Does Michael have a web sight?
Does Michael have a web sight?
Michael Palmer was involved with a "SARE" grant study and is included in a very indepth report at:
If you read all this today you will be busy!!!
That SARE activity was not Michael Palmer. It was done by the Prince William Regional Beekeepers Association, in Northern VA. To the best of my understanding, it was based on the teachings of MP.
if you are really bored, you can link to the appendix and photos here
I keep wanting to edit and update it, but have not gotten around to it.
By going to meetings and not being shy, I have been fortunate to be able to meet and discuss beekeeping with many of the "names" in our industry. Meeting MP was one of best opportunities I have had. We have had MP speak to our club and I was able to host his queen rearing class at my apiary. Mike's thoughts on overwintering nucs has been directly responsible for any successes I have had in the apiary. He does not mince words, is an excellent teacher/lecturer and is always willing to take the time to share what he has learned from his experiences.
As a group, we beekeepers are lucky there are a number of quality people who are passionate enough to share their experiences with us. Mike strikes me as one of the best.
I would like to respond with a criticism of the Michael Palmer method, hopefully so someone can tell me where I'm wrong (MP himself, if he would like). I'm a big fan of his methods, and I greatly appreciate everything he has and continues to do for other beekeepers. I've used several of his methods in my own apiary.
One of MP's main points is in regards to smaller operators. Say that a man buys two packages. Maybe a few months later, maybe a year later, maybe a few years later, the packages fail (as colonies tend to do over time). So then they buy two more packages to replace the old ones, only to end up losing them later. Eventually, the individual's wife gets tired of him spending money on packages. Or so the story goes. The solution is to create overwintered nucs to replace your losses.
In a nutshell, say that you want to maintain 10 colonies. If you have a 50% loss over the winter, and you start with 10 colonies, you are now behind. But if you have an equal number of overwintered nucs as you do colonies, if you still have a 50% loss you just turn your nucs into colonies, and presto you now have your 10 colonies. The goal being to take under performing colonies in fall and turn them into nucs for next spring.
But why not just create nucs from splits in the spring, and overwinter twice as many colonies? Essentially, that's what you are doing. In the above situation, if you wanted to maintain 10 colonies, why not overwinter 20 colonies and expect a 50% loss? Then when spring comes around, take your 10 colonies and make splits early on from your least performing stock to get 20 colonies again, ready for overwintering? I see it more as a statistics game than a nuc game.
Now, back to the original point, or the guy that has two packages. If you tell that guy that the one solution to having his two packages NOT die out every year is to buy FOUR packages this year, well that's not much of a solution to his wife. "No, wait, I need MORE packages to ensure that they don't die, dear" If she had a problem with you spending the money on two more packages two years from now, why would she not have a problem with you spending the money on two additional packages today?
But, that part aside, which is more expensive, the two packages two years from now, or the extra equipment for two more hives (or nucs) today? In the end, I think it's probably more expensive to get and maintain a two story, MP style divided nuc than it is to just buy a package in the spring. Then when you add the costs of feed and medications, you are in the negative.
I think there is alot of merit to the numbers and/or nuc game for the mid to larger style apiary. For the small guy, I don't see this method as being advantageous. The only benefit that you get is a nuc that is ready to explode in the spring rather than a colony that is ready to explode in the spring, or a package that you can put on drawn comb in the spring.
Perhaps I'm missing something big though.
Well in my case I pulled a frame of bees from a couple of hives and made a hive (one frame from my best hive) in my queen castle (10 frames). I put a new wax frame in the middle of the strong best hive (better bees Jay Smith). About a week later I removed all the QC and put the frame of good bees back into the good hive and pulled the frame with new wax and eggs and brood of various ages and put that in the nuc. Now I have a frame of QC from my best queen and my strong hive is out what? Nothing.
After I have a frame of capped QC I cut them off with a knife, put my dividers into my Queen castle and make certain all sections have a couple. In my case I had half of the sections laying eggs in a little while. I removed half of the dividers so now I had a divided deep. I did that a second time with the exact same results but I did not have enough new bees to make the winter. Last winter I had one hive make it, this winter I have 3 hives strong and two nucs my only problem is what am I going to do with all these bugs. No more bee treadmill for me!
