Management For Honey Production

APPLYING BEE CHARACTERISTICS CAN DOUBLE HONEY PRODUCTION

Characteristics fall into two major groups

  • Instincts that can be traced to their heritage as forest dwellers, where home is a tree hollow.
  • “Work Arounds” or adaptations to the Langstroth hive we provide as residence quarters.
  • The academic community, and the beekeepers who follow their lead, tend to ignore both.

We believe an overhaul of our perspective is past due.

  • Most of the questionable concepts date back to box hive days when we were guessing.
  • For a century now, we have had movable frames and can actually see how the bees implement their objectives.
  • What I see does not support some key elements of “conventional wisdom”.
  • Do I need more proof than doubling honey production with far less work, time, and expense?
  • My records are poor. No scientific data. didn’t occur to me at the time that someday i would be trying to convince a bunch of skeptics.

We recommend two different and simple steps in colony management to improve honey production. We call them the Pollen Box Maneuver and Checkerboarding for Swarm Prevention.

Pollen Box Maneuver

  • Insures protein storage in the spring when pollen is plentiful
  • In the forest, pollen is scarce in the fall.
  • Bees need protein in the fall to rear young, winter bees.

Checkerboarding for swarm prevention

  • Interferes with the bees swarm generation format.
  • Generates greater populations and more honey.
  • It is unlike most conventional swarm prevention techniques that reduce colony strength. i.e. Splitting, division, and other broodnest disturbances.

It’s very difficult to quantify the production increase

  • Too many variables: location, season forage, & weather, etc.
  • If we had to guess, we would estimate a 30% increase for the pollen box and Checkerboarding can double, or more production over standard management.

2014 Production, Local

1. Hives checkerboarded in Feb. 2. Picture taken June 2nd, 2014 @ Elkton, TN. 3. 11 completed shallows harvested from the middle of the stacks the following week. 4. Shallows of brood at the bottom, and unfinished shallows at the top, left for remainder of flow. 5. 11 shallows at 25 lbs. each comes to 275 divided by 2 equals 137 lbs. average. 6. And they aren't done yet! 7. Sept. 26, 2014 season total 161 lbs. average.

1. Hives checkerboarded in Feb.
2. Picture taken June 2nd, 2014 @ Elkton, TN.
3. 11 completed shallows harvested from the middle of the stacks the following week.
4. Shallows of brood at the bottom, and unfinished shallows at the top, left for remainder of flow.
5. 11 shallows at 25 lbs. each comes to 275 divided by 2 equals 137 lbs. average.
6. And they aren’t done yet!
7. Sept. 26, 2014 season total 161 lbs. average.

Spring Operations Summary Chart

Spring Operations Summary Chart

Operational formats

  • What we call ‘operational formats’ are the sequences of activities that support objectives of reproduction and then parent colony survival.
  • We break down the seasonal formats into the following periods.
    • Late winter/early spring is dedicated to reproductive swarming.
    • Late spring/early summer is dedicated to colony resupply.
    • Midsummer is a period of conserving assets. (Not shown here)
    • Fall is a period of preparing for winter. (Not shown here)
  • Brood volume is continuously being adjusted to support these objectives.

Summary chart

  • The spring ops summary chart shows the transition from the early season where the objective is generation of the reproductive swarm to the period of parent colony resupply – which we see as ‘main flow’. In-between those two is the personnel change to store honey.
  • We call the division between these two periods ‘reproductive (swarm) cut off’. (Repro c/o)

Notes of balled numbers

  1. Internal colony changes through the early season (spring flow).
  2. Objective(s) reflect the mission of that period.
  3. Operational differences reflect worker duties applied to the mission of that period.
  4. Effects are those indications that can be seen by the beekeeper during an inspection.
  5. The weakest will not start swarm preps. The change from broodnest expansion to swarm preparations is not calendar related. It’s more a function of colony strength.
  6. There are 3 major segments that support reproduction first, and change to accomplish parent colony resupply. The major change in goals comes about mid flow and we have named that timing reproductive swarm cut off (repro c/o).
  7. The start of new wax is synonymous with main flow.
  8. No start bar on swarm issue – can actually precede cut-off.
  9. Redbud is generally used for swarm prep “backfilling”.
  10. Hardwood green-up is associated with swarm issue timing (smorgasbord of sources).
  11. Black locust blooms in our lull in overhead storing – not put in the supers.
  12. Tulip poplar is one of our best sources – blooms in early main flow.

1Overhead Honey Reserve Test

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This is what the minimum honey reserve looks like.

In order to test if brood nest expansion to the reserve initiates swarm preps we added, or left, another super of honey at the top in the fall.

Results:

  • Greater populations and more surplus honey. 4 (more brood volume)
  • Less reproductive swarming. 5

Conclusion:

  • Look for a way to attack the capped honey reserve. 6

Overhead honey reserve (numbers) notes

1. In our early years, when we were preoccupied with collecting feral bees, it was observed that the swarming colony saved a capped honey reserve at the top before starting the backfilling of swarm preps. This simple test was performed on a typically strong out yard of 12 colonies.
2. The left-side pair was our normal wintering configurations.
3. The test configuration (right pair) was to go into winter with an extra shallow of capped honey.
4. Makes sense – more bees make more honey.
5. An early clue to the existence of some time limit on the swarm process,
Repro cut-off – takes longer to build more brood volume.
6. Checkerboarding was an effective attack.

