BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Why Not Two Deep Brood Boxes?

The question has been coming up recently about whether or not to use two brood boxes on a hive. Here are some things just to think about that may be driving that idea. Beekeeping requires a lot of thinking on your feet and being able to apply logic to all the advice and pick and choose, like a recipe for success, what will work in your apiary, in your climate and circumstances is the "Art of Beekeeping.

Some reasons for recommending two deep brood boxes:

  • Swarm prevention
  • Population expansion
  • Common bee-space issues
  • Use of Queen excluders
  • No slatted rack

Weight & Inspections: I don't disagree, necessarily, with two brood boxes but I guess my main concern is the weight of lifting a second deep box will limit the beekeeper from inspection responsibilities when the reasons for keeping two deep brood boxes may be using some logic in a situation that does not apply to their colonies.

Population: In the northeast U.S.A. colonies do not have a long enough nectar and pollen flow (5.5 months) to build up large numbers as they do in the Southern U.S. We may be talking 40,000 vs 80,000 bees at peak population time in mid July. If your source for recommending two brood boxes comes from a southern beekeeper, this may be their logic. The queens in the south may need to utilize two deep boxes for brood. 

If your source is a northern beekeeper it may be about the idea a queen likes to lay in deep frames and straddles medium supers if one is not available. Ask them. Straddling the break between boxes may be more about bee space as some deep brood boxes are designed with bee space on top and on bottom. This will definitely break the brood area up during an inspection. 

Make sure, if you do stack two deep brood boxes on top of each other that the bee space, 5/16 inch, is either on the top or the bottom and the same on each box. Bee space is sometimes accommodated on both the top of the frame bars and below the frames as well by the manufacturer as a buffer between the bottom board and the brood frames. There's a solution to that dilemma below.

Queen Excluders -  If you are using a queen excluder, which is not that common in a northern climate, it would be constraining your brood nest area to one box. I use 8 frame equipment and do not use an excluder and I do have brood up in the supers above during the season. I don't mind harvesting honey from frames formerly filled with brood. Honey is naturally anti-microbial and the 1st job the newly born bee has is to clean her own cell. Beeswax is anti-microbial as well as is propolis. If this is a problem, the Queen excluder is for you. Drones can get stuck and die in the excluder openings, however. I found that to be too much for me on the season I practiced with one, so be prepared.

Honey Excluders - Up here in the NE the comment is often made by the old time beekeepers, that queen excluders are more like honey excluders. If your colony came from a breeder who routinely uses one the girls may be just fine with it. A queen usually does not cross evaporating or stored honey in a hive unless she's making a run for it. (Smoke at the entrance before an inspection can drive this behavior if you should fear she is up there and vulnerable to being exposed or lost.)

If you need to keep your queen safe - and you do if you are working with young people or students in your apiary or have the part time help of non-beekeepers or use  a lot of smoke - a queen excluder can be a great tool.

Forager Traffic:
What I do depend on to keep my brood box up out of the traffic lanes created by foragers coming and going or intake bees waiting for them to come in for a landing, and especially as a rainy day hangouts for adult bees, guards and foragers... is... drum-roll... A slatted rack! 

What's A Slatted Rack? - you say! Why these great components are not praised more often bewilders me. They've been around for over 100 years invented by C.C. Miller and I first learned about them from Richard Bonney's book "Hive Management". They are simply a little "airplane hanger" for the adult flying bees and act as a buffer between the daily comings and goings and the brood area. My bees never build wax in them but will smear propolis on them as they will the frames. See more here.

That's my take on it and I have learned to never close the door on an idea so, as always, insights are certainly welcome. Looking forward to spring!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Honoring the Wildness - Swarming

Swarming never gets boring. Such a thrill to witness this remarkably well-choreographed event. I could feel it happening Sunday morning at 11:30 am. Something in my being picked up on a need to run to the window and there they went... off into the sky to land in a grand old ash tree settling precariously, it seemed, on a branch just high enough out of reach for them to wave "Goodbye!"

I knew I had failed to take seriously this robust over-wintered nuc. I was busy working with moving and splitting an over-wintered colony hoping if I piled enough boxes on the nuc all would be well. Now I realized I gave them too much drawn comb. Maybe more foundation frames? We've been relocating onto a recently purchased property where I hoped to contain and control any antics my bees may throw our way, but we were exhausted with all that began to entail. Now this.

Okay, girls, I thought, "Goodby & Goodluck!" Maybe they would be out there in the woods someday as proven survivors, mating with my colonies of the future.

My husband said, "This is a call to action!" He so wanted to have the experience of "catching" a swarm and broke open the hive box storage shed, setting up mock hives all over the property. A ladder appeared. I reluctantly filled in the gaps in his knowledge of honey bee biology recalling tidbits as I could from "Honey Bee Democracy" which resulted in his placing one hive box high off the ground on top of our storage barn.

This land has been an exciting surprise this spring with successional tree and wildflower blooms into one humid, hot, dry summer. My colonies have been so occupied and content despite New Hampshire moving toward a moderate drought situation for most of June, but rain was on its way!

My nuc apparently did not pick up on a weather forecast of several days of thunderstorms moving our way. She spent two full rainy, windy nights in that grand old ash tree.

I spent the 48 hours keeping vigil, sleeplessly imagining climbing on our metal ladder in these summer thunderstorms, the only ladder with a chance of reaching them, pulling the van up under the branches, bravely rescuing my drowning darlings; but deep inside, I really want my colonies to finish what they start and plan for. If I miss my chance to manage their need to swarm, it's on me.

Yes, those bees put a lot of planning into this event. Scouts were out in rain and wind investigating all their family's options for travel to a safe haven, with just the right volume - they pace it out! - and just the right height off the ground - just the right opening - just the right smells. If you haven't read Seeley's "Honey Bee Democracy" this may seem crazy, but knowing all that goes into it I so wanted them to be successful for all their work and sacrifices to leave behind the cozy protection and resources of the parent hive.

Tuesday, 11 am with shower after shower passing through, I couldn't contain my anxiety and decided if they did not swarm out of that tree by 11:30, by ladder or by van I was getting them down! I went out to watch and it seemed they were suddenly all alive! There was waving, there was flying, there were dances! Dances all moving in the same direction! And then, at 11:16 thunder rolled, wind blew... but we had lift off!

I ducked as they flew overhead and followed them with the only camera that worked in the house, my smartphone. It was... surreal... just amazing... beyond amazing. I was certain they headed for the woods across the street... but WAIT! The hive on top of the barn came into view. They hovered... they settled... they were home!

This is the way I want to "catch" every swarm, but understanding the needs of a colony is so important for the beekeeper. Prevention and Control are principles I teach but sometimes we just can't do it all. When we can't we can usually trust the girls to know what to do. They've been doing it for millions of years, after all. My hope is that since they took two days to decide on this location, they'll stay. Once they have brood happening, maybe in five to seven days, I'll move them to the apiary.

Understanding their biology in such situations I believe is the key to honoring their wildness and it sure worked for us this time. Here is a link to Paul Kelly at Guelph University explaining some important principles of managing swarm behavior in honey bees.