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  1. #1
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    Default Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Do you ever get that feeling when someone puts something you have been thinking about in to a nice neat concise terminology that makes sense and summarizes your thoughts into a cogent concept?

    I do, all the time. Itís okay though, I donít have to put a name to everything I think about. But I can innovate and modify it.

    The same thing happened recently at NEOBAís Big Bee Buzz. I was enjoying a presentation by Sam Comfort, a beekeeper of some renown who keeps bees in a bit of an unconventional way. His current push is for box hives. He is also big into topbar hives and even calls himself a bartender.

    Hilarious, you had to be there.

    I have been suggesting for some time that to succeed in treatment-free beekeeping, one needs to understand how to increase, growing oneís own queens and though I donít use the term ďoutbreed the mites,Ē it does work. I have found that it takes several years of outbreeding the mites and then at some point, the bees quit dying in large part. Donít confuse outbreeding the mites with causing brood breaks, I donít rely on brood breaks for mite control.

    So my idea is to focus on perfecting rapid expansion methods rather than spending time studying about what treatments to use, how to use them, and burning money on them. And Iím going to call it Expansion Model Beekeeping. Sam thinks itís a good idea too. He said it first. Full credit to that.

    What are the tools?

    A far better investment than any treatment is a queen castle. I have been promoting queen castles since I found them. They are hives where one essentially divides a full size box into two or three frame nucs and then uses those nucs, with full size normal frames, to raise queens, either as traditional mating nucs, or as a place where one can put a swarm or supersedure cell with its frame and bees to hatch out and mate and found a new hive. Small hives like this are machines, excellent at rapid expansion, comb drawing, brooding, and growing. They can quickly be moved into a larger nuc or used to requeen a lackluster hive whose main problem may be disease issues.

    If caught in the right time, a hive preparing to swarm can yield as many as a dozen new queens and nucs, but only if you have the equipment to put them in. If managed to produce queens, a hive can produce dozens at a time, every few weeks. Queen castles can turn all these queens who successfully mate into new hives. These new hives draw comb and expand at an amazing rate. At the same time, you are placing firm selective pressure on these hives to deal with and survive mites and other maladies. In just a couple generations, diseases are no longer a major problem in your day to day management of hives. With more selection techniques applied to the resulting queens, you can do the same thing with gentleness and productivity.

    But this isnít a quick Ďtake two and call me in the morningí solution. Itís not a treatment, something you can toss money at and expect miracle results. Treatments donít produce miracle results anyway, but thatís a topic for another day. This is something that takes learning and as Iíve said often enough before, you gotta jump right in. Timidity at the beginning often ends in failure. Weíre working with bees whoíve for the most part not been bred for survival, instead relying on treatments to keep them alive and focused almost solely on production. Furthermore, mass numbers of bees, queens, and nucs, are shipped out of the south every year because people demand early queens and packages and nucs. But these bees are not accustomed to your climate. Their mothers just survived a winter that looks more like your Halloween than the proper winters youíre accustomed to. And this is the case for just about everyone north of 35 degrees latitude which is a major portion of the population.

    If youíre getting bees from the South, your bees are not accustomed to your conditions. This leads to common problems like when bees starve to death inches from capped honey. For some ridiculous reason, this common problem is pawned off on mites or some other disease. I had it happen a fair number of times and always to bees originally raised in climates with milder winters like California or Georgia. Itís an unacceptable condition and it can be avoided for the most part by maintaining bees well adapted to your conditions.

