I often get asked this question and the answer always depends on where you are geographically located as coastal locations that are warmer than Canberra makes for beekeeping that is a hell of a lot easier than beekeeping in Canberra especially during the colder months or as the colder months approach. I know that the general consensus of those old time beekeepers at the Beekeepers Association of the ACT (BAACT) is that you need to start a hive with a nucleus hive before Jan 1 otherwise it wont build to sufficient strength before winter to become established.
Whilst I dont believe that generalisation to be completely true, since I have mentored many new to beekeeping of the proven techniques that they need to do to establish a nucleus hive post the Jan 1 deadline, it is certainly something that the beekeeper will need to work at to achieve success with their new hive if they are going to attempt to start and establish a hive post this calendar date deadline.
This all said I have recent encountered two new ACT based beekeepers who have in the past week (last week of April) have purchased nucleus hives from beekeepers here under the belief that they will be able to get these through winter without issue. UNLESS, and I repeat UNLESS they are gifted beekeepers with a great deal of experience who can tap into ‘overwintering’ boards that allow them to park their newly acquired nucleus hive on the top of an existing hive, where it will benefit from all the warmth generated by the larger colony, I would find it very, very, very difficult (translated to bloody unlikely) to image how they have any chance of success as they enter into the world of beekeeping with the overnight temperatures now down to -3C as it was last night (April 28, 2017).
To those new to beekeeping, ‘bee ware’ of anyone willing to sell you a nucleus hive this late in the season as it realistically has buckley’s chance of getting through a Canberra winter as its just too small and without sufficient numbers without a giant amount of incredible luck on your side. Spring and Summer are the internationally recognised time-slots to establish new hives and anyone who suggests that this is not the case clearly speaks with a fork tongue and is just after your money, sorry but those are my thoughts on the subject.
In the northern hemisphere beekeepers go by the age old adage;
“A swarm in May is worth a load of hay (November)
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon (December)
A swarm in July ain’t worth a fly” (January)
So, if you love bees and all that is beekeeping can I please encourage those new to beekeeping not to be fooled into rushing in and buy their bees at the wrong time of the year, as you are very likely to loose them as not and this is just a further loss of bees and a waste of your time, effort and money.