1.0 Collection of Observed Characteristics. The below listed characteristics are offered as a supplement to a description of our unique manipulations. We have tried to mention the pertinent observations unique to the manipulations as they were described, but in a condensed form. Details of those observations tend to slow the description of the manipulations. With a description of the manipulations behind us, we can expand the foundation or background for the manipulations.
Up front on this collection are the concepts that draw the most resistance from experienced beekeepers. Some of my opinions, based on what I see, are in direct conflict with what we have been taught. At one time I believed them also, but as time and detailed observations failed to support those concepts, gradually my opinions shifted to conclusions that differed from those first learned.
We do not expect anyone here to change their opinions based on this input, but changes are common in other fields of endeavor. Doctors in the medical field, for example, are constantly changing their treatments as a result of new information. I see no reason for beekeepers to cling to obsolete practices.
2.0 The Honey Bee is a Forest Creature. The honey bee was a forest creature through millions of years of development of the species. Their instincts were developed for forest survival. We must remember that Western Europe was heavily forested 40 million years ago. Modern man started clearing forests for his purposes much more recently. Following those instincts, the bees must reproduce and store supplies for the whole year on the spring forage. There was no fall flow in their heritage. In the forest, there is not much blooming after tree bloom in the spring. They have a format for getting it done. An interesting feature of their format is that they must “read” forage available in the field/forest and make changes accordingly. Those instincts are present and applied today. Some of the bees known traits and instincts still reflect the influence of survival in the forest.
Modern man has only been trying to domesticate the honey bee for a short time on the scale of time taken to incorporate those survival instincts. We fail to apply their natural instincts in our methods of beekeeping. If you can convince yourself that colony instincts are rooted in forest survival, housed in a hollow tree, it will make a difference in your overall approach to beekeeping. It might be more accurate to say that it definitely made a difference in my perspective. A few specifics are mentioned under this heading.
2.1 Forest forage of value to the bees was primarily available in the early season of tree Bloom. The shading of dense foliage of the trees discouraged growth of weeds that now produce the fall flow. Therefore, no fall flow in the extended forest of yesteryear. The bees developed a format for providing their full-year needs without a fall flow. As an extension of that concept, we could possibly conclude that the fall flow might create problems by conflicting with their established instincts. In spite of the bee’s reputation for adaptability, we see some evidence that the fall flow does cause some disturbance to their instincts. An example might help.
The academic community has been puzzled by fall swarms. It’s fairly obvious that a fall swarm is not going to be ready to winter. If you consider that reproductive swarming, by instinct, is a priority of the upswing of forage in late winter, it should not surprise you that a later fall flow might activate the same instinct, under some circumstances.
The undesirable feature of the fall swarm is the parent colony is proceeding through the swarm format during the period when it should be preparing the brood nest for winter, and rearing the young bees for wintering. The colony duped into the repro swarm format has no way of knowing that this flow is going to end suddenly with a freeze that will terminate field forage completely. No resupply period forthcoming, as in the trail-off of the spring flow.
2.2 A second consideration of instincts tailored to forest survival is the residence nesting cavity available. There are more hollow trees in the mature forest than you might guess. Again, we are talking about a mature forest prior to man having logging capability. Man has learned to apply metals in tool-making quite recently on the scale of years involved with bee instincts.
So home is a tree hollow per the bee’s instincts. Although of various volumes in size, the tree hollow is nearly always a FIXED size. The bees “want” to fill the whole cavity with functional comb, and then maintain population and stores in proportion to cavity total volume. The only surplus honey generated by the colony in a fixed–sized cavity is the safety margin between what they MUST STORE and what they can store. That is the basic reason we must add supers to motivate surplus. In other words: the colony in a fixed-sized cavity apportions the capped honey overhead to the amount needed by the controlled cluster size also apportioned to reach reproductive strength in late winter.
We might add that none of the hive styles in use accurately duplicate the tree hollow continuous comb of the wild nest. We are required by law (justifiably) to have removable frames to support inspection. The break in functional comb at box joints does affect colony instincts in use of the comb.