It's early days (year 2 of serious nucs), but I also appear to be off the package treadmill. Winter 2011/12 I planned just as in paragraph 4 of the OP - actually almost exactly like that; I went in to winter with 12 10frame colonies in various configurations and 9 2 storey nucs budgetting for a 50% loss. It didn't happen. I had 100% survival.
This winter has been harder. I have lost 4 out of 12 in 10frame equipment, and 1 out of 18 in nuc equipment. Winter is not over yet, and it shows no sign of ending.
A few thoughts: For me the advantage is in the numbers. The original beekeeping course I went on at the U. of MN says overwinter in 3 deeps. That is 30 frames, but with the MP method I have 3 colonies with 30 frames not 1 and I am experiencing minimal losses. I am using Mel Disselkoen's timing and making these nucs with cells much as Minz is doing in mid-June. At my location there is a fairly continuous flow from then until the goldenrod ends in late fall and I have not had to feed most of them more than a gallon of Fum. B and based on new recommendations I'm reconsidering that.
I didn't buy packages last year, and I don't need them this year. I am using dedicated 5 frame boxes as I don't like dividing the deeps. My experience last year was that the sale of a couple of nucs and a lot of brood added to the revenue my apiary generated.
I am really interested in seeing how this turns out over time. I was guessing that I would lose 50% and end up with roughly how many colonies I need, but even with this tougher winter it doesn't seem to be turning out that way. I expect to be selling bees again.
What appeals to me about this method is that if you read the experience of MP, Mel Disselkoen, and Kirk Webster none of them are treating the nucs for mites and are having acceptable survival rates.
>>But why not just create nucs from splits in the spring, and overwinter twice as many colonies? Essentially, that's what you are doing. In the above situation, if you wanted to maintain 10 colonies, why not overwinter 20 colonies and expect a 50% loss? Then when spring comes around, take your 10 colonies and make splits early on from your least performing stock to get 20 colonies again, ready for overwintering? I see it more as a statistics game than a nuc game.<<
Yes, splitting your colonies in the spring is an option. I did that for decades. What about honey crop? Now I don't pretend to know how to keep bees in NC where you are. I do know that if I split a strong colony at dandelion bloom here in Vermont, I lose some part of my honey crop. If we get cold and wet weather following dandelion, I can lose much of my crop and my splits don't build up well. If we get hot dry, the same thing happens. You get hot dry and your flow ends early. So spring splitting costs you part of the crop because your flow is early on, early done. Yes?
Are your 5 remaining live colonies ALL strong enough to split? Some years yes, some years no. And if not, then what?
>>But, that part aside, which is more expensive, the two packages two years from now, or the extra equipment for two more hives (or nucs) today? In the end, I think it's probably more expensive to get and maintain a two story, MP style divided nuc than it is to just buy a package in the spring. Then when you add the costs of feed and medications, you are in the negative.
What does a full sized bee hive cost now a days? Nucleus colonies cost less to set up. The woodenware is less expensive, and the bees are free. How much time is spent in managing the production colony versus the nucleus colony? Do you not have to feed a production hive some years? Some years, production colonies suck down 4 or 5 gallons of feed, while a nucleus colony would take only one, two max. If you are a medicator of production colonies, you might like to know that summer made nucs don't need treatments.
>>I think there is alot of merit to the numbers and/or nuc game for the mid to larger style apiary. For the small guy, I don't see this method as being advantageous. The only benefit that you get is a nuc that is ready to explode in the spring rather than a colony that is ready to explode in the spring, or a package that you can put on drawn comb in the spring.
If only all our production colonies were ready to explode in the spring. Is that what you find? Really? I only wish it were true. I find colonies like that, but also colonies that are struggling to stay alive. What do you do with those? Equalize? Re-queen?
>>Perhaps I'm missing something big though.
