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The year for the beekeeper never begins and never stops. It’s a continuously ongoing process. I used to say it started in late summer. But I have changed to say it starts in second half of May. That’s the time you know which colonies are best in different respects.
Those colonies are the ones you should make splits from, new colonies, that will grow so that they will be strong enough to overwinter and be production colonies the year to come.
With me the splits are made in second half of May and first part of June.
During the summer those splits will grow enough to fill enough number of brood frames in late July, early August. Those bees born are those that will take the new colonies through the winter. Those splits from the best colonies will make their own queens which mate in the apiaries. You want to increase the best genetics in your locally adapted stock
The weak colonies in May will get their queens shifted to daughter queens from some of the best colonies.
The inbetween colonies are those that will give you a crop, together with the rest of the best colonies that didn’t go to the splits.
The appearance I like when making the colony ready for winter, three boxes full of bees. This is the goal for the whole season from spring till autumn. And bees are born healthy with little interference from mites and viruses, especially important in July and August.
The bees born late in summer are those to take the colony through winter. They need good food, good honey and good pollen to be strong and healthy. And to be able to feed the larvae to become these bees, the nurse bees need to be healthy too. Diseases and pests need not to be present.
If the colony is of good strength and they have good food recourses and young bees to nurse the brood and older bees to get nectar this should be fine. If there are too many mites in the colonies it can cause stress and problems with viruses and other pathogens, especially if there is too much of bad chemicals present, like agrochemicals or miticides.
I use the shallow frame, 448 x 137 mm, in a square box with 12 (or 13 frames) all through the hive. I'm converting them to Hoffman type to suit uncapping machines, though a good uncapping fork works well and fast when you've learnt the skill.
I use Langstroth width on my frames. In Sweden otherwise the kind of standard is not Langstroth size, but something called LN, which is 366 mm long and 222 mm high. The full depth Langstroth is 448 mm long and 232 mm high. So the LN is smaller than Langstroth. A still older size which happens to be an old American size as well, 12” x 12”, which is 300 mm long and 300 mm high is also used by a smaller number of beekeepers. Langstroth size, especially the medium size is used more and more.
I use the shallow frame all through the hive, the lowest Langstroth frame (I think), only 137 mm high. It’s used mainly for cut comb honey in USA. I use it because I use square boxes instead of 10 frame or 8 frame boxes. I had the idea that a long frame in a square box gives the maxium positive bottom area concerning swarm prevention. So a square box with shallows woun’t get to heavy when filled with honey. Also the shallows need no wiring. You can use 12 or 13 frames in a square box. The square Shallow box is about the same volume as the 10-frame box of medium sized frames, which are 159 mm high.
Part of a system
Every part in a beekeeping operation fits together with another part. You can’t really discuss one part in a beekeeping set up compared with another variation of the same part, without comparing whole systems.
For example the frame size. You must look at the whole system into which this frame size fits into. Every solution has its benefits and drawbacks. You will be able to choose some solutions. Others you may feel you have to use due to what you already have, the localities you have or other limiting parameters.
In Sweden there's a lot of insulated boxes in use and probably far up in the north close to the polar circle they benefit more. Maybe also because the most common frame size is smaller colonies going into winter are smaller and smaller colonies benefit from good insulation. Stronger colonies can stand cold winters confined to the hive during long periods better. The Langstroth sized framed makes it easier to get strong colonies for winter. Though to benefit from that the bees must keep away from brooding during winter, which is more difficult for a strong colony. Some breeds like Italians have more difficulties with that. Strong colonies where I live, on the 59°N latitude 15°E can make it well in uninsulated boxes, single walled boxes I use. This is how they look like all through the year.
In Sweden they use a lot of insulated hive boxes, supers. I use single walled wood. Cheapest is fir tree, soft and light. But anyway it doesn’t rot very easily in our climate, if it doesn’t stand directly on the ground. I don’t paint the hive parts. Still havn’t lost a box due to rotting.
Though in spring when bees make a lot of brood and raise temperature, then condensation moisture that are produced, as the nights are quite cold then, make the box corners twist. So I have to repair them.
I use queen excluders with my hives. I find it easier for me when taking off honey as I use bee escapes and a bee blower. It wouldn’t be nice to blow the queens on the ground I guess. But I have done it.:( Most often she find her way back again. This one did.
As the distances between my yards are relatively short I put all boxes that are ready to be harvested above the escape and go to another yard and do the same. Then I can go back at blow the bees.
Not all bees at all have left the boxes, but many have and that makes it easier to blow the rest of the bees. And I don’t need to blow the bees carefully in front of the hive, but just somewhere in front. The bees find their way back.
The escaping board keeps the colony quite separate from too much disturbance while blowing. There are advantages and disadvantages with every kind of solution.
These later years the main reason for using queen excluder has been to keep the queen from laying eggs in frames with bigger cellsizes as I don’t have only 4.9 mm cell size frames throughout all boxes and supers. The bees havn’t been drawing 4.9 well up in the supers, so I have only got a limited number of 4.9 frames drawn well each year.
I was pretty well finished with the 4.9-frames for the brood boxes when the mite came attacking the first time and hit hard in 2008-2009. Now when half the bees died in winter 2008-2009 and some more the next year, the bees now drew 4.9 perfect almost in every hive high up in the supers even at the out yards. But there are many, many 5.1 frames to be changed before all frames are 4.9.
My goal is to leave the three bottom boxes untouched for the bees to live on and I take the honey that is above. But all bees don’t work with me good enough. And as I don’t want the bees to winter on bigger than 4.9, as few as possible anyway, I feed those that don’t fill up enough with honey in those three boxes. It is a very short time for making the bees ready for winter so I give some sucros-solution in addition, not HFCS.
Now that some years have passed by and I seem to have enough of 4.9-boxes I’m considering starting wintering colonies on 4 boxes with the upper two more or less with honey. Then shift at least the botttom box in spring and put it as a super. After extracting its combs later I can sort out the bad ones.
I’m also seeing more and more bees filling up the two upper boxes in the three three box set up for winter with a lot of honey when season goes to an end. It’s selection and genetics involved here too. Bees from John Kefuss do this best. Elgons are varying but is well on its way doing it good enough. In USA I think Russians and Caucasians are this type of bee. Italians are usually not.
In the beginning of November the bees normally have had no brood for a couple of months. Many of the old bees have died. And the bees have formed a winter cluster that may still be a little lose due to not real cold yet, but just somewhat above or around freezing.
I check the colonies lifting the plastic sheet from each side a little if the bees are sitting just in the middle frames in the upper box. If the colony is very heavy I remove one or two frames at each side which now have no bees on them. I instead put in dummy frames made of hard polystyren insulation for ground insulation about 35 mm thick. In that way the weakest colonies get some insulation.
I collect these food frames and store them till spring. At that time I give food frames to the lightest of the colonies. Also I can use them when doing splits in late May or early June. Spring may have such a climate that the bees will not have the possibility to collect a lot of nectar.
On top of the colony, built in the cover, I use 5 cm, 2 inch, of insulation, either polystyren or soft board made of wood. Kind of inner cover I use plastic sheet, soft board, the excluder when it’s not used and then a hard board. The boxes are single walled fir wood.
The bottom board is waterproof plywood with two four inch, 10 cm, holes in the back corners with ventilation metal mesh.
The bottom has one inch air space up to the bottom bars of the frames.
I use no top ventilation.
The colonies are sitting on a one foot high bench for two colonies with a space in between with space enough for putting boxes temporarily.