2.3 The beekeeper, not aware of the importance of the colony skill in regulating population in proportion to stores/cavity size, often contributes to out–of–balance conditions. In the fall, when regulation of population is quite important, some beekeepers can be found harvesting honey or adding boxes into frost/freeze timing. In that case, the timing of the instinctive allocation of space to brood or stores is actually interfering with making the balance adjustment. That’s NOT the time to be changing the status of cavity volume.
We recommend adjusting the hive to wintering configuration no later than early August. That is generally the timing of the start of the fall buildup to rear wintering bees. See the description under the heading: Wintering Hive Configuration.
2.4 When you understand the influence of ancient instincts on today’s bees, it should cause some modifications to your beekeeping colony support. To get the most from your bees, it seems to me that you should honor those instincts and do your best to compensate where you can. The little things will add up to an overall improvement in your return on investment. The bees have adequate enthusiasm for their purposes, but could use some help in keeping it channeled in the direction of colony goals.
3.0 Academic Position on Swarm Causes. We all learned the same things in our early training. Swarming is caused by “congestion” of the brood nest. I personally did not like that answer from the beginning. To me, that sounded like reproduction was left to chance or coincidence, and that’s not the way Mother Nature works. Reproduction is vital to any species, and most species have a very positive system to insure reproduction.
In the early years (1990 to 95) we made no effort to suppress repro swarming. The spring season was used to collect feral colonies. Parasitic mites had penetrated my area – both trachea and varroa. We were in hives frequently to monitor the mite effects and paying attention to the activities related to swarming. When we had something over 100 colonies we stopped collecting feral colonies and turned our attention to swarm prevention. Prior to mites, swarming was considered the major deterrent to honey production.
Having observed the tendency of colonies to save a reserve of capped honey at the top, the first effort was to test that tendency with an increase in overhead capped honey going into winter. The results of that test seemed to support pursuing that avenue of investigation. The next step was a trial of Checkerboarding overhead honey. If the colony could be induced to store nectar overhead, and that reduced backfilling of the brood nest, it might reduce repro swarming, Surprise! It worked.
The next few years were spent monitoring the effects of Checkerboarding (CB) and learning more about the reproductive process. CB proved to be effective in different seasons with all races of European honeybees. What we learned about the swarm process appears to discredit “conventional wisdom” about the causes of swarming. The “causes”, we have learned, are really effects or symptoms of the process. Virtually all of the “causes” are of benefit to either the parent colony or the departing repro swarm. Some are benefits to both. Let us take a critical look at a few of the most popular “causes”.
3.1 Congestion: Was mentioned up front in this section and has some related cause names. Overcrowding is the most popular, but lack of queen scent is also offered as a byproduct of the overcrowding. Rainy weather is considered to emphasize the crowding by keeping all the bees inside for the duration of the rainy spell.
Crowding of the adult bees is automatic and is a key component of the swarm process. To reproduce by colony division, they must produce enough bees for two viable colonies per their forest instincts; both the parent colony and the swarm must collect winter stores on the remaining spring flow.
The crowding at the top of the cavity is an asset to the departing swarm. Wax making/comb building is critical for establishment of the swarm in a new location. Wax making requires nearly 100 degrees to get the wax glands to secret wax. Concentrated bees can raise the temperature with metabolic heat generated by their bodies. We see crowding as a necessary element in the swarm process.
3.2 Honey in the broodnest is also known by “no room for the queen to lay”. From the standpoint of survival of both the parent colony and the swarm, this “Problem” is beneficial to both. It is only a problem to the beekeeper interested in honey production. The nectar in the broodnest limits population for main flow and reduces the colony work force for the production period. We call this nectar backfilling. The nectar is intended to replace honey used for expansion to rear swarm bees.
Benefits for the parent colony are basically the advantage of getting the broodnest back to proportional to cavity size. The temporary surge of brood volume during buildup to rear extra bees to populate the repro swarm is corrected. A second advantage to the parent colony is the start of overhead winter honey resupply.
