We are trying something new. Over wintering 4-frame double nucleus colonies. We have been spending a lot of our free time researching the possibility of making this move and we have decided to do so. The addition of the double nucleus colonies to our apiaries will transition slowly over the next month. We have started with 6 nucleus colonies and by the end of August, we should hit our number of 10 having 2 hives each (“20” 4-frame nuc’s). All non-producing colonies for this year will get moved into a double nuc. It will be a labor intensive process over the next month or so but in the end, if half make it through the winter, we can use them to boost weak production colonies in the spring and ultimately giving them a head start into the spring and summer honey flow. We started with 3 double nucs and the benefits were clearly apparent by the end of July. We will be wrapping things up and should have more info on how the season has gone with them soon!
We have also done a lot of inspections the last two weeks. The nuc’s in the Hartford yard are doing very well. We will have to move them into the new double nuc’s before they too begin to make swarm cells. All 3 nuc’s in that yard have good laying queens. We also went through the Iron Ridge yard and added a few honey supers to some of the rapidly growing hives. We have to get to our big storage unit and pull out some more honey supers and frames so we can get them out and in use.
On Friday we purchased a battery operated weed whacker for use in the yards to clear out the tall grass from the front of the hives. After three separate trips, we managed to clean up enough of the tall grass to allow the bees unimpeded flight to and from the hive entrances. The truck has a solar panel on the top with a small battery bank so we can use an inverter with the battery charger to charge the weed whacker batteries on the fly. This way we are using a renewable energy source to charge out battery packs rather than gas powered equipment. Much quieter operation and the bees don’t seem to be bothered by the use of it until we get right next to the entrance. Over the next week or so, we will continue to clear out the bee yard for ease of access and a cleaner looking bee yard.
We built up a bunch more frames, deeps and bottom boards for the nuc’s and for future splits. Our goal is to have 11 more splits/additions to the yards before July. That will give them plenty of time to get ready for winter. We will gladly make more if the opportunity presents itself but 11 is the minimum. We have 3 bottom boards made up or the splits and deeps for all 3. We also have half the frames built with wax installed. Speaking of equipment… We are seriously looking into a job trailer for moving equipment and hives from yard to yard. It is beginning to get difficult to move honey supers especially if there are more than 6 to put on hives. The last super install was only 6 and that is all we could get into the SUV. When we start loading more than 3 hives with supers, it will require more than one trip at a time to get them on wasting both gas and time. When it comes time to remove supers, it will become an even greater hassle because then we have to leave open honey supers in the yard until we can transport them out. We had that issue last year and it was more of a problem because we ended up getting a short blast of rain, soaking all of the open honey supers. All of that honey ended up being fed back to the bees. Good for the bees, not so good for honey sales.
We finished all of the 10 package installs on Monday 5/11. It took a couple of hours to get them all in. We didn’t have to use too much smoke so the installs went quicker than they normally do. We ended up having to pull the queen from the package and install her in the middle of 6 frames and then set the package into the hive because it was too cold by the time we got closer to the end of the installs. We believe that this method of installing packages is less stressful on the queens and the bees. Pulling the queen, rapping the box on the hive then dumping the bees in adds stress to the already stressed package bees and queen acceptance tends to be less than desirable with that type of install. I have had many superseded and failed queens because they had been stressed from the travel and through a rough install.
We followed up with an inspection on Friday 5/15 and found that all of the queens had been released and we removed all of the empty packages. We added the 4 frames we took out for the package and closed them up. I did a quick inspection on a couple hives and had not found any eggs yet but the bees are building out new comb and repairing some of the damaged comb.
We finished the inspection form in the Apiary Management database. There are some additional line items we need to add and modify so that the form is more user friendly but it is much better than pen and paper. With the database, we can call up so much information about a single colony and now have it at our fingertips without needing an internet connection. As our business grows, we will be adding functions like having a real time view of stock honey levels, various components to the bottling operation and also have a snapshot of equipment levels. At some point in the operation, we will move the database to a SharePoint style system with user access and login so that the database can be viewed in real time by multiple users. Right now we will be spending some time adding all of the inspections to the new system that we have not yet uploaded to HiveTracks. We will also take the inspections from the surviving hives and move them to the new system over the next 2 months while updating the current inspections then load them to a binder we keep in the truck for field reference. We also added a tasks form within the database. There needs to be some edits made so that we can pull up a task for a specific hive.
