January Update

 We are continuing to monitor our hives this winter.  We started winter with 31hives and when we went and inspected all the hives on January 7th and 8th; we found that one hive had absconded.  There was a small patch of capped brood, and they still had about 9 lbs. of sugar in the top of the hive.  There was no sign of moisture and only two dead bees on the bottom board.  There were wax cappings on the hive floor, signs that the hive had been robbed, but probably after they absconded.  The insulation on the front of the hive was damaged, so we believe that a varmint harassed the hive enough that they left.

Our hives continued to use supplies very slowly, another three weeks and we were down an average of less than two pounds.  For the period Nov 17 through January 7, our hives have used an average of 3.5 pounds of stores.  I am convinced that changing bee breeds and insulating the hives is paying off.

Our focus in our apiary is changing from honey production to focus on raising queens and bees.  I am working with a couple of local business to wholesale honey and bees.  That way my time is free to care for the bees.  We will still have honey for sale, but we won’t spend half a day at the farmers market selling one pound of honey. 

I am basing my process on information from Michael Palmer on how he raises his queens.  Michael Palmer has some very helpful videos which helped us formulate our plan for queen rearing.  I will describe the changes we are making to our apiary.

The process starts with the hives where our breeder queens reside.  Those will be single deep hives and will have both a vertical and horizontal queen separator.  This allows us to control the frames that the queen uses for laying.  By placing a new frame in her area 5 days before we are going to graft, we will know that all the larvae on that frame are either one or two days old and suitable for grafting.

Once we graft the cells, we will place them into a cell builder.  This hive starts as a single deep hive.  The queen will be kept in the brood chamber by a queen separator.  About two weeks before we get ready to start grafting, we will add multiple frames of brood that are starting to hatch.  By doing this, we create a hive with tons of nurse bees.  We expect to add 5-10 frames of brood into a second deep box above the separator screen.  By overcrowding the hive, the bees will be in the mood to swarm, and so they will readily make queen cells.

When it is time to graft, we will take the deep box with the queen and place it on another stand facing the opposite direction.  We will take the top deep(s) with brood and nurse bees and place it on a hive bottom in the same spot the hive was standing.  This will cause most if not all of the field bees to come back now to the cell builder hive. 

The result will be a queenless hive that has no eggs or larvae for creating a queen cell of their own.  Once we place the grafted cells in, they should immediately begin to draw out the cells and feed and nourish the larvae.  Once we harvest the queen cells, we will place the queen back under the upper pieces of the hive and start the process over.

To provide the brood frames needed for the cell builder, we are going to have eight nucleus bodies arranged as four double NUCs.  Each NUC will consist of 3 deep brood boxes.  This will encourage the queen to lay as many eggs as she can, and we should have plenty of surplus bees and brood to care for the cell builders as well as the mating NUCs.

We will have 36 mating NUCs where we will place ripe queen cells coming out of the cell building hives.  Our goal is to produce 12 mated queens every week.  We will use the earliest queens for Nucleus colonies, and then we will start selling queens as well.

We are going to be working on breeding queens with Buckfast and Carniolan heritage.  I have pure Buckfast queens mated with Buckfast drones coming from Canada.  There is some evidence that the first supersedure of a hybrid queen may become aggressive.  To test that, I will try creating as many generations from one of my queens to see how the subsequent generations perform.

One of the other changes we are making this year is to move the bees from two of our furthermost out yards closer to our home apiary.  Currently, it can take as much as one hour of travel to visit the two that we are moving.  This will make inspections much easier, faster, and reduce the cost as well.

In preparation for this move, we are getting all of the woodenware painted, and we are putting new foundation into the empty frames we have completed.  As of today, we have 43 honey supers ready to put on hives as well as 16 nuc boxes with frames ready to go.  I have the 24 five frame deep boxes painted; I am going to insulate them and then they will be ready for use as donor hives for the cell builders. 

My bees are bringing in pollen and possibly some nectar already.  I have seen photos of red maples blooming.  They are starting pretty early, and we are having and will have some more freezing temperatures before it is really spring I believe.  I expect to start feeding 1:1 syrup and pollen substitute in early February which should encourage an early start to brood rearing.  Once drone brood is present, we will start working on making splits so that we can sell NUCs in the early spring.


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