Benefits to the departing swarm are related to a large reservoir of open-celled nectar for their use. The two major uses of the reservoir are the stocking of wax makers raw material and the filling of nearly all the bees leaving prior to swarm issue. The swarm takes all it can carry to sustain them through the relocation process. And the extra bees must be fed until issue day.
3.3 Idle young bees is a relatively new theory and gaining popularity. It is true that there is a large contingent of young bees – the result of rapid broodnest expansion. The swarm needs a large percentage of wax makers in its make-up. Wax makers are reported to fill their honey stomachs with nectar, find a quiet place to be inactive (idle) for 10 days, and wait for their wax glands to start secreting wax.
We recognize that we have put a lot of emphasis on wax makers in this discussion of swarm preparations. The bees instincts also put emphasis on that special task. A repro swarm in a new location makes no progress on establishment without comb for brood and stores.
Wouldn’t it be much simpler to just decide that reproductive swarming is caused by colony instinct to reproduce? The effects seen by the beekeeper are quite complex, but the complexity is amplified by the social insect lifestyle and reproduction by colony division. Over the years, we have demonstrated that attacking the effects of the process is a poor way to stop the repro process. Although it is true that stronger overwintered colonies are more likely to complete the process, weakening the colony by splits, division, etc. are unreliable and tend to reduce honey production.
In contrast, Checkerboarding interferes in the bees instincts in a manner that increases colony population and honey production.
4.0 Reproductive Swarm Cut Off Date (Repro c/o). Most beekeepers are aware that sometime in the spring season colony interest in reproductive swarming is reduced. If the colony gets to the “main flow” period with the advent of making new wax, the probability of a repro swarm is greatly reduced.
Investigation of the internal workings of the colonies reveals that the timing of all colonies at the same location is very close to the same – within a few days. Repro c/o is a colony level decision to proceed toward swarm issue or abandon swarm ambition in favor of existing colony survival.
It normally occurs just before the peak of the spring flow. How they know when to apply this safety measure is an ongoing mystery.
Stronger overwintered colonies can actually issue a repro swarm prior to this date if they have met the swarm preparation format early. The weaker overwintered colony is protected by abandoning swarm ambition. They must prepare the work force for resupply of winter stores. To this point in their schedule they do not have nectar processors or wax makers. It takes some time to generate the workforce to store honey efficiently.
Experienced beekeepers are skeptical that this feature even exists at all. Those beekeepers are aware that they can get swarms well into “main flow”. We make a distinction between reproductive swarms and overcrowding swarms which can happen anytime. Overcrowding swarms are generally created by the beekeeper. Left to do it their own way the bee colony is very good at regulating population to a fixed cavity size.
The indication of repro c/o that can be seen by the beekeeper is obscure. A temporary period of new wax is generated in, or at the top of, the broodnest. Wax makers being accumulated for a repro swarm are not needed with the cancellation of swarm ambition, and “main flow” is still weeks away. Those wax makers deposit their wax holdings to prepare for a job change.
To confuse the subject even further, when a repro swarm is issued, all the wax makers do not leave with the swarm. A similar period of temporary wax deposits follows swarm departure.
Old literature speaks in terms of an “early flow” and “main flow”. Since wax making is associated with ample field nectar, we conclude the “early flow” is the period of wax deposits from either of the two situations of wax purgings.
We named this milestone timing event Repro c/o based on a single observation. Queen cells started after this timing are supersedure cells. Of course it helps to know the difference between supersedure and swarm cells.
5.0 Queen Considerations. There are so many questionable opinions handed down from yester-year that it is difficult to pick a starting place. It is certainly true that any colony, anywhere, has good reason to be acutely aware of the condition of their queen. Without a functional queen, they are no longer a functional colony. The colony has special skills, not mentioned under that heading, to assess her performance, and is ruthless in taking action to correct deficiencies. No mother love in the bee colony.
We are particularly interested in the supersedure process because checkerboarded colonies supersede on an annual basis. The larger brood volumes created by CB may be the underlying cause. Supersedure takes place just after peak broodnest expansion. Most queens are called on to cycle brood at greater rates than 2,500 cells per day. She may show the strain of this heavy workload.