    Catching local swarms is another excellent aspect of Expansion Model Beekeeping. Sam Comfort mentions that he puts up 100 swarm traps every year. Swarm traps are a good way to enhance your collection with new and varied genetics, whether they are from local feral swarms or from other local kept hives. Concerned about watered down genetics? Your winters and diseases and mites will take care of those issues for you. Use selective pressure to your benefit. Allow the natural selective pressure to weed out the weakest hives for you. Remember, your focus is on out-breeding the problem and adapting to it, just like Nature does. We have a strong and virulent organism in the honey bee. It has an incredible ability to adapt and survive in all sorts of conditions and pressures. But it needs some time and new generations

    The idea behind this whole philosophy is operating, at least for now, like you want to be a commercial beekeeper in five years. The focus is increase. Pretty quickly as Iíve found out, the bees quit dying out so much. Now Iím at the point where I have the number of hives I want to have. I have the volume of equipment that I can sustain. So what do I do with the extra bees?

    The first thing you can do is continue to develop strong, gentle, and productive bees. You can do that by continuing to breed or split from your best queens and requeening poor performers. If you have extra at the end of the year and donít want to overwinter a certain number, combining is easy by killing off the less favored queen and placing her hive on the better hive. There are various ways to do that, newspaper combines and the like. You can keep some hives as nucs and they can be used to draw comb without feeding, or keep queens in reserve.

    Another thing you can do is use your bees to make a little more money or give gives or use them as trade. You can do this by raising queens, selling nucs, or selling packages or shook swarms (packages with their original queen). Maybe you donít want to ship or sell out of town, but you can help your friends and neighbors get started. Form small cooperatives where you can rely upon your neighbors to provide you a frame of brood to restart a hive with a missing queen, or market your honey together.

    It would be fantastic if more beekeeping associations were able to provide the packages, queens, and nucs that their members need without needing to have them shipped in. If a handful of members were able to provide even limited numbers, it would be enough to get their friends started or help associates sustain their hives and replace their dead outs. The focus needs to be on local production and adaptation rather than buying bees seemingly Ďoff the shelf.í

    The ultimate goal is beekeepers whose bees donít die in large numbers and who have a strong support group to help them grow and learn how to keep bees without resorting to medicating them or expending large amounts of energy trying to keep them alive. They should stay alive on their own and leave you the beekeeper to do the things you started beekeeping to do.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    >Do you ever get that feeling when someone puts something you have been thinking about in to a nice neat concise terminology that makes sense and summarizes your thoughts into a cogent concept?

    Yes. It often crystallizes something that was only a vague idea, even if it really didn't not significantly change the idea, yet it does in some way make it different....

    You said one day, that I was managing my hives by the box. You were right, but I had never thought about it before, even though I had said I was splitting by the box. I was just doing what was working under the circumstances. Now I realize that mostly I do manage by the box.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  3. #3

    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Sol im buying 2 full colonies on 10 frame each! This May!

    My plan is to focus on increasing colonies. I was thinking to split these 2 colonies once more in Jun but after reading this post of yours I considering making more nucs instead.

    I run only top bar hives and 12 bar nucs/bait hives. I have built enough equipment for this year;
    4 x long TBHs and 4 x 12 top bar nucs.

    Those long top bar hives have entrance on both ends with follower boards which i can use as 2 hives.

    Even though we have (apparently) no wild swarms here im thinking to put up a few bait hives and see what happens.

    Are you sure i will not weaken the small colonies too much by making too many nucs with them???

    If for example the mother colony produces 10 QC in Jun, I can leave 2 QC in the mother colony, split the old Queen into a new hive and still have 8 more QC to make nucs! How many nucs can I make from one Buckfast colony (locally adapted)? I dont want to weaken the colonies too much.

    Thanks!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    The thing is you do get to the point where you just don't need any more bees. I basically did this for my first 3 years - went from 1 package to 20 full size hives plus many nucs. Very little in the way of losses during that period, but at that point it was more than I could take care of in my spare time. I have 8 hives this spring.

    You have to know what you are going to do with extra bees before you get to that point, and be confident that you have done what you need to do to legally sell bees that you can be proud of. Plan ahead, instead of just crossing that bridge when you get to it.
    Since '09-25H-T-Z6b

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Che Guebuddha View Post
    Are you sure i will not weaken the small colonies too much by making too many nucs with them???
    How many nucs can I make from one Buckfast colony (locally adapted)?
    I can't tell you for sure, it's really up to your hives and your weather conditions. One of the benefits of queen castles is that they can share warmth a little bit. You can certainly do too much and thereby weaken the hives. A few years back, I split a bit too heavily and a bit of brood got chilled. You'll have to try it out to see exactly what you can do and how it will work.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    >The thing is you do get to the point where you just don't need any more bees.

