After our success using On-The-Spot queen rearing last year, we are going to expand this practice. Last year we started with a single nucleolus of bees, which we split into to two hives in June, and we popped supers on the queenless hive. In August, after harvesting 45 lb of honey from the hive that was requeening itself, both hives built up strong honey stores for the winter and — as of this writing — have survived the winter. This is in contrast to the standard practice of getting a single nuc, letting it build itself up all summer, hoping it overwinters and then gathering honey the next year; we ended up with honey the first year and two colonies.
The goal for this year is over 120 lb of honey and going into the winter with between six and eight hives. If successful, that means we’ll have octupled our colonies and gotten honey in the process. Next year, we can split each hive into eight more or sell nucs. The method for this is adapted from the Coweta Sustainable Beekeeping Method, On-The-Spot queen rearing from Drisselkoen, and a presentation of Gillard‘s methods last year. I’ve condensed the method into an info graphic which you can find as an image below or pdf here.
The schedule I used for splitting, supering, and harvesting is from farther south, however, and I’ve had to adapt it for Wisconsin. I did this by comparing average temperatures here in Wisconsin, looking for days that averaged in the high 60ºF and the clover is in bloom. I found this at NASA’s bee forage website. For me, day 1 is going to be in the end of April or around May 1.
Split a strong, overwintered hive with good characteristics (you’re selecting for your future genetic pool, so pick a gentle, good-producing colony). Pull out two frames of capped brood with workers and the queen and put them in a nuc. Pull out two frames of honey and shake the bees off before adding them to the nuc. Also add an empty frame (preferably one with drawn-out comb) to the nuc. I would do H-B-B-E-H for the frame pattern. Put this nuc in a bee yard at least 2-3 mi away and feed 1:1 syrup through a top feeder (or use a double-high nuc and put more honey in the top if you don’t feed sugar). Reduce the entrance to give this weaker hive a chance to defend itself. We’ll call this Colony 1.
Replace these five frames in the original hive, which is now queenless, with empty frames. Notch the bottom of 36-hour-old-or-less larvae cells so that the hive will turn them into queen cells. We’ll call this Colony 2.
Come back to the Colony 2 (top of the flow chart, above) and see if you have queen cells (fingers crossed). Pick the largest two and pinch off any of the smaller ones. That way you’ll have at least one queen emerge and she won’t have to fight too many others. I’d consolidate the brood frames into the bottom center of the lower deep and be sure there are plenty of empty frames in the upper deep because you now have a hive with no queen and plenty of workers who will have less and less brood to care for over the next three weeks, so they’ll bring in a ton of honey. For example: lower deep with H-H-B-B-B-B-B-H-H-H and upper box with H-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-H.
Bring the nuc (Colony 1) with the old queen back to the bee yard and install in a deep body with another deep and super with empty frames (drawn-out comb if available): lower deep with E-H-E-B-B-B- E-H-E-E and upper deep and super with all empties, or however you see fit.
Open up the other hive (Colony 2) and see that you have a mated queen laying new larvae. This helps control varroa mites by using a brood break. As no fresh larvae have been available for the mites for weeks, they all crowd into the first few capped brood of the new queen and since they are too many in those cells, they starve and die, essentially culling the mite population. In addition, since I am not bringing in nucs from who knows where, with who knows what genetics, I am only reproducing colonies that survive the winter and local conditions, thus they are more likely to survive again. I am putting my finger on the scale of natural selection to hurry up a mite-resistant colony. This is controversial and when my neighbors use external mite controls, they’re allowing bees with genetics that wouldn’t otherwise survive to continue on in the gene pool. Oh well, they might complain about my management practices, too. At this point, this hive should have a honey super on it.
(If you are starting out with a brand new nuc this year, you’d install your new nuc into a hive body here, feed it, reduce the entrance, and continue following the instructions for Colony 2)
Take the old queen out of her hive (Colony 1) and dispatch her (thank you for your service, and rest in the peace with the knowledge that your genes live on in your daughters). Now notch less-than-36-hour old larvae on at least eight frames of brood (you might have to double notch some frames and then move the queen cell on day 67). Add at least one super or two for honey, since you have a full colony with less brood and plenty of workers who will now concentrate on honey production.
In the other hive (Colony 2), remove the queen with two frames of brood, two frames of honey, and and empty into a nuc box, which you’ll take to a place at least 2-3 mi away, feed, and reduce entrance (essentially repeating the process from day 1). Notch less-than-36-hr-old cells on six to eight frames of brood. Be sure to add more supers if necessary.
Come back to both colonies with the notched frames. From Colony 2 (top of the flow chart) you should be able to make two more nucs of two queen cells total on two frames of young brood (with workers) with two frames of honey and one empty frame each. Leave at least two queen cells, two frames of brood (or more) and whatever honey is left in the main hive body. From Colony 1 (where you dispatched the queen), make three nucs with the same make up (2 queen cells, 2 fr. young brood, 2 fr. honey, 1 fr. empty) and leave 2 queen cells, at least 2 frames of brood, and the rest of the honey in the hive body. Move all the nucs to a bee yard 2-3 mi away, feed, and reduce entrances. Make sure the hive bodies have supers. If you didn’t get enough queen cells to make this many splits, that’s fine, just make fewer nucs.
Bring all the nucs to your main bee yard and place all those with laying queens in their own hive bodies. Note that all nucs and hives (except for the one with a queen) have had a brood break. The nuc with the queen had a brood break before day 30 and shouldn’t have too many mites. Combine any nucs that don’t have successful queens with those that do. Take your honey supers and harvest. Use the remaining resources to make eight or fewer (depending on your queen success) deep bodies with relatively equal resources. Add a second deep if the first deep is fairly full and feed heavily into late fall. You can also make nucs for selling next year.
Why No Swarms?
Using this method, I am essentially swarming the colonies manually: when I pull the queen and some resources, those left behind feel like they’ve missed the swarm and since they have the resources, they requeen.
I’d be grateful for your comments, suggestions, and results if you try something similar.