This submittal would not be complete without a description of the differences between swarm and supersedure cells. Some of our observations do not agree with “conventional wisdom” on the subject. We do not want to turn a potentially strong production colony into a queenless colony. Adding zeros into the mix brings a production average down in a hurry.
Let’s start with queen “cups”. Most queen cells start life as cups. The exception is the first year colony in the establishment mode. The starter colony instincts drive them to apply all the colony energy to critical activities that control establishment. i.e. developing comb for brood and stores. Queen cups are a frill they can do without in the early stages. If they must supersede, they have the option to rear a replacement via the emergency process. Emergency queen rearing is done by changing the comb structure around a young worker larva to provide a queen-rearing larva chamber similar to cup size, and changing the larva diet.
Cups built on the face of an expanse of comb are usually set outboard on a short wax standoff to permit downward growth of the queen cell. Most are built off the frame bottom bar for the same reason – room for growth downward in the space between frames at box joints.
Cups are usually built before they are needed for queen rearing. They can turn black with age or be torn down without ever being used. We call them “insurance” cups for the simple reason that they are contingency structures, available if needed. They are used for either swarming or supersedure. For swarming, the first cells populated with an egg are the pre-existing cups and for supersedure, the colony may use just a few of the cups.
Cups are usually built outside the existing queens travel area. The existing queen may oppose rearing a replacement by supersedure. Advance planning on the part of the workers maintains some isolation of the cups, but the cups need to be in the warmed cluster interior. One of the places that meet both those requirements is the bottom of the feed pollen frame. Since older larvae are fed fresh pollen, the feed pollen frame is inside the warmed cluster interior.
Some general guidelines are provided for determination of colony intent when queen cells are first seen. It is certainly important that the beekeeper has some guidance on whether the colony intends to swarm or supersede. Too many beginners take the wrong action for the circumstance.
Supersedure cells are generally described by the following:
- Few in number. Usually less than 6 per box level.
- All cells started are roughly the same stage of development, i.e. all eggs and young larvae, or mostly all older larvae with some capped, or all capped.
- When the luxury exists, supersedure cells will be located outside the active queen’s travel area.
In contrast, swarm cells will generally be more in number (20 or more in the full-sized colony) and range in age from newly-built cups to capped cells. The exception to the above numbers is the smaller colony like a nuc. With fewer resources to expend, the numbers are scaled down.
Existing descriptions of colony intent based on location of cells on the frame are not accurate. On the established overwintered colony both supersedure and swarm cells are normally on the bottom bars of the box above the brood nest. In the double deep, that’s the upper hive body. A first year colony, still growing in their first box, can have supersedure cells on the face of the comb, anywhere. If they use the emergency cell process, the queen cells would typically be at the outer fringe of developing worker larvae, anywhere from top to bottom of the frame.
Supersedure is NORMAL for first year colonies, regardless of queen performance. The queen can be performing flawlessly by our standards and still be replaced by supersedure. We believe it to be instinctive for the natural repro swarm that left the parent colony with a queen of unknown age. Man-made starters, such as splits, often apply the same instincts – even with a new, young queen.
Package starters have another quirk worth mentioning. The workers may not fully endorse the “foreigner” in the cage shipped with them. They encourage her to lay a few eggs from which they can rear a replacement, and promptly terminate her. Sounds like risky business, but it happens. We refer to that situation as “tentative acceptance” of the queen provided.
About emergency queens; they are reported to be of inferior quality. That’s not necessarily true. A colony with ample resources can, and does, rear a good queen by the process. What you see of the cell points downward at an angle outside the face of the comb and appear fairly stubby. The queen larva chamber and the thicker portion of the elongation are imbedded in the comb. It looks like an inferior cell, but appearances can be deceiving. We have had emergency queens that performed as well as any others.
Contrary to popular opinion, a quality queen can lay more than 3000 eggs per day, if called upon to do so. Replacement queens do it regularly when they have several empty frames to fill with brood.
