Chapter 1, First Drone of the Year
This year I'm trying a method of increase designed hopefully to maximize the resulting number of colonies from the available resources. The tradeoff being an increased amount of equipment and decreased colony size.
I came rather abruptly to the need for a more efficient increase method last year when I was able to wander around the yard and pick up a handful of dead virgin queens, the ones killed by the first who hatched and then dumped out the door.
So this year, I am trying something new to me and which is a sort of a hybrid between different methods of others. I don't have a very long beekeeping season, perhaps March through June if the rain holds out, so I can't do many cycles of splitting or queen rearing.
So I came up with the following method.
When the hives are in buildup mode for the main season, I select about one third of overwintered colonies to be honey producers and/or mothers of the next generation of queens. I take the best colony not included in the first category and groom it to become a cell builder. I graft 2-3 dozen queens from a mix of the mothers and let them be raised in the cell builder. I remove all the queens from the remaining two thirds of colonies and place them and a frame or two of brood in nucs and then use the remaining brood and bees to start mating nucs using 'queen castles.' From the queen castles, deserving nucs will graduate to 5-frame or even 10-frame nucs while undeserving nucs will have their queen offed and be merged to high performing nucs to create larger hives. Moderate to good performing nucs will be sold to reduce numbers to the size I want to overwinter with (or have equipment for).
Using this method, my goal is to create a large number of hives from which to pick the best survivors, producers, and the most gentle. Since I don't make or need tons of honey each year, I can maximize profits by selling nucs and get by honey wise by simply setting aside the honey producers from the beginning rather than splitting and disturbing them.
What kind of preparations do I need to do this? The first thing I need is the queen castles. They can be a bit pricey at upwards of $40, fortunately, they can be made for a quarter of the price. So I made 10 3x3s. 30 nucs should easily cover 36 grafts with anything but the best possible failure rate which I'm certainly not expecting this first time around.
I'm starting this thread to document my progress. Feel free to comment, criticize, or offer advice.
Oh, and did I mention I saw the first drone of the year today?