Swarm Process

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Swarm Preparations

  • Build brood volume to the honey reserve.
  • Midway to this goal, start drone rearing to support the mating season (not shown).
  • When the minimum honey reserve is reached, start backfilling the upper brood volume with nectar as brood emerges.
  • Frees up young bees to support swarm needs.
  • Starts re-supply of parent colony.
  • Temporary expansion corrected – back to proportional to cavity.
  • When the brood nest is sufficiently reduced, commit to swarm by starting queen cells.

Swarm Process Notes

1. The second configuration of the sketch shows the brood nest expanded to the max. “Saving the capped honey reserve to support them through swarm issue”.
2. The third configuration above shows the backfilling of the upper third of the brood nest with nectar and the subsequent starting of swarm cells. Populating cups with eggs/larvae is commitment to swarm. Hard to stop them after that point in the process. Need to cripple them thereafter.

The major steps to the process are shown in the double deep where they are more readily seen. Over – wintered in a deep/shallow, the steps all take place in the deep, and are not as obvious.

The over–sized cluster would be seen in early winter, but bee loss might have the cluster down to a few frames before expansion started in late winter. Early expansion is lateral, frame to frame until the deep is essentially filled with brood and stores to support it.

The knobs below the box joint reflect Queen cells started after backfilling completion.

Note that brood nest reduction by backfilling is permanent for the spring season; subsequently those cells will be extended, supplemented, cured and capped for winter honey.

We suspect that the brood nest reduction is more significant than the loss of swarm bees in the reduction of honey surplus.

Checkerboarding stops backfilling and generates another brood cycle of expansion.

Hive Body Reversal

Hive Body Reversal

Hive Body Reversal

If reversed the brood nest is separated. That’s not a problem with enough bees to form the extra two band of insulating bees. They will fill in the space between with brood. If reversed too soon, brood chilling can cause damage.

If reversed too late, over-crowding can occur. Over-crowding swarms are later than repro swarms, and are motivated by the crowding itself. They can occur into main flow, and are sometimes followed by after swarms.

Reversal deprives the colony of their natural brood nest reduction by backfilling. They have to start over backfilling at the top. The delay can be effective for swarm prevention if repro c/o is reached, depending on the timing.

Overcrowding can be mitigated by adding empty, drawn comb at the top at the same time as reversal. They “want” to store nectar above the brood nest (their colony feed band). Overhead nectar storage is the key to swarm prevention.

Note that we seldom see after swarms here when we have repro swarms. If cluster is in the lower, upper is backfilled when permitted to do it their way.

Observations Leading to Checkerboarding

  • The colony wintered in a deep and shallow opens no honey in the overhead capped honey in the shallow.
  • The colony overwintered in the double deep often leaves a band of capped honey above the brood nest expansion dome in the upper deep.
  • We concluded that leaving this overhead capped honey was deliberate and part of the swarm preparation format.
  • It would protect colony survival during the temporary surge in brood volume in the event of a drop-out in field forage.
  • The test seemed to support that conclusion.
  • We now refer to that honey as the (capped) honey reserve.

Checkerboarding Manipulation

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Checkerboarding Manipulation Notes

NO DATES ON CHART – USED IN OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY

Objective:

Encourage Colony to store nectar overhead that would normally be used for backfilling.

Observations applied:

  1. Saving the reserve of capped honey overhead, and starting backfilling is the first step in swarm preparations.
  2. Colony will almost always expand the brood nest into the upper deep of a double deep and seldom expand into a shallow at the top. To the colony perception, we have doubled the shallow to a deep, and the broodnest expands into the lower shallow.

Effects:

  1. When the colony encounters empty comb in their perceived broodnest expansion volume, they “WANT” to fill that empty comb with nectar.
  2. Storing nectar overhead is the key to swarm prevention.
  3. Backfilling of the broodnest is a prerequisite in the repro swarm prep format.
  4. Typically, the colony will store 2 supers of nectar above the expanding broodnest during buildup. That’s honey you don’t see with any other swarm prevention approach.

How to:

Alternate the combs of capped honey in the top box, with empty drawn comb of brood-rearing depth. The empty comb can be last season’s pollen box (shown) or from storage.

Numbers on the Chart

1. Winter configuration – functionally derived for my management. 2 shallows equal honey in a deep. Flexibility is the advantage. This takes advantage of bees’ preference for brood in a deep. The basic brood nest stays in the deep – year round. The empty shallow on bottom is last seasons’ pollen box. Empty over winter, it acts as a lattice rack. It is then on-site in late winter to checkerboard.
2. The timing or scheduling of the manipulation is important. You must get ahead of bees and stay ahead. The Checkerboarding is done before fruit bloom – it’s difficult to think about swarming before you see flowers, but almost impossible to do it too early.
3. To determine optimum timing, count backwards about 8 weeks from start of new wax at “main flow” for your location.
4. Rear processors – the period of personnel adjustment to store efficiently. The lull – very little nectar gain, if any, overhead. Young bees assigned tasks of nectar drying/wax making for main flow. The old literature attributes this period to scouts looking for nest sites.
5. Repro cut-off – decision time – second week of April here.
6. Swarm preps – commit to swarm if swarm cells are started before the deadline

Colony Seems to see top of honey as top of cavity– true in the wild nest.

