Management for swarm control in a horizontal tbh. Can we hash it over here a bit?
As the spring SLOWLY warms up, and the maples bloom here, I am wondering about how to manage my TBH to control swarming.
I have been talking with other top bar beeks recently on and off the forum in an effort to get our heads around how to best manage a tbh through the season to keep available room in the hive for brood rearing and honey storage. This is a central focus through the season for all beeks, but with tbh's it is different, as there is generally no supering, and one is working with a finite space.
Also, there are a relatively small number of top bar beeks who have several seasons or more of experience to draw upon for advice.
As I understand it, during the early spring, the brood nest is in expansion mode. The queen is laying as many eggs as the bees can cover, heat, and take care of - depending on how many bees made it through the winter (or came in the nuc or package), what the weather is like, and how much forage is available. During this time, we have been advised to "keep the brood nest open" by putting empty bars into the next here and there, in order to keep the bees in build-up mode and keep house bees making wax and giving the queen comb to lay in.
But at a certain point, the nest gets big enough. In a Lang, beeks just put on another box, and the queen is reluctant to move up anyway, so the bees get to storing. But in a horizontal hive, it's a bit different. At that time - if left alone - the bees will kind of "hem in" the queen by establishing a point in the horizontal nest, where the comb is filled with nectar and pollen so that the queen will go no further. She likes to be efficient in her movements and likes to keep distances short between eggs, so this full comb turns her around, back into the nest to look for empty cells. From there on, the bees tend to just build up comb after comb of stores until they run out of room in the box. The nest quits growing as the stores expand, the brood continues to develop in a relatively finite space through the summer and then the nest contracts in the Fall as things shut down for winter.
We are told that, through the honey-gathering season we have to harvest honey periodically to provide the bees more room to store.
During the warm season, if they run out of room to lay, or run out of room to store, the bees are likely to swarm. So we have to manage our limited horizontal space in order to keep either situation from happening.
So how do we do that most effectively?
I feel like the conversation is always in one part or another, but never comprehensive enough so that (I at least) totally get it.
Last year, I got so preoccupied with "keeping the brood nest open" that I kept putting bars into the nest into late June, and the bees could never "reign in" the queen. So eventually I had a brood nest that was spread over much of the 4 foot hive and there were so many bees, that I thought the lid was going to pop off. The bees prepared to swarm by building a number of queen cells, and I had to do a split to keep them from swarming.
On the other hand, others I've spoken to, get focused on keeping empty bars in the storage end, and it's pretty much like empty honey supers to the bees in that it doesn't change their urge to swarm if the nest is teaming with bees and the queen has run out of room to lay, and with a flow on - they swarm.
So I'm wondering, how best to mange the hive throughout the season? It's got to be different things at different times - and it has to be the right things at the right times. But what is the most efficient method?
Would it be best keep the brood nest open with interspersed bars during spring build-up, keeping house bees, nurse bees and the queen working steadily - but not TOO many too fast, as then the nest will get huge almost overnight and you'll be out of room. So a bar here and there every few days to a week to keep them busy and open during say, May - June for me. That's prime "swarm-time".
Then, once the initial "swarm time" is over, perhaps I should then focus my efforts on keeping bars open in the MIDDLE of the hive. In the transition area where brood switches to stores. This is a question, and a theory at this point. I'm wondering if keeping bars open in the middle of the hive allows the bees to better control what they do with the space, and help me to avoid an "either or" situation. So lets say I try to keep an empty bar or two in the "transition" area of the tbh; never removing brood, and moving any stores that I can to the far end, or harvesting and replacing with empty bars. If the bees want to give the queen room to lay, they keep the comb open to that. If they want to store, they store.
Does this make any sense?
How successful are you at managing to keep your Top Bar hives from swarming?
How do you manage your hives through the season to keep them unrestricted both brood and storage in this restricted space?
Or do you just have other questions along these lines that you can add to the discussion?