It’s been way too long since we’ve posted on the bee blog, but I’m happy to report that our ‘technical difficulties’ should be over with the purchase of a new computer. We started the season with 3 full hives and 3 nucs. All our hives made it through the winter, despite, or perhaps because of it being a cold one.
We have opted to go with a management plan I concocted during intermediate bee school this winter. Sell 2 nucs (both strong colonies from the CCBA nuc workshop), keep 1 nuc (a weak one which did not take kindly to being buried in a snowbank by itself for much of the winter.) Use the proceeds to buy more equipment (including an electric fence for bears) For the 3 existing full colonies perform ‘artificial swarms’ as a measure of mite and colony size control and then move the colonies to New Hampshire for full time honey production for the summer.
The first step was easily executed with a call to the state bee inspector. Having a professional look at your bees is quite fun and interesting. He was able to provide some helpful information about spring management and most importantly, issued us a clean bill of health. This is required both to sell bees and to legally move them out-of-state (although I think the number of bee inspectors on the NH/ME line is pretty limited.) The colonies quickly sold off to their new homes and we immediately bought some new frames and equipment for the growing apiary.
The second portion of the plan, artificial swarming, has been executed in several parts. On paper, all colonies were to be swarmed at once, but of course when reality kicks in schedules, weather and more prevented that from being the case. Artificial swarming seems to have a bad rap as being ‘hard’ or ‘confusing’ amongst the internet, but really it couldn’t be simpler.
How to perform an artificial swarming:
1. Wait for the bees to decide they need to swarm and start building queen cells
2. Go into the hive and take away the queen and a ‘swarm’ of assorted other bees (3-5 frames). Make sure there are NO queen cups in this group. Place your new ‘swarm’ in a nuc box. Place you ‘new’ colony in a new location.
3. Put the old hive back together where it was. Give them foundation to replace the frames you stole.
The field bees will come home and think “oh no! The queen is gone! Well golly gee, they must have swarmed while I was out foraging, guess I better hang out here and help rebuild the colony!”
In addition to swarm control artificial swarming has a few other benefits. First of all it breaks the brood cycle and will prevent the build up of mites in the colony. This is because when you take away the queen it takes the colony almost 3 weeks to make a new one. During this time all the old brood will hatch out and since there is no new brood for the mites to live in it knocks down the mite load. Also it will help your honey production – with no new bees to attend to the colony can put all it’s bees to work making honey for you! (or so we hear – fingers crossed!)