On 5/9 we did a follow-up inspection of the Iron Ridge yard to see how the bees were doing after the robbing session a day earlier. From what we could tell without opening any hives, they seemed to be flying due south from the location and many of the bees were returning with pollen. There was no indication of the bees going from one hive to another during the hour we were there watching. There was a lot of erratic movements coming from the big hive but for the most part it looked like normal traffic coming and going through the tiny entrance. We also shot a short video of the entrance while we were there to study the comings and goings of the bees. Stay tuned for that on YouTube!
~Broken Timbers Honey
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It was not a very productive week because it has been cold and rainy all week long. The weekend has been mostly set aside to build a new apiary management database using Microsoft Access. We currently have inventory management table, hive identification/location table and the beginnings of an inspection form. We have little to no experience with building an Access Database so it has proven to be slightly challenging. But with a little trial and error, we have a good foundation started. We are currently using the free version of HiveTracks as our management software but it is limited to what we can do with it. The pro version will cost $1.00 per hive per month to get all the bells and whistles like inventory management, a calender, a mobile app and more. With having the potential of 20 hives by the end of June, the cost of the pro version out weighs its usefulness at this stage in our operation. We really don’t use the phone or tablet out in the yard because of the potential of damaging it or worse. We cant justify the expense to replace either of those items for what we do. A pen and paper will have to do for the time being.
We did three inspections this weekend. We were mostly interested in the emergency split we did last weekend. We checked the Iron Ridge yard today and found that there was a large cluster of bees trying to get into or out of the split. As it turned out, they had consumed all of the stores that we gave them last weekend and were robbing out the two weaker hives. We removed both of the liquid feeders on the weaker colonies (they have frames of honey still) and put fresh feed on the split. We also closed up all but one entrance on the two weaker colonies so that they can actually defend their homes. We also started a community feeder, not in the yard, but close so as to draw the attention away from the yard itself.
We did some work in the basement building some new frames and installing foundation. The list of things just keeps on growing. At some point in the next week or two, we will get the inventory set up in our database so that we can check equipment levels at a glance. There still has not been any word as to when the bees are due to show. We have heard that the first non-commercial load should be arriving on Monday. That is good news to hear! Only a month later than we expected… At this rate it will be June before the bees are in.
replaced. Two hives were added and another had a deep hive body replaced. The two hives that were inspected did not need any new comb which was nice to see. All of the comb in those hives are less than 2 years old. I stopped at Dadant and picked up 25# of medium brood foundation for deep frames. I also inquired on the status of the 3# packages. Apparently the order form stated that 3# packages would not be available until the 15th of April. I sensed some bitterness on behalf of the manager when I asked that question. Anyway, a little birdie told me that 3# packages have started to show and that most of them were going to the commercial beekeepers. I fully expect that we should be getting a call from Dadant at some point this week letting us know when they will be available for pick-up. We also started to put wax foundation into the new frames that we purchased from Mann Lake Ltd. We currently have about 175 frames to assemble and put the foundation into. We will be phasing out all of the plastics inside the hives and going back to a more natural approach. I have found over the years that the bees tend to perform better with wood frames and wax foundation. We were using all plastic frames for a while and the acceptance rate for those frames was only 75% for the first year and I got 80% acceptance with a plastic foundation in a wood frame last year. A number of years ago we went with all wax and wood and had a 90% acceptance rate the first year and the next year they used up what they didn’t the year before. Switching over to all wax foundation will help us with queen rearing by allowing us to cut out queen cells and put them into queenless colonies. We will also be taking the strongest overwintered colony and put the queen with some bees from that hive into a Nuc. We will crowd her and force her into making swarm cells so we can cut them out and make new hives. Between the months of May and July we fully expect to increase our Iron Ridge yard with at least 10 more hives. Stay tuned for more!