This past week beekeepers Jon and Fred were talked into aiding an aging sideliner re-queen some of his hives. We thought we might learn a few useful techniques that would help in our hobbyist beekeeping.
Location, location, location. The hives were all located southeast of Montello. The area had large fields of alfalfa. All of this beekeeper’s hives were located on the edge of the alfalfa fields; usually with a tree line close by to block any winter winds.
All hives were mounted on old hay wagons; six (6) to ten (10) hives per wagon. All wagons had an electric fence barrier around the edge to counter transient bears that are in this area.
Although the wagons allow for easy relocation of the hives, in truth, working the hives on top of the wagons was not ideal. One, space is limited. There was little room for opening the hives while doing regular inspections. There is always the danger of falling off the wagon. Two, with several workers on the wagon it was always rocking and rolling.
Our method for finding the queens was to simply split the hive and look through them frame by frame. Each person took a hive and slowly worked through it.
The Good. With the exception of one queenless hive, all hives were very strong. Brood patterns were excellent. We used smoke on all hives and only suffered 3 stings after disassembling 15 hives. On the way home we wondered why these hives were being requeened. The stated reason had been that they were overly aggressive.
The Bad. These strong hives were overflowing with bees and this made locating the queen more a matter of luck than skill. We only found five queens in the first 15 hives we worked or roughly 33%.
Poor hive maintenance resulted in a lot of burr comb and propolis. We didn’t think these hives had ever been cleaned. Each frame was glued in place. We frequently pulled the top bar off a frame trying to remove it.
This beekeeper was running 9 frames in a ten frame broodbox. Proper spacing was accomplished using a metal frame spacer along one side. This spacer added to the difficulty in getting the frames out.
He was also running 8 frames in the 10 frame honey supers. These supers definitely contained more honey than my 9 frame supers. I would guess another 5 pounds. He said honey extraction was also quicker.
After our poor success in finding the queens we decided on a different approach for day two.
On day two we decided to use a queen excluder to try to screen out the queen. Watch the following YouTube video to understand what we were doing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbVbo21RMds
In this team approach one person was pulling frames from the brood box, a second was shaking the bees from the frames and the third was storing the shaken frames for later reassembly in the hive. On our first hive we shook the entire 18 frames and searched in the shaking box for 20 minutes before finding the queen. We were a little dejected on how long it took. But we still had 100% success rate.
Then the person pulling frames realized he had a little time to scan the frame before passing it on. He could do a quick scan before the shaker was ready. Then the shaker would also do a quick scan. The third person was also usually helping scan in spare moments. After that we were finding 90% of the queens prior to shaking all the frames. So instead of blindly shaking 18 frames from the two deeps we were many times only having to shake only a third of the hive and had the elusive queen in our hands.
On day two we shook 18 hives. One was queenless. Of the remaining 17 we found 16 queens. That’s a 94% success rate. Quite an improvement over day one. Only two queens made it into the shaker box. We actually got to be pretty good at finding queens whether they were yellow, black or striped. We think it was the fact that we had 3 pairs of eyes watching for them helped tremendously.
Despite the huge hive bee population and the excellent location most hives only had a single super of honey. It was usually full. The upper brood chambers seemed to have excessive honey. We suspect that the beekeeper was not providing the bees with sufficient empty supers and, as a consequence, had lost out on a lot of honey.
We were also introduced to a plastic propolis screen; which sort of looks like a queen excluder. The propolis screen is placed on the top of the hive above the honey supers. The bees propolize this screen. The screen is frozen and then flexed will in a plastic bag to release the propolis. The beekeeper said he was getting $10 per ounce of propolis!
Propolis screen trap
Despite 20 plus years as a beekeeper this beekeeper seemed to be a novice in some aspects of beekeeping. This is the end of July but he was planning on starting 3 frame nucs and expected them to grow and overwinter if provided heavy fall feeding. We suggested 5-6 frames as a minimum of which several should be frames fully filled with capped brood. I guess time will tell. We were under the impression that new hives need to be started no later than the end of June to successfully build up for winter.
This beekeeper fall feeds with fructose. The advantage is that its sugar content is around 80% so that the bees can more quickly dry it to acceptable levels.
We also noticed he had tried using the oxalic acid on paper shop towels. He said that many times the bees did not remove the shop towel, which then blocked bee movement between the two brood chambers. He was not planning on using this method any more.