 2021, Earl and Carol split their hives at the end of April when the dandelion flowers were in full bloom. They removed dead bees from the apiary, scraped the bottom board clean with a hive tool, removed old and damaged combs, and re-leveled hive stands. Hives that exhibited symptoms of Chalkbrood disease received an extra application of DFM. Before the natural pollen flow, Earl and Carol fed bees dry pollen substitute to help with brood rearing.

Honey Flow: May-June

By late spring the hives were bursting with activity. Earl and Carol prioritized keeping hives and bees healthy during honey flow. This entails supplying the hive with the space and tools bees need and preventing the proliferation of mites and infection. Weeks before the major honey/nectar flow, Earl and Carol added several supers of clean drawn comb. Before these supers were added they treated for spring mites.

Summer Monitoring: July

In the height of summer, Earl and Carol continued to monitor their hives to make sure they were queen right thriving.

Winter Prep Begins: August-October

In late summer and early fall, many local areas will have both nectar dearth and pollen dearth. This is a crucial time for beekeepers to monitor their hives. Providing great nutrition for honeybees is most critical in the early fall when the queen is laying her winter bees. Earl and Carol removed empty supers and empty frames and consolidated honey from the hives. They combined queenless and smaller hives, and, when the weather started to turn cold, they removed liquid feeders and reverted back to dry feeding sugar. Fall is also an optimal time to test and treat for mites.

Winter Starts: November-December

The winter bees in the hive will be the heater bees that should last 120-150 days until early spring. During late fall and early winter, Earl and Carol enjoy using a thermal camera to see the cluster.

“I am happy to share my trials and tribulations over the years because most times, we can learn more from failures than successes,” Earl said. “We have to teach and learn from each other, and always remember that we are standing on the shoulders of other great men and women who came before us.”

IF you would like to know more about Earl and Carol’s beekeeping journey in 2021, or would like to share observations from your own beekeeping journey, please contact us through our Ask the Experts page.

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