The queen does not control where or when eggs are laid. She responds to direction from the court/retinue. Cells must be prepared for eggs by the workers. The queen does not get a vote on where that may be.
6.0 Social Insect Effects. Colony survival as social insects creates some very complex instincts. A partial list of special skills of the colony that may be instinctive are presented under this heading. We are told of the effects of pheromones in guiding actions of the bees internal to the hive, but I am skeptical of that being the whole picture. We see some colony–level decisions that are too sudden for status pheromones to have changed that quickly. An interesting feature of colony–level decisions is that there is no dissenting minority. All members of the colony are in total agreement.
6.1 Food Reserves. The colony must maintain a reserve of all needs on a daily and seasonal basis. The reserves include both worker bees and supplies. Drones are expendable in times of need and are generally the first casualties. The colony maintains a reserve of items needed for those periods when they can’t get out because of weather or temperature. The storage of capped honey overhead is familiar to all. It is stored overhead to grow into in late winter, assisted by cluster heat rise.
6.1.1 Honey reserves. The colony has several emergency actions when honey falls below a comfortable level. The comfort level is primarily applied to the honey reserve, and is reported in old literature to be almost 3 deep frames of honey for a full-sized colony. Some of the emergency procedures that we have seen are included here. Since we only see one per colony, no attempt is made to grade them according to severity of the shortage of honey.
- In times of poor field nectar availability, scouting improves efficiency of nectar collection. A few seasoned foragers go out to survey field opportunities. Most of the foragers remain inactive at the hive until the scouts bring reports of an available source. Further improving efficiency, only enough foragers are recruited to the new-found source to show a positive gain when working that source. If the energy expended in flight/collection time exceeds the worth of the gain from the trip, that source quickly falls into disfavor.
- Reduction of brood nest size is automatic in times of dearth. Although replacement of bees is needed, brood rearing takes a heavy toll on nectar/honey supplies. However, if the shortage is severe enough they may completely suspend brood rearing. Inactive bees do not age much. In either case, drone rearing is reduced first.
- Note that overhead capped honey is sacred. It was collected for winter stores and is protected as best the colony can for as long as possible. Some of the following extreme conservation measures are often applied while capped honey overhead is still present. The colony does not need to be completely out of capped honey to invoke extreme measures, but some colonies will consume all in–hive honey without extreme measures. Write those differences off to genetic diversity. Be aware that first year colonies live more dangerously than the fully established, and take more risk.
- One of the extreme measures is recycling the proteins invested in drone brood. Drone pupae are uncapped and removed from their cell. The liquid juices of the pupa are sucked out and the empty shells discarded. Ugly concept, but survival of the colony takes priority when jeopardized.
- A second drastic action to prevent starvation is to stop feeding larval worker brood. The draining of rearing brood on food supplies was mentioned above. In this action, suddenly, there are no nurse bees caring for the larvae. Whole frames of larval brood are permitted to starve in unison. The larvae turn yellowish first, and then brown as they die. A colony in this condition will recover promptly if fed syrup generously.
Perhaps this gruesome description is out of place here, but we have not seen the information in any book or course for beginners that we have examined.
6.1.2 Protein Reserves. The storage of protein in pollen comes in several forms. Fresh pollen is stored at the edges of the brood nest to feed older larvae directly. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen to generate the vitellogenin stored in adult fat bodies, known as “jelly” when fed to hatching brood eggs. Recently, the PhD’s are making a distinction between royal jelly and worker jelly, as if they are different. In the early season, when pollen is plentiful, fully fermented pollen is stored below the brood nest as “bee bread”. Filled to half cell depth, bee bread is dark and looks spoiled.
126.96.36.199 Feed Pollen. Some writers use the words stored pollen and bee bread interchangeably. We make the distinction between the two on appearance and purpose. Feed pollen retains its bright colors in storage and often the cells are filled to the top. Feed pollen is stored inside the warmed cluster interior to feed older larvae, regardless of outside temperatures.
