Elgon
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Year round with my bees
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.
January
In January I check the colonies so the entrances are not blocked buy either dead bees or ice from condensation. That can happen if the winter is very cold, like 20-30 centigrades minus for a couple of weeks. In our climate with low sun above the horizon in winter due to our high latitude there is no big difference in day and night temperatures. Some winters I have had to take skies to the yards.

Fabruary
Depending on temperature and amount of snow I have had to do it in February too. If the snow covers the hives I don’t have to worry about blocked entrances from ice. The breathing from the bees will melt any ice in the entrance as the covering snow insulates the hives. And this breathing air will melt snow around the hives somewhat like a bubble around each one. These later years we have had very relatively little snow.

March
In March I start checking to see that colonies have food enough. I bring with me stored food framed to give to any that need it. I check the top through the plastic cover and if needed lift it at the ends to remove an empty frame and give a filled or sometimes even remove one of the dummy frames as I may have misjudged the food for that colony. Most often the bees now havn’t been outside the hives since beginning or so of November.

Cleansing flight most often will happen in late March or early April. Sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later.
Cleansing flight in March after being confined to the hive since late October, about 5 months.
April
In April the need for supers starts. Still it’s important to check the food amount. In March brooding is normally somewhat more intense. But not really heavy until the cleansing flight has taken place and bees can fly for the first pollen, which comes from small flowers like crocus, or the hazel tree. A little later the most important spring tree flowers, the willow. Then come Dandelions followed by Maple.

May
If there is winter rape it’s time for that in May. The colonies now are on three brood boxes under the excluder and two supers. In late May the colonies start to develop differently. The best quickly need more supers.

In middle or late May I start making splits from the most Varroa resistant and strongest colonies and let them raise queens themselves and thus multiply the genetics of good colonies.

June
In the first part of June I continue making splits from the best colonies. Garfting larvae for making queens is now in conflict sort of with harvesting and extracting winter rape and dandelion honey, if there is any.

Splits
I have done the splits differently. Now I don’t move the splits to other yards. It seems that moving around mites has negative influence on developing resistance against mites. I’m not sure here. But since I started doing that, mite problems have decreased. Though this can also depend on other causes as I have done more than one thing to diminish mite problems.
Almost all splits now stay in the same apiary as the colonies from which they are taken. It's important that both parts will have enough brood and food. If I don't know where the queen is both parts must have eggs and young larvae as well as capped and hatching brood. The part that is moved must have a lot of bees as many of the bees will return to their original place. It's best for different reaasons if the queen is following the split moved. Focus is on multiplying the good genetics, not getting maximum harvest in the short perspective.
I take the upper two boxes of the three brood boxes and move them to another bottom board on another location about 5 meters away, not to far away and not too close. The idea behind this is that the split may keep some field bees if the queen follows the split, which is the best. But I usually don’t identify where the queen ends up. The field bees will initiate better built queen cells and thus better queen quality at the original place of the colony. That’s because they bring in fresh pollen and nectar to the nurse bees.

If you are unlucky a split without the queen may loose most of the field bees, yes most of the bees, and will get in trouble raising a good queen. They may need a ripe queen cell and an extra brood frame with hatching brood.

When I have moved the two upper boxes to the new place I check the remaining bottom box at the old place. It must contain at least some young larvae to make a queen of and some capped brood frames. And I have checked the amount of food in the supers. If the situation is not good enough in these respects I take the upper box of the two removed and put it back on top of the bottom one left at the old place. After I have shaken most of the bees in the box left at the new place.

Now if I do that or not I check that both the split and the number of boxes below the excluder at the old place will have two boxes with enough food and enough of brood and the right kind of brood. In the split there should be enough bees so that they still will have many bees after that most field bees have went back to the old place.