    I think the main point is to always have more bees than you need so you can take losses and make them up. You can always combine just before the flow for more production, or just before winter for better wintering, and therefore end up with less hives. Less hives is easy.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    When I built my first long hive, it struck me that it would make a great and very versatile queen castle, and I know that at least one commercial beekeeper uses long hives in that way.

    The entrance to the couple of long hives I've built is just a slot or recess routed out of the edge of one 3/4" ply top board. That gives bees a 3/8" high slot for an entrance, and the entrance can easily be adjusted by sliding a stick across the stringer that reinforces the front of the hive. I made these top boards to fit my 8 frame Langstroth boxes, in case I ever had to super the long hive. This seems unlikely, but it's also been an advantage in that it's easier to move one of the smaller top boards than to handle a big sheet of ply. (Each hive has a "roof" of galvanized roofing panel.

    Anyway, if a person wanted to use a long hive as a queen castle, he could easily fit 8 or so three-frame colonies into it, using division boards. Or any combination of larger nuc-size colonies, by using division boards to cut up the space, and those edge-routed top boards for entrances. If you need to expand one of these 3-frame colonies into a 6 framer, all you have to do is pull out a division board and flip one of the edge-routed top boards over, so that you now have a single entrance. These edge-routed top entrances are very versatile. If you want to alternate entrances on each colony, one in front, one in back and so forth, all it would take is turning the top board end for end.

    A wonderful thing about these long hives, if put on 32" legs, is that they are really easy on the back to work, and convenient in several ways. I liked my first one so much that I took a couple hours Saturday afternoon and built another.

    twohives.jpg

    Each hive costs about 50 bucks, not counting frames.

    I really like the idea of outbreeding problems, and the suitability of locally sourced bees. I got my first nuc from a kind local beekeeper, and so far it's booming right along.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    We are building a few TBH's for this season (Les Crowder's plans...but reworked for repeatability and accuracy), and I'm thinking the same thing (even more so with the trapezoid shape)...3-4 small combs of bees is "approximately" a sphere....good for a mating nuc).

    deknow
    The perils of benefactors; The blessings of parasites; Blindness blindness and sight -Joni Mitchell 'Shadows and Light'

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    Timidity at the beginning often ends in failure.
    This is one of the most solid tid bits of beekeeping knowledge ever.

    EDIT

    Just to expand on this a little bit for anyone who cares. My first year in beekeeping I made a lot of mistakes. The majority of my mistakes were the result of knowing something was wrong but second guessing myself. I would attempt to fix a problem, half way through the process I would second guess myself, wonder if I was doing more harm then could and then stop with correcting the issue. This more often then not lead to a problem developing past the point of being able to second guess what was going on but having let so much time slip by that it was now much more of a nuisance to deal with.

    Prime example, my first year I had a queen with a horrible laying pattern. I knew from the pictures I had seen, the books I had read, and the blogs I had browsed that this pattern was junk. I knew I needed to re-queen. At the very least pinch her and let the bees raise another but I wasn't 100% sure. I didn't (and still don't) have any kind of a mentor and I figured I would give her a couple of weeks before finalizing that decision. A couple weeks turned into a month and a half before the queen either absconded or was crushed by me during a manipulation. Sixteen days later a new queen is in the hive, two weeks later she's laying worker bees. Three weeks later the worker bees are hatching, and two weeks after that fall had set in and the hive just didn't have enough to catch up. There's all kinds of things I could have and should have done to help this hive along but I was to timid to add more brood, to timid to shake more nurse bees, to timid to pinch the queen when I first noticed the problem and the result was a season lost and a 65$ package down the drain, albeit, a valuable lesson learned though.