When the colony is anticipating brood nest expansion, they sometimes appear to be foraging almost exclusively for pollen. It takes substantial pollen to sustain brood nest expansion. Not only do the older larvae get fed pollen, but nurse bees consume more to produce the jelly fed to the hatching eggs.
It should be noted that most of the early season field sources that are used mostly for pollen also have nectar. The colony does not need the nectar when they are feeding on diluted honey. They need to consume honey to make room for nest expansion, and some of the foragers are bringing water to dilute the honey to feed consistency. This same thing happens again in the early fall when the colony is expanding the broodnest to rear wintering young bees. At two times on the colony season schedule – all-out pollen foraging.
188.8.131.52 Bee Bread Reserve. The bee bread reserve is stored in the build-up period of late winter for use later in the season. The Langstroth hive design inhibits the storing of this reserve. It appears that the colony “wants” to use the whole lower deep for a brood nest. Bee Bread is sometimes seen in the “all medium” wintering configuration. The bee bread is reserved for the fall build-up to rear young bees for wintering. Consumption starts in August. Storage of bee bread below was first seen with the start of Checkerboarding – unlimited brood nest. Some colonies filled the lower deep with bee bread. We changed wintering configuration to help the bees get it done, and added the pollen box maneuver. Instantly, we had better wintering – well worth the 5 minutes spent in the preceding March to make it happen.
We conclude that this resource is a result of the bees’ heritage as forest dwellers. The colony wants to increase brood volume at a time when tree pollen is not available. It is stored below the broodnest as the nest expands upwards in the spring. Easy in the vertical cylinders of the tree hollow, but more difficult with the limited height broodnest that we use in hives. In the tree hollow, on continuous comb, the fall brood nest can grow downward into the bee bread and settle at the bottom of the cavity with what is called by some “the core brood nest” for the winter.
Bee bread stored for weeks (north) or months (south) is fully fermented and only filled to roughly half a brood cell depth. The difference in appearance when stored leaves little doubt as to its purpose.
A valid question for which we have no answer is WHY the pollen box makes such a marked improvement in overall colony wintering. Most US areas apparently have an adequate fall flow to support colony needs for pollen. Two possibilities come to mind. It could be that weed pollen is less nutritious than tree pollen, or it could be an effect of availability timing. Consumption of the bee bread starts in early August in my area and that’s slightly ahead of available weed pollen. Or, the reason could be something completely different. We just report what we see, and try not to guess too much.
184.108.40.206 Vitellogenin. Royal Jelly. That’s what it was known as for a very long time. It’s a product of pollen digested by nurse bees to feed very young larvae. Now that we’ve written all we know about it, we can move on to a new subject.
6.2 Colony Population Management. We don’t see much in the literature on this subject, but it is crucial to the colony survival. In the fixed-sized cavity of their heritage, errors in population, in either direction, can create major problems. Too many bees can be corrected with an “overcrowding” swarm, but the out–of–season swarm can cause problems of its own. Under population means the colony will be short–handed to implement their normal required activities for survival.
We believe control of population level is one of their very special gifts. Their inherent instincts regulate brood volume in accordance with whatever local field forage provides for the colony to work with. It’s imperative for them to “READ” incoming forage and adjust brood volume up or down to keep the population in proportion to stores and cavity size. To do otherwise would be suicidal.
Population management is more complicated than just how many bees will fit in the cavity. The population must stay in BALANCE with food reserves, and even tougher, with a safety margin on both. It seems that these requirements are just too much for an insect, but they make it work out. The more you learn about these creatures, the more respect you gain. How would you like to be the colony mathematics support bee that charts brood volume for the season?
Population is controlled by brood nest size. That is a fairly slow-moving mechanism for regulation of population, but the colony instincts get it done. The errors are generally toward the over-population side of perfect to have a safety margin in available foragers to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. However, too many mouths to feed in times of dearth can be a strain on collected stores. Very complex instincts are required. Reading the field forage availability and projecting the potential changes is tough enough. In addition, they must adjust by varying the brood volume – a slow-motion method. We use Farrar’s 24 days for a worker brood cycle, and it takes an emergency crisis for them to interrupt brood in development, but, if the situation warrants it, the colony can be quite callous in the action taken. Survival of the colony is top priority.