Maybe you are. Do you buy queens in the spring for splits and re-queening? Do you buy into the premise that we can't have our own queens early in the season, so buy them from southern producers? My good friend in AL says he has trouble getting queens early enough. Really? In AL? Never would have thought that...but...If you look at nucleus colonies as being a queen with support staff, that premise changes. We can have our own queens as early as we want in the season. Good, tested queens.
And what does it cost your apiary in resources to set up summer nucs? A frame and a half of brood and bees and a frame of honey? Not much. What does a package cost? Way more. What does a split cost? Way more.
What loss does your apiary suffer every year? 50% you hint at. So with a 50% loss, are the remaining colonies strong? If not, what to do? Removing the old queen and giving the colony one of the nucs will amaze you. And that 50% loss won't happen in your nucleus colonies as it does in your production colonies. I see less that 10% loss in my nucs, but usually 15% in my production colonies.
I don't believe it is a case of large apiary versus small apiary. The benefits of having a supply of nucleus colonies in your apiary are many. Colony replacement and colony re-queening are two obvious reasons. Dr. Connor is right...having 2.5 colonies has its advantages. So was Brother Columban who, in 1905, recommended wintering nucleus colonies. The wintered nucleus colonies could be used to produce excess combs of brood that are used to boost production colonies for honey production. Or, take it further...the idea of using nucleus colonies as brood factories. That brood can be used to boost production colonies, boost cell builders, or to make additional nucleus colonies.
Raising your own stocks...I'm hearing George Imrie's voice...makes you a beekeeper and not just a bee haver.
And then there's Adrian Quiney's "F" word. It's so darn much FUN!
I could go on and on, but I gotta get back to work. :)
MP, you have influenced me trememdously on the value of producing your own nucs, both to have around in production season for brood factories and requeening, to overwinter to cover losses, or for building up hive numbers in your operation. Really, it doesn't take alot of resources to make a nuc as you pointed out, if you can raise your own queens to stock the nucs that's even better, that's something I have to work on as my success at doing that has been extremely low lately. I find that letting my queenless bees in nucs raise their own queens just doesn't cut it, too much time lost and low successful matings. I plan to make nuc production a big part of my future for all the merits that they provide for the beekeeper. John
Do not underestimate those mites - lol there is a reason why its last name is "destructor" :)
I am a huge fan and have had great success with MPs methods. I started with 2 colonies in 2006. I have about 28 surviving winter right now - many with my own raised queens. I have only bought 3 packages since my first 2 in 2006. The rest of the colonies are from making my own increases and a couple of swarms.
I used to work for Mike here in VT, and the way we controlled swarming (besides making nucs) was to reverse the hives just around the dandelion flow, in all honey producing hives. Create space above the queen, the bees won't naturally move down to open space. The queen could be in a hive with empty comb down below, but could still want to swarm because the queen 'feels' the hive is out of space to lay brood. We would lay the hive down--then do brood counts, and checking the health of the hive etc. then replace the top box on the bottom board and continue the same way with the rest of the boxes.
Michael, thank you for taking the time to reply, this has been invaluable to me.
For my area of NC, typically Tulip Poplar is our only main flow. That occurs from April 1 through April 30th. After that, you usually get enough blackberries and clover to have hives build up nicely, but not enough for a surplus. All through mid June, when the dearth hits. Then it's not a drop of nectar until August 1. Some years we get a good fall flow for them to put stores on (of which they have none because they used everything up in the dearth), but some years you get nothing and it's just feed feed feed. Making nucs around June 1 is suicide, as robbing frenzies will destroy anything you make. YOu can make up nucs in August, but it's a gamble (that I've lost in the past), as if there is no flow it'll cost you an arm and a leg to get them to store in time for winter (which around here is usually mid to late November). So, for me, I've found nucs made any time in April or early May will do fine. Sometimes they build up too soon and make colonies. Depends on the year. All seasonal, obviously.
So for me, the woodenware may cost less, but not much less than 10 frame equipment. Medications may need to be less than with production colonies, but not less than half for me. Time wise you'll win out on, I'll give you that.
