Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to maximize your honey production while minimizing swarming (Part II)

One of my single deep beehives, opened on Oct 20, 2013. Lots of healthy honey bees.
Last week, I summarized “A year’s work in an out-apiary; or, An average of 114 ½ pounds of honey per colony in a poor season, and how it was done” by G. M. Doolittle and promised to explain how I use his method in my apiary.

I want to point out that G. M. Doolittle ran his hives for section honey. Section honey has its own set of challenges, namely:
  • You must crowd the bees as you want each section completely drawn (front and back, top to bottom and side to side). Undrawn or partially drawn sections are not marketable. G. M. Doolittle uses them as “bait” sections in the following year.
  • You must use a queen excluder as sections with whiter cappings (and whiter honey) command a premium
The color of the cappings and partially uncapped frames (as long as the frame is about 75% capped or you have a good refractometer) are not such crucial issues anymore. However, G. M. Doolittle did not have to deal with small hive beetles (SHB) or varroa mites.

So, without any further ado, here is my schedule for year 2014. G. M. Doolittle’s flows are very similar to the flows in my area and therefore I can use the calendar dates that he provides for manipulations. Still, I will keep an eye on when a flow starts and ends and modify the schedule accordingly. For those of you further south and north, I have included the flows, so you can map them to yours. My comments are below the manipulations in italics.

Date Flow
Manipulations and Comments
April 14 Doolittle: Take hives out, clean the bottom boards

This part of Doolittle’s management part is largely obsolete with the majority of beekeepers in the USA keeping their bee hives outside all winter long. The obvious exception would be Canadian beekeepers that routinely winter their hives inside temperature controlled buildings due to the long Canadian winter. Although you might be tempted to remove the hive wrap and insulation at this point, I usually remove them in the beginning or middle of May depending on the long range weather forecast.
April 24 Elm, soft maple

Dandelion:
Apr 28
Doolittle: Make sure each hive has at least 20 pounds in honey stores by adding 1, 2 or 3 combs of honey at 7 pounds each. The honey should be put right next to the brood nest. 

Note that this is done 26 days before fruit tree bloom and 53 days before the main flow (basswood and white clover). It takes approximately 42 days (+/-7 days) to produce a forager bee from an egg. The brood that is produced in the next 11 days is going to produce the forager bees working the main flow. Therefore, it is crucial that brood rearing goes on “swimmingly” during this period. This is one of the reasons why I don’t remove the hive wraps and insulation until later. I don’t want to chill my main flow foragers.

The elm and soft maple are primarily pollen flows that the honey bees use to rear brood. However, the honey bees may not be able to make the most of those flows due to inclement weather and cold snaps. If this is the case, you might want to add a pollen patty on the top of the brood nest to make sure that the honey bees are able to raise healthy foragers for the main flow.  

Another possible sticking point when implementing this plan is that any newcomer to this management technique will lack “reserve combs” with which to supplement the honey stores in the spring. Feeding 1:1 sugar syrup to the honey bees is an alternative solution. The drawback, again, is the weather in early spring. Here in NW Ohio, the average daytime high for April is 62F with lows of 40F. The honey bees stop taking syrup when its temperature falls below 50F. To make sure the honey bees take the syrup, you might want to feed smaller amounts in a Ziploc baggie feeder (or frame feeder) positioned right above the brood nest (next to it in the case of a frame feeder).
May 20
 
Fruit tree bloom
Doolittle: Clip the queens. Equalize the brood, in order to make sure there are multiple strong colonies at the beginning of the clover flow.  Add a story with 2 bait combs to all the strong bee hives.
 
Doolittle’s reasoning for clipping the queens is that it will delay the swarm for several days until he is able to perform his “shook swarming”. I haven’t been able to find a good description on how to clip queens, so I haven’t practiced it. Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail if clip your queens or have a good source. The links for both are on the bottom of this blog post. I have also pulled the honey from the bottom chamber into the 2nd deep.
June 16
White clover:
May 23;
Black locust is done
 
Basswood flow begins in approx. 10 more days
Doolittle: Mow the grass in the apiary. Prepare hives for filling sections by removing the 2nd story and putting on 1 “bait” section super and one section super filled with foundation above a queen excluder. “Shake swarm” the honey colonies and take all the brood out.
 
While I use queen excluders in my apiary, I do not use them in my honey colonies. I do not believe them to be as critical for extracted honey production as they are for comb honey.
 
Doolittle also takes out all the brood when he “shake swarms” his honey bee colonies. However, the white clover and the basswood flows are usually done within a month of that manipulation. In addition, his next flow of any importance is the buckwheat flow and it does not start until middle of August. If your main flow is longer in duration or you have a mid-summer flow instead of a dearth, you might want to change this manipulation to a variation of a cut-down split where you take away the queen and all open brood. After the flow, you can re-combine the two hives if you don’t want to increase the number of colonies. In this way, you will avoid the month and a half gap in raising foragers in the middle of the summer.
June 26
 
Basswood:
July 6
Doolittle: Making increases (nucs)
 
For the past 4 years, I had very good results raising queens (fall queens) after the main flow. In reality, I start mine on the 4th of July as it is easy to remember. This year, I experimented with raising my own queens using the cut cell method and mating them into small nucs (in past years, I did splits and let each split raise their own queen). While I plan to make some changes in the way I set up the nucs for next year, I am going to stick to this timeline for now.
July 10
 
Doolittle: Make sure nucs are queen-right; add queens if necessary
July 24
 
Doolittle: Taking off surplus; preparing for buckwheat flow
 
Usually this timeline works well with my schedule, but this year was the exception. I believe the cold and wet summer caused a delay in the capping of the supers. The majority of the supers were not capped until well into September / the beginning of October. And yes, those stores were sitting uncapped since July. Did you notice if the honey bees took longer to cap? Leave me a note in the comments.

This is also the time when you want to test for varroa and treat if necessary. In this way you will reduce the varroa mite pressure on the honey bees reared in the the next couple of months. These are the so-called "winter bees" or "fat bees" and they are crucial for your colony's winter survival.

I usually don't need to treat, because I usually introduce a queen cell into my honey colonies after the main flow, causing a brood break. A brood break is an effective varroa management tool, especially for treatment-free bees.
Sept 8
 
Doolittle: Harvest using bee escapes / porter escapes

It is a good idea to also use this visit in order to make sure your hives have a good wintering weight. This is about a month and a half before the first hard frost in my area and after the goldenrod flow. Check out my post Fall inspections: Do I need to feed and how much? for more details.
Oct 10
 
Doolittle: Install winter bottom boards and mouse guards on the hives

Since I don't overwinter my hives in a cellar but outdoors, this is around the time I insulate/wrap my hives for winter.
Nov 23
 
Doolittle: Temperatures are around freezing, it is time to put the bees back in the cellar.