Shifting of queens
The weak hives or those that are least resistant against the Varroa mite will get their queens shifted. I mainly do that as soon as I have ripe queen cells that I have bred from my best resistant colonies that have given a good crop and have a good temper.
The Bee shaker can be easily made by oneself by drilling holesin two lids and glueingtogether with a piece of mesh in between with 3 mm openings. First pour 1-2 dl of alcohol of some kind or strong soapy water. Then 1 dl of bees from close to the brood. Shake them for 1 minute then turn the shaker around. The fluid and living mites gone dead plus some debris will go to the bottom one and mites and debris willend up at the bottom. Hold up against the sky and count the mites. If more than 9, I would treat with thymol right away if I know my stock is not very resistant.
In some of my apiaries I now check the Varroa level with the Bee shaker making an alcohol wash. I do that twice, if it’s needed, in May and in August. If the Varroa level is above 3 %, more than 9 mites from 1 dl of bees they get a treatment with Thymol pads. Then they get their queen shifted as soon as possible or the colony is sold. The buyer will probably get better quality bees than from many other buyers anyway.
Also when I see one bee with deformed wings I make an alcohol wash with the bee shaker. Sometimes viruses may still be in the colony even if the mite population is very low. If the number of wingless bees are three or more at one time I have found they need a treatment right away, in first place so they don’t will be a reinavsion source of mites for other colonies in an 2 km radius (1.5 miles).

When a colony get many mites their defense against robbers is getting bad. This often happens at the time when there is no flow when the season has turned towards the end, in late July/early August.

Swarm cells
If a colony raises queen cells it’s no use tearing them away. I usually don’t look for queen cells, but when I come across a very crowded colony during swarming season, if I know the bees well enough I may just open the entrance to its maximum to make it easier for the circulation of air and pheromones and then put two boxes on top. If I want to sleep better in the night and have the time I make a split from this hive with the upper two boxes about 5 meters away in the same apiary.The split with loose most of its field bees. They will tear down the queen cells (if there are any) if the queen is with them. That’s the best.
Again there should be two boxes available for brood at each place after the splitting.

Queen cells
I check the splits three weeks after I made them to get an idea of the situation. Are they queenright or queenless? It may look good but no eggs yet. Wait another week. If there is very little of bees left and they are making a noise that’s going up and down a little and not a steady low humming, they are probably queenless. I may give them a ripe queencell or wait another week. Make notes. That’s important. I may come back later and bring some queencells to those that probably need them. I may give a good frame of hatching brood from a good colony to someone in great need. And maybe a food frame or fondant if food is low.

In those weak hives and bad hives that maybe got thymol as well it’s now time in June to kill the queen and a week later give a queencell. To be sure the right virgin queen survives I may well look through the hive and tear away the emergency queen cells made. Often a hatching queen will kill those queencells though, but sometimes the bees fool me if I trust them too much.:)

Swarm prevention
I never tear away queen cells. Most of the time I see one it’s only a few of them. I carefully put combs and boxes together again so I don’t hurt them. The bees want a new queen if there are few of them without swaraming, often 5 or less.
If you tear a lone queen cell away you may end up with a queenless hive later in the season or in winter.

I never regularely look for queencells. I give the colonies enough room for the bees and for the honey, before they really need it. Most important is to give room for the bees. Less than 5 % of my hives swarm. It’s not worth the extra work to try to hinder that. I explain the low swarming by a combination of 1) the design of the hive, 2) giving plenty of room enough early and 3) genetics. The first two reasons are the most important.

If I happen to find many queen cells in a hive I may just shut it and put on a couple of boxes or split the hive and trying to get the queen in the split.
Catching swarms
When possible and time allows I catch swarms that I see or when someone calls on me. I use a swarm catching box I have found very useful with netting on one side which at the lower part has queen excluder. And a lid that can shut the box. It is also equipped with a hook so it can be hanged or placed close to where the swarm was catched. If the queen got inside the rest of the bees will come in when evening comes. Then you can go get it and hive it where you find a good place.
Working the yard in June and July
When I come to a yard I start looking in front of the entrance to find out what the bees have dragged out or if there are crippled bees there. I have a piece of hard board there. It may be pupae. It may be chalk brood. It may be a dead virgin. It may be a dead wasp. It may be young grey bees crawling (virus). I may be nothing (great).

