So, I want to get going in the right direction with my bees.
What's my definition of the right direction? Same as everyone else's: doing what it takes to have healthy, happy, bees.
I'm a univeristy-trained horticulturist who practices nearly-organic vegetable and fruit farming, so I'm quite used to being considered a heretic by all sides. But I know what works for me, with my crops, on my land.
I acquired three colonies from swarm cut-outs on my farm earlier this year. I wasn't expecting to keep bees, so I had no preparation and have been desperately playing catch-up over the last six weeks.
The hives are doing what appears to me to be "OK", after much drama during the first four or five weeks. I believe that only one of the original swarm-queens survived, and that the other two were developed from emergency queens. I've (finally!) got solid evidence of queen-laid brood.
The hives will have to be moved to a better location on my farm before winter.
I have a mixed assortment of equipment on each hive now (result of various pieces of advice to do this or that along the way). I need to sort this out in the next week or two. I also have a mish-mosh of frames: tied-in comb from the cut-out; waxed foundation and Pierco plastic frames. The last time I looked there wasn't an extraordinary amount of new comb being drawn.
We are in a comparative dearth (have been for about two weeks). I am feeding 1:1 syrup about 1-2 pints per day/per hive in a Beemax top feeder. I was worried that they needed extra calories to draw out enough comb for winter stores and more brood space as they got started late and only recently got their queens organized to produce a big flush of brood. I haven't inspected since I began feeding about 10 days ago. I will probably open the hives this weekend. So far they have consumed 5.3 lbs of sugar per hive.
I am monitoring mites weekly with sticky boards. I am seeing only 1 per 24 hrs/per hive or zero, at least so far. I am monitoring because that's what makes me feel comfortable that I am not missing something huge. And it is an easy, non-invasive thing to do. (University-training in objective numbers is hard to ignore!) Knowing the actual numbers is something that in my veg and fruit operation makes it easier for me to to watch and observe more often than spring into to action.
What would be the top things you would recommend I do in this situation given that I am a new beekeeper with a TF-ish outlook, with recently cut-out bees from 2013 swarms, and with an unanticipated, intense interest in the intricacies of bee-life? I actually have almost no need for honey as I don't use much in my household - I want the girls primarily for their pollination services. They can keep the sweet stuff as payback for their work.
I specifically want to solicit opinions about the best arrangement (numbers/sizes) of Lang boxes to aim for in preparation for winter. I agonized over hive style/design in the week or so before the cut-out, but in the end opted to go with what was "standard" and easily available because I thought it would make it easier for my first year or so.
And what would be ideal frame densities within the boxes (a little wonky as some of the cut-out comb is a bit odd-shaped, or slumpy, but still in use for this season)?
Is the modest feeding I am doing a good thing or just setting them up for later problems? Full goldenrod flow is about 7-14 days away and I have 30-40 acres of it. Right now they are strongly working the Joe-pye weed, with some white clover, late alfalfa and queen anne's lace in the mix, plus a bit of milkweed re-bloom on a late-mowed field. They have easy access to water from streams and ponds, and I offer a water bowl near the hives, as well. The styrofoam Beemax feeders are working as advertised, but I don't like the fact that they sort of seal up the top of the hive from passive ventilation through the inner cover.
I'm OK with the mite levels I'm seeing, right now, but at what numbers might a non-purist, but generally TF-minded, beekeeper consider action necessary, and what action might that be, given that I am new and these are new, young-queen colonies of modest size from this year's swarm bees?
I don't want to miss something important out of newbie ignorance.
Thanks for your advice! I am steadily reading my way though all the posts here on Beesource. Hugely helpful, so far.