How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe
This is from the notes I took at an excellent session at the Heartland Apiary Society gathering in Cookeville, TN July 8-10, 2010. I’ve tried to accurately record the instructions that were given, but it is quite possible that I’ve gotten something wrong. Caveat Emptor and all that.
Everyone won’t agree with all of this – that is a given among bee keepers – but I’ve tried not to interject my opinion at all.
To make a good honey crop requires:
1) A large population of foraging bees during the honey flow.
2) That they not swarm.
It is assumed that the bees are healthy and disease free, and have a manageable load of mites or other parasites.
Requeen within the next 6 weeks (EI between July 10 and August 21 more or less) if your existing queen has already performed through one or more intensive brood production periods. It is important that your queen is performing at her peak potential during the fall build up. Without a strong hive population going into winter it will be impossible to build up sufficiently to exploit the short nectar flow that is available in the south.
Never let any hives fall below less than 15 pounds of honey available in the hive – ever. Malnutritioned bees will not be very productive, and perceived food insecurity will cause the queen to slow or stop egg production.
Note: Dates given are rules of thumb based on typical (if that even applies any more) mid-south weather, but even in the mid south they are only guidelines and judgment should be exercised by the bee keeper – that’s really the trick isn’t it?
To prevent swarming
Note to 2nd year bee keepers with over wintered hives from your first season – If your hives are strong and if you don’t have empty drawn comb to give your bees in the spring and as the honey flow begins it may be very difficult to prevent your hives from swarming. Most effective swarm prevention requires drawn comb – bare foundation will not work. Cutting down queen cells will work if you do it every 7-10 days and don’t ever miss a single one.
Feb 15 – Inspect hives.
March 10 – Population build up should be apparent. At this time (before bees have worked all the way to the top of the hive) reverse hive bodies – but only if at least 4-5 days of decent weather is predicted.
April 1 – Arrange hives so that all brood is in the top brood box except for one frame of capped brood plus one frame of mixed brood in the bottom brood box – remainder of frames in the bottom box to be empty drawn comb. This manipulation is to make room for queen to lay.
Reverse hive bodies about every ten days – three times by April 25.
April 11 – if weather permits do a thorough inspection and remove any queen cells – As long as fresh eggs are found indicating a queen which is laying. Continue to inspect and remove swarm cells every 10 days for the duration of swarm season – until about May 15. A frame by frame inspection of every hive is very labor intensive.
April 20 – add honey super whether they need it or not.
April 25 –main brood chamber should be on the bottom.
Stop inspecting for swarm cells about May 15.
Alternative Swarm prevention method If you are using all medium equipment – April 1 – Arrange hives so that all brood is in the top brood box except for one frame of capped brood plus one frame of mixed brood in the bottom brood box – remainder of frames in the bottom box to be empty drawn comb with a box of mostly empty comb between the two brood chambers and an excluder over the bottom chamber (with the queen in it). This manipulation is to make room for the queen to lay. The top brood chamber will almost always develop queen cells which must be removed no later than 10 days later. The bottom brood chamber shouldn’t need checking for 21 days after this manipulation. The brood in the top chambers will hatch and make room for nectar storage – when one box is fully capped honey it can be placed directly over the bottom brood chamber (still containing the queen) and the excluder can be remove until June 15. The capped honey will usually keep the queen in the lower brood chamber, but will not impede the movement of workers like a queen excluder does. If you are apprehensive about having only one (10 frame) medium brood chamber then use 2 below the excluder.
Once you have a full box of capped honey to contain the queen there is no need to use a queen excluder until June 15.
June 15 – add a queen excluder wherever you want it regardless of presence of brood above the excluder – make sure that the queen is below the excluder.
July 6 – any brood above excluder will have emerged and cells will be filled with honey – honey may be harvested at this time.
Requeen within the next 6 weeks.