I watch the bees flying. Are they coming with pollen? Are there robbers about? Are there a lot of bees out for the first time? You get a lot of information before even lifting off the cover. You watch the movements ofthe bees. You listen to the sounds, hopefully a steady humming. You smell the nice smell of bees bringing in nectar.

I lift off everything except the plastic and take a quick look to see how the bees fill up the upper box. I take away the plastic and look. If the bees are filling up the space as expected compared to the last visit and no crippled bees in front. If when lifting the hive from one side it’s heavy enough, I just give them another box. This happens normally in beginning of season.

In the honey season, the hive may be packed with bees and drawn out combs and honey all the way up when looking. Then if I have enough boxes with me they get two boxes at a time.

If the strength of the colony is not as expected I look at a couple of frames in the brood nest. Is there capped brood? Eggs? Crippled winged bees? Queen cells? Chalk? AFB? Maybe they have swarmed? I may take some action due to the information.

If I have some queen cells with me in the cell carrier I may use some if I find a colony that has no brood or no eggs. Has the season reached the second half of July I may give the colony a laying queen or plan to combine it with another colony. Very rarely I need to look for and see the queen. But I see her anyway now and then.
Maybe three crops
In June the winter rape honey must be removed as soon as the flowers has ended. Otherwise it will crystallize in the combs. Everything in the supers must be removed, capped and uncapped combs. There is no risk with high moisture content in this honey. There is also nectar from Dandelions at this time of the year. Dandelion honey also has to be removed quickly if it is a lot in the hives as it behaves in a similar way has honey from winter rape. These two gives a good blend. Around middle of June comes the wild raspberry flow then also the summer rape if there is any. White clover is yielding later in June if there is high enough temperature and humidity.
Neither of these colonies swarmed. In July the colonies normally are at their peak in stored honey and strenght. This summer was warm and humid and I was in a hurry harvesting and put back supers.
In beginning of July a second crop may be taken and white clover may continue and also fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). Basswood or Linden trees starts in July. Thistles and herbs bloom and other weeds.

In early August comes strong heather honey. Honeydew may be present both on linden, oak and similar trees like on fir trees and pine. Usually in late August the third and last crop is harvested.

Heather and honeydew honey may put stress on the bees during winter as these honey types give a lot of residues in the digestive system. If the colony makes no brood during winter and wait with this until March it usually is okey. Selection is playing a role here too for the bees to be able to have a lot of these types of honey in their winter stores, at least with our long winters.

Varroa level
In late July and early August it’s important the mite population is not to big. If it is, the bees born at this time and somewhat later, which will be the winter bees, will be weaker due to mites and viruses. Such a colony is at danger and may not make it through the winter or end up weak in spring. If you have a good varroa resistant stock it may not mean much if some odd hives are sorted out this way. But if your bees are not varroa resistant it’s a good idea to make an alcohol wash with the bee shaker to know the varroa population. If you find more than 9 mites from 1 dl of bees I have found it a good idea to treat such a colony with thymol pads right away, make a note and shift the queen next year, or sell the colony.

Winter stores
Late August is the time to check the hives so that they have enough winter stores. A colony packed with bees on three boxes I want to have at least 65 pounds of store. Not in first place for winter but for the needs next spring to build up until the first flow begins, which some odd years may be delayed to the second part of June. Those colonies with less I give sucrose solution. When I have more 4.9 cell size frames I will be able to save more honey for the winter.

Storing boxes
I remove the boxes above the third box and store them in a cold barn with tight bottom and top against mice and rats. It’s an old stable with cement floor and inslulated walls keeping the temperature somewhat similar to an earthen cellar, lower than outside. Enough low to keep good control on moth. In winter temperature gets well below zero at least a couple of times. I have had only very minor problems with moth. I know of a guy who stores his boxes outside on one foot elevated stands with netting mesh on bottom and on top of the stacks standing in the shade. With somewhat uplifted covers to allow a draft through the stacks of boxes. Moth don’t like draft in stacks.