Experiment 2012/13 - Acquiring drawn comb
The beginning beekeeper wants to sample his honey in the first year. In his second year, he wants to avoid swarming and get good honey production from his overwintered hive. Lofty objectives. In some areas of the country, it can be done without much effort or cost, but in most areas Mother Nature does not provide enough forage to make it easy. The honeybee colony has limits on their capabilities, and those limits are intensely affected by forage availability.
Having empty, drawn comb simplifies swarm prevention and adds motivation for increased honey production. Both objectives are more easily met by simply having sufficient drawn comb inventory.
The intent of this experiment is to get some extra comb drawn in the first year. The concept adds some costs to the first year, but pays dividends in the second year. Be aware that this approach is a drastic shift away from conventional thinking. We will be combining two strong starter colonies in mid summer. In other words, forfeiting a strong colony. Radical! Hear me out, please.
Two packages were purchased towards the end of our normal "main flow." The purchase of 2 starters is normally recommended for the beginning beekeeper for the benefits of comparison and support of weaker of the two. As it turned out, one colony was much slower developing than the other.
A late start was deliberate. We wanted to worst-case this demonstration so that it would be repeatable almost anywhere in the country. And worst case it was. We spent the price of another package on sugar to feed the two through the summer doldrums and through the combined colony fall preps. In the early going, we fed just enough to keep them going - a quart of 1 to 1 on average, every 3 days. As they grew, the amount increased steadily to a gallon, each, per week. Changed feeding methods three times.
Target date for combining the two was Sept. 1. Other priorities delayed that for two weeks. Sept.1 was selected because fall brood nest reduction starts about the end of Sept. and the delay of 2 weeks was not significant.
Now, for the radical stuff:
One package was hived in 3 shallow supers of foundation and the other in a shallow and a deep of foundation - deep at the bottom. Both colonies started drawing comb in the shallow at the top of both configurations, as expected. The colony in 3 shallows expanded laterally across the top shallow, filling that box, before expanding downward into the next lower shallow. They did the same thing at the next lower level. Meanwhile, the colony with a single shallow only drew a few frames in their shallow at the top before starting drawing frames below in the deep.
Both colonies superseded their queen early in their growth. The deep unit opted to SS first and did not have much brood. The all-shallow unit waited until thay had substantial capped brood for replacement bees. So, the all-shallow unit got ahead of the deep unit and the deep unit never caught up in strength. When they were combined, the deep unit still had mostly frames of foundation in their top shallow outside of those used initially when hived. A few frames of honey where they started. Fortunately, the deep was mostly drawn, with good brood.
The combine was assembled with the deep of brood on the bottom, a shallow and a half of brood from the all-shallow unit (other half - capped Domino honey), The unfinished super from the top of the deep unit, and two full shallows of capped Domino at the top. Oops, neglected to mention that a fourth super had been added to the all-shallow unit in late summer. At the time of combining, that unit had four shallows - 2 brood and 2 drawn and capped. The stack combined was a deep and 5 shallows, filled on a work day with bees.
Too many bees and too much brood for mid Sept. in this area. Upped the syrup feeding to a gallon every 3 days to encourage backfilling of the broodnest through early Oct. The foragers were bringing both nectar and pollen on a small scale. If they were interested in protein supplement, it was replaced. Periodic checks through Oct. showed that they were indeed backing the broodnest down to the deep. And foraging continued through Nov. and early Dec. (unusual season) We slacked off on feeding in mid Oct to about a gallon a week into early Nov. when it was stopped completely.
The weekend before Christmas, we finally had a couple of nights below freezing. Early in the morning, three supers of capped Domino was removed from the top gently to be extracted between now and Feb. The cluster is a little oversized, but is located below two full supers and we expect them to winter well. All the answers will not be available until April, but we should have enough drawn comb to get real production in 2013.
Worst-casing this demonstration created a lot of feed jockying that the beginner would not be prepared to cope with or implement. Most of that extra cost and effort would be offset by starting two colonies early enough to have them grow on the full spring flow. At combine time he could pilfer a few frames of honey for his own use.
It also would not be necessary to sacrifice a colony at combining time. We pinched a queen that we considered less than desirable. If two normally developed colonies were to be combined, a nuc could be generated in the process for overwintering.
All in all, a fun project to keep me out of the pubs. Do with it what you will.