In my area, there are two seasonal changes in brood volume to increase population and two corresponding brood nest reduction periods. Both are slightly different in purpose and implementation.
6.2.1 Late Winter/Early Spring. In this period, the overwintered colony objective is to produce the reproductive swarm. With the availability of field pollen, brood nest expansion is started at their fastest rate possible. The rate is enhanced by efficient application of worker duties to specifically the duties that support brood nest growth. Feeding on capped honey to make room for nest expansion, there is no need for wax makers or nectar processors. Think of it as streamlined for speed in expansion. In the last burst of expansion to maximum brood volume, it is amazing how much honey is consumed in a short period.
The swarm prep format is oriented to release of the repro swarm about midway of the spring flow. That gives the swarm a chance of establishment on the second half of forage availability. Although the swarm prep format was developed for the forest of their ancestry, it is effective in desert and Prairie. Most plants bloom in the spring.
220.127.116.11 Cluster Spring Growth. The bigger the overwinter configuration, the more honey is produced. In the fall, the cluster size is scaled to the cavity size and stores. The winter cluster size determines late winter starting size. The late winter cluster only has a given number of brood cycles to the reproductive cut-off timing. The brood volume increase can about double per brood cycle. The bigger the starting cluster size, the bigger the brood volume gets. More bees make more honey!
6.2.2 Mid Summer Dearth. The brood nest is deliberately reduced, at a slower pace, during the period of low forage availability. The fully established colony actually starts reduction in the swarm prep period. That reduction is as fast as possible for roughly a third of the maximum size limit. The reduction (backfilling), at that time is a prerequisite for swarm commit, and the colony is in a hurry to beat the deadline of repro c/o. It still may take up to three weeks to backfill the expansion dome when there is brood of all ages. Then, the brood volume drops lower slowly through “main flow” and the summer dearth.
6.2.3 Fall Expansion. Brood nest growth starts again in August locally. The colony may be down to two frames of brood at that time, and they need to gear up to rear fat, young bees for wintering. If the fall-flow this supportive, they will rear nearly a deep of brood for two brood cycles – late September and early October, in the lower of a double deep.
What is missing in our “how-to” books and classes is that during this fall period the colony is adjusting the population to be proportional to cavity size and accumulated stores. The colony with less overhead capped honey will go into winter with a smaller cluster. That is an effort to survive the winter with the stores available. Although going into winter with less bees is risky, using more honey to rear additional bees increases the risk. Starvation is quite final. The bees share to the last drop and die as a unit.
6.2.4 Fall Brood Closeout. About first frost in the fall, the colony has reared the complement of young wintering bees, and is stopping brood rearing for the season. To complete wintering preparations they must backfill the brood nest with liquid feed for use as fuel for winter heat generation. The colony that is on schedule with winter preps has their brood nest backfilled, or nearly so, at the termination of seasonal forage – first killing freeze.
Those behind schedule, with substantial brood volume are not going to try to winter on empty comb, when the brood has emerged. After a freezing night or two, the colony relocates the whole cluster up onto solid capped honey above, completely abandoning their fall brood nest. This relocation of the cluster may not be seen by the beekeeper if it occurs after the beekeeper stops opening hives for the season. It is sometimes assumed that the colony consumed the honey overhead and moved up gradually, but we do not believe that is the case.
In my area, those colonies that get their brood nest properly backfilled remain in that box for the full winter. Upward movement of the cluster is limited to EXPANSION of the brood nest in the late winter/early spring. Brood in the lower brood chamber continues throughout the buildup season.
In more northerly areas, where the cold weather of fall arrives sooner, the colony can have significant brood into full–time clustering temperatures. Those colonies are less likely to get their brood nest backfilled after all brood is emerged as adults. We suspect, based on what we see in Tennessee, that most colonies in the Northeast STARTED winter in the upper deep on capped honey.