We avoid all forms of brood nest disturbance. Any disruption slows growth for recovery time. It helps with swarm prevention – if delay is enough to reach to repro c/o. Splitting, division, or opening the brood nest are all slow down manipulations.

Seasonal Brood Volumes

This chart is included to show why Checkerboarding produces more surplus honey. Seasonal brood volume is plotted against our seasonal flow periods with calendar references in-between.

This chart is included to show why Checkerboarding produces more surplus honey. Seasonal brood volume is plotted against our seasonal flow periods with calendar references in-between.

Starting at the bottom and working upward

1. Field forage is truncated at the top – unlike scale hive data which shows large peaks and valleys with weather effects. Flat top periods – can send all available foragers.
2. Within the spring flow are 2 references to local bee colony timing events. The reproductive cut-off reference is extended upward into the plots of brood volume.
3. The scale on the left side of the chart is awkward to show different size boxes for comparison of totals. Left side of the scale is only for double deeps. Right side for single deep and shallows.
4. Both the deep/shallow & double deep are shown with no swarm prevention. They are permitted to cast a reproductive swarm.Note that both have a deep or less brood for the production period, and brood continues to decline.
Bees lost to the swarm is only part of the picture.
Brood nest reduction in swarm preps may be more significant.
5. The temporary peak of brood volume in mid march is specifically oriented to generating swarm bees. Immediately following is volume reduction, by back-filling. Gets brood volume proportional to cavity size. Protecting the feed supply during the out-of-proportion period is the mission of the honey reserve. Northerners take note – don’t make them consume their reserve to survive winter. Leave them an extra super of capped honey to checkerboard in late winter. That extra super left in the fall is a good investment for the following season.
6. The extra production of honey when Checkerboarded comes from the extra bees generated by bigger brood volume. When Checkerboarded, brood volume continues to increase until repro c/o. In the backfilling period of swarm preps, backfilling does not start. Instead, brood volume continues to increase to repro c/o.
7. Timing of the manipulation – see upper left corner (the rectangular box). It is done on the upswing of brood nest expansion – prior to peak expansion

2ND Step Supering

Optimistic Supering is important. Don’t let them fill the comb to the top. They will go into main flow with at least twice the bee population, or brood volume.

Pollen Box Maneuver Insures the Pollen Reserve
Early Build Up

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Objective: To compensate for the Langstroth hive which inhibits the storage of bee bread below the brood nest during build-up.
Effects: The brood in the lowered shallow is backfilled with pollen in the build-up period.

The last improvement in our full-season management – year 2000, but not related to Checkerboarding in any way.
When the news broke about CCD in 2006, this nutrition assist had been in place for 5 years. Any list of causes for CCD includes colony nutrition, and the current thinking is that CCD is caused by multiple stress factors working together.

The pollen box maneuver goes a long way to remove nutrition from the equation.

  • We were pleasantly surprised at the improvement in wintering.
  • No winter losses, and better yet – Consistent cluster size in February.
  • The CCD PhDs are recommending feeding protein supplements.
  • Why not help the bees do it their way of eons? In other words help them by compensating for the quarters we put them in.
  • It’s the Lang hive that disrupts their instincts.

To the sketch:
1. The maneuver is accomplished after Checkerboarding and before broodnest expansion reaches its limit.
When the first shallow of brood above the deep is essentially filled with brood, move it below the deep (reverse)
Brood remains contiguous.

Colony preference for a broodnest in a deep takes over and the shallow is backfilled with long-term pollen (bee bread).

Consumption of the bee bread starts in early Aug to start fall brood nest expansion to rear young wintering bees.
Note: the deep of brood weighs far less than a deep of honey.

Key Elements for Improved Honey Production

  1. Fall Preparations.
    1. Insure colony is set up for optimum wintering.
      • Brood nest in the deep (bottom in double deep).
      • Brood nest is back filled with nectar at closeout – feed if necessary.
    2. Insure there is an extra box of capped honey at the top to checkerboard in early buildup.
    3. Insure bottom board drainage for winter rains.
  2. Late winter/early spring.
    1. Verify queen right.
    2. Checkerboard top box in early buildup.
    3. Maintain empty box of drawn comb at the top through start of “main flow” new wax. Foundation is OK in “main flow”.
  3. Buildup.
    1. Place first super filled with brood below deep of brood for Fall pollen box.
  4. Harvest prior to September.

Be sure to see and read the handout “Management for Honey Production Supplement”
Walt Wright
Box 10, Elkton, TN 38455
(931) 468-2059
“Nectar Management” manuscript requests: waltwright_@hotmail.com

Beesource Beekeeping Point of View http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/walt-wright/

Check Youtube for Checkerboarding, Pollen Box, and Beveled Frames – The Wright Way