    All in all it ended up being a moot point because of the splits I made off my over wintered bees the next year, but I always put in my notebooks while working my yards as a reminder 'Plan the work and work the plan'.

    I still make mistakes, but rarely are the mistakes the result of inaction.
    Last edited by Moon; 04-01-2013 at 02:57 PM.
    We the willing have done so much with so little for so long we can now do anything with nothing

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Good post Moon.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    This spring has been pretty disappointing for my little beekeeping operation.

    Did a bunch of hives die? Outbreak of AFB? Bear attack? Skunks? No, no, no, and I just found him dead on the road this morning. RIP, neighborhood skunk. Skunks are territorial by the way.

    No, it's the weather. The weather sucks. Last year, I grafted queens near the end of March, meaning nucs were ready for sale in mid May. Also, then I was in college and had a pretty flexible schedule. This year, I have it worked out so I would graft on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, and make up mating nucs on the next Saturday.

    A few problems:

    Number one was the weather. Virtually every Thursday was nasty weather. Not a good time to go mucking around in hives, grafting into queen cups and getting cell builders going. By the time I did have a free Thursday, it was mid April.

    Number two: Last year, I made a huge mistake and grafted from the wrong queen. She was nice enough, but her hive likes to keep some queen cups around (meaning swarmy) and her parentage was a little mean (meaning her progeny have a higher chance as well.) When the nucs came out, I realized my mistake and rather than selling any of these queens, I kept them. I sold the good ones. I had to fall on my sword or some goofy analogy like that. So this year comes around and none of the hives in my home yard are of the configuration, strength, and genetics to graft from and to serve as a cell builder as I like to do. One was correctly sorted to serve as a cell builder but it is mean and will be requeened. Long story short, I need a bunch of my own queens to requeen a bunch of my own hives from this line. I did save a number from the other line last year and several of those are good breeders, but they're at my outyards, an inconvenience.

    Third, weather again. As you may have noticed reported, we are having a cold spell. Mating nucs are already made up, virgins are in, and these hives have no way to be fed. They could starve in a few short days. Today is one of those days. This is the latest it has ever snowed in recorded history in NW Arkansas. It is May, and it is snowing. It's not freezing necessarily, but it has been snowing. No bees are flying.

    Hopefully, all or most of these mating nucs will survive this mess. And due to prior commitments I am not going to be able to start another batch of queens until next week. Fortunately for this area, someone has predicted a cool wet summer. However, I have a theory about predicting the future. Humans suck at it. And I don't mean "hypothesis," I mean theory, as in "explains the data."

    I am doing what I can and will do what it takes to make good on my queen and nuc reservations. But this is one of those years where things don't work like you think they ought to.

    That all being said, my established hives are doing well. Only lost one this winter, one absconded this spring. As usual, I will miss neither.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Solomon, these problems made me smile, they are common to all queen raisers. (Other than the weak hives).

    Queen raising is not like honey production. For queen raising there is an exact schedule and it has to be followed, to the day, rain or shine. If you want to be successful, you have to devise a way to work in the rain, if need be. For you, that could be as simple as getting your wife to hold an umbrella over you & the hive while you work it.

    The difference between doing a few grafts per season, and larger scale queen raising, is organisation, focus on that.

    The vicious hive you were going to use as a cell raiser? Use it. It will probably be a good cell builder. You can if you wish requeen it, and still continue to use it for cell raising.

    Your breeder queen, move the hive to your site where you are raising the cells, that will pay off timewise longer term.