As far as getting them from the south, I consider myself in the south, lol. I could buy some queens and get them maybe a week or two before I can make them myself, but it really isn't worth it in my opinion. I usually graft some time around the second week in Feb through the last week in Feb. I get queens (my own) around April 1 at the latest. This year the queen in my cell finisher squeezed her way past the excluder and destroyed my first batch of cells. So I got set back one round. I'll make up mating nucs tomorrow, and should have laying queens by the end of the month, maybe first week in April. That's good enough for me.
1. I have a package of bees in a hive. I let it die, and I reorder a package of bees. Costs about $85.
2. I have a package of bees in a hive. I know it will die, so I get a nuc set up ready to go. I have a one hive system, so I need to buy a queen. $25 plus shipping (usually around $15, unless bought locally). I need a new two story nuc system, with frames, which if I buy retail (which I don't, I build my own, but the guy with one hive won't) it could cost me $65 easily. So now I'm at $90-115. Now add in some feed and medications, and I could easily be at $125-135.
Now, between the options, I realize that number two you'll get to keep the woodenware, so if you need to repeat the process next time it will cost you much less. But initially it costs more. Which goes to my point about the small time guy that has his packages continuously die out on him. He goes to his wife and says "I know that I was spending $85 on a package per year, and that wasn't working, I realize that. And you don't want me to spend another $85 on a package only to have it die, which is reasonable. So why don't we spend $130 on a nuc, in addition to my package, so I won't have to spend the $85 next year?"
The system works when you get into a larger number of hives, even as low as 10-20. But at the low hive count, I don't see how it makes sense.
You certainly have more experience with nucs than I do, so if you have nailed down an overwintering system with nucs, that alone may make the system much more valuable.
But for me, I have a larger loss from nucs in the summer and fall than I do in the winter. I have some nucs that abscond, some that get robbed out (or a combo of the two) and some that get overrun by SHB or Varroa before they could really get strong. So if I could get a 10% loss from overwintering in nucs, that wouldn't be bad, but you'd have to add into it my 30% summer and fall losses, which changes the numbers quite a bit.
I also dispute Dr. Connor's 2.5 hive mentality. I deal with alot of new beekeepers. I think the more colonies you can get when starting off, the better (to a certain degree). You'll see more, be able to compare more, and have more resources in the event things don't go fantastic. But when you tell someone that is starting off the price of the woodenware, the price of the package or nuc, and the price of a full size hive (if they want to buy it), along with the price of a suit, smoker, hive tool, feeder pail, ect, they start to feel uneasy. You can drop $700 easy to get started with one hive. For a hobby that some have never tried, thats a significant investment in bugs. I get that. Telling them "you know, it really would be better if you could drop another $500 to get started. You really won't be able to see the full benefits unless you put the full $1,200 down." I see people walk away right there. Too expensive. I'd rather just buy honey from a farmer's market. And I don't blame them. Getting started with one hive, seeing if you like it, then expanding from there makes sense to me, financially. If you can afford the extra 1.5 hives, you should. But I think it's wrong to tell people they need to. Just my take on it.
With the tiny bit of experience that I have with bees I have concluded for myself that except for the equipment cost most of the advantages of a nuc are realized by splitting a full size colony when you are speaking low numbers. For instance if you only wanted two hives you will have to invest in four hives worth of equipment but only one time. Four hives worth of equipment would allow you to make 6 to 8 hives in the spring by splitting. At some point you would have to combine the dinks or sell the extra off.
I suppose if you live in an area that experiences droughts you would have to make hard decisions. If you are not going to get a crop anyway you could down size. It is a lot easier to down size then up size I feel.
Nucs are the best way to go for myself and my area. Three years ago I bought three packages for $225.00 and they were all dead by next spring. After learning how to make and keep nucs alive, I have spent almost nothing on my nucs. This past winter has been hard on my bees with a 50% loss of bees, lost 8 main colonies and 2 nucs, I am left with 8 main colonies and 6 nucs. With the way the weather has been over the past few years I just don't feel good about making splits in the spring for fear of losing to much honey.