7.0 Langstroth Hive Effects. Observations have shown that the colony has a preference for rearing brood in a deep when the alternative is a shallow. The break in functional comb at box joints causes some delay in moving across the space. The 1 ½ inch break at the interbar space with wooden frames is about 7 cells’ distance on standard foundation. The colony’s instincts are based on the continuous comb of the wild brood nest. Crossing the interbar space does affect how they use Langstroth boxes. They more readily move across box joints upward into heat rise. They sometimes balk at moving down across the break. They do not want to have the brood nest spanning the gap going into winter cluster time.
8.0 Differences in Colony Objectives by Years of Age. Old literature makes no distinction by colony age. It reads like the colony is just waiting for forage to show up on the horizon, then they go after it full-bore. The colony objectives change with age. The starter colony, whether natural swarm, package, or split has the primary goal of filling the cavity with functional comb and enough stores to winter. They have multiple priorities at the same time, and swarming is not on the agenda. On the other hand, the overwintered colony (whether 2 or 3 plus years of age) emerges from winter with the objective of generating a reproductive swarm. They implement the repro swarm format. The 2nd year colonies that did not reach full establishment, but survived the winter, have a trick in between. They develop early wax-making capability to complete filling their cavity with comb and then turn their attention to reproductive swarming. Excessive feeding of syrup can cause the 1st year colony to swarm.
9.0 Wax-making. Colony wax-making is poorly understood by most beekeepers, and the differences in colony objectives by age in years add to the confusion.
The reproductive swarm has substantial wax makers on issue from the parent colony. Those wax makers are critical to establishment in a new location. The parent colony does not need wax makers prior to swarm issue. The parent is a “consumer” of stores in the swarm preparation period and any wax needed is recycled used wax from cappings removed or stored as “burr comb”.
One of the confusion factors is that wax making is thought to be associated with field nectar availability or “flow”. In the early season (up through swarm preps) there is plenty of field nectar available but the established, overwintered colony is not generally making new wax in noticeable quantities. Efficiency in energy used is important to meeting the time line for swarm preps in the brood nest expansion period. At repro c/o, the established colony starts building numbers of wax-makers for “main flow” needs.
In dearth periods, wax making is suspended. Anytime incoming nectar falls below colony feed requirements, efficiency dictates nectar not be diverted to wax makers. The hive can appear to be quite busy with incoming nectar, but below feed needs, it still takes generous feeding of syrup to maintain wax making.
10.0 Hive Volume. The bee colony never “needs space”. It’s the beekeeper who wants them to have space. The colony is quite adept at adjusting colony size to the size of the cavity. All tree hollows are NOT the same size.
The colony seems to perceive the top of their functional comb as the top of their cavity. In the wild nest, that is true. They started comb building at the top and built downward. At some seasonal times, foundation is not effective if added at the top.
11.0 Preference for brood-rearing in a Deep. The colony prefers to rear brood in a deep when they have a choice of a deep or a shallow. Some colonies treat a medium the same as a deep and some show preference to the deep over a medium. We do not use mediums in the potential brood volume because of the inconsistency.
12.0 Wintering Hive Configuration. We started our beekeeping with wintering in a deep and a shallow. To increase hive count, we bought double deeps from others who couldn’t cope with the mites. The double deeps proved to be better honey producers – more brood volume. The first test of Checkerboarding was done on an out yard of 11 double deeps’ and a single deep/shallow. The checkerboarded deep/shallow was the best producer. I had been experimenting with the pollen box for 2 seasons. I then started changing configuration to 1 deep and 3 shallows. It took 3 years to get all-up in the new configuration. Well worth the time and effort. The top deep was replaced with 2 shallows. Same amount of honey, but this made more flexibility for Checkerboarding. The single deep is the basic brood nest – year round – only on the bottom board for 2 weeks or so between Checkerboarding and the pollen box maneuver. The bottom shallow, empty over winter (last seasons’ pollen box), was used in Checkerboarding in February.
Be sure to see and read the handout “Management for Honey Production”
Box 10, Elkton, TN 38455
“Nectar Management” manuscript requests: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beesource Beekeeping Point of View http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/walt-wright/
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