    Your nucs, should always have enough feed to last at least a couple of months irrespective of weather. When queen raising, always base weather predictions on worst case scenario, Bad weather can and will happen, and there is too much to loose to leave anything to chance. You cannot be sitting at home worrying that your mating nucs might be starving.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    For anyone interested in the method, it's not practical or indeed possible to keep a queen castle mating nuc stocked with months worth of stores. The idea behind my queen castles is a mating nuc made of full sized frames. This gives utility and the ability to expand those mating nucs into larger and even full sized hives.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    I get the concept of Expansion Model Beekeeping. What are your thoughts and or suggestions when one is 1) not in a particularly good area for raising bees and 2) already at the carrying capacity of their land for bees. Establish new yards?

    I have some concerns about how much control a beekeeper can have over land that they do not own or otherwise control. Given that bees can forage over a large area it seems as though expansion model beekeeping might not be a universal solution. Am I over thinking this?
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    It's very possible to have 2 months or more stores in a 3 frame nuc, I do it all the time. The trick is do not overstock the bees, which also makes it faster to find the queens.

    I have raised queens as a full time job you know.
    44 years, been commercial, outfits up to 4000 hives, now 120 hives and 200 nucs as a hobby, selling bees. T (mostly).

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    What are your thoughts and or suggestions when one is 1) not in a particularly good area for raising bees and 2) already at the carrying capacity of their land for bees. Establish new yards?
    Conditions are important. I also live in a difficult area for bees. There are no commercial beekeepers here. There's obviously not much to be had. My season is very short. A quick spring, long summer, short fall, and that leaves very little time to work on expansion. It's spring or not at all. In summer, feeding is dangerous. There are times when if you feed a hive, you've killed it. I imagine things are a bit different in your area, you have a long winter and a short beekeeping season, I imagine. I can't speak from experience on how to deal with that, but I would suggest researching into the methods of Kirk Webster and Michael Palmer. They both are heavily invested in nucs and they seem to work. Nucs don't survive the summer here. I've had to adapt. For instance, I cannot keep more than 8-10 colonies in a single yard or robbing becomes excessive and destructive.


    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    I have some concerns about how much control a beekeeper can have over land that they do not own or otherwise control. Given that bees can forage over a large area it seems as though expansion model beekeeping might not be a universal solution. Am I over thinking this?
    There is this pernicious rumor that one needs to control genetics in a given area for it to work. I don't see this to be the case. I have no control over my genetics. I have feral hives and other beekeepers within drone range. I don't know any treatment free beekeeper who controls their area.

    Expansion doesn't necessarily mean expanding indefinitely. The idea is that you outbreed your problems. Or, you use it to raise your own queens to replace poor performers. The focus is on sustainability and learning to keep bees on the breeding level rather than learning about treatments. I don't believe even treated hives can survive under a single hive in the back yard type regime. The differences in losses are not that great between treated and untreated hives. That one hive is going to die eventually, treated or not.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Solomon Parker View Post
    Conditions are important. I also live in a difficult area for bees. There are no commercial beekeepers here. There's obviously not much to be had. My season is very short. A quick spring, long summer, short fall, and that leaves very little time to work on expansion.
    sounds like a tough area for bees alright solomon. did you get to harvest any honey at all last year?
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    Yes, our honey season is done by June, so hives that build up quickly and bring in a lot of honey right on time are important. I harvested 17 gallons from five hives last summer, late June. During that time I also produced about 20 nucs/queens, some were sold, the rest used to requeen and expand. I went from ten to ~25. Conditions prevailed last year as they are doing this year. Only last year, conditions were excellent until June. This year, they've been terrible.
    Solomon Parker, Parker Farms, ParkerFarms.biz
    11 Years Treatment-Free, ~25 Colony Baseline

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    usually done by june here too. last year they were already capping honey at this time. i'm not even seeing new wax yet this year.

    btw, i have a long time friend who lives in rogers that i visit occasionally, would like to visit your apiary if possible.
    journaling the growth of a treatment free apiary started in 2010. 20+/- hives

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Expansion Model Beekeeping

    We have gone from high 30s to nearly 80 in a week here. A week and a half ago we had snow. We seemed to have just skipped spring altogether and jumped right into summer.
    Adam - Zone 5A
    www.adamshoney.com

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