Every winter beekeepers reflect on the last season and make their plans for the next. Sometimes this reflection is painful, frustrating, enlightening or very satisfying. Many times, all of the above.
There are a lot of things to think about before the next season starts. Cold rainy winter months are a great time to further educate yourself to strive for more success next year.That's the beauty of Beesourse!
The first few years you have bees, It's hard to make plans for the next year, when so much depends on how your bees over winter and next season's weather. A person need to see how it goes and 'go with the flow' That's difficult to do, when you need to be making your equipment during the winter months, Prior to the next season. If all your bees over winter well, how much equipment will you need to accommodate spring growth? If you build a bunch of equipment and most of your bees perish, then what do you do? Are you willing to 'buy back into it' next spring with new packages or nucs?
How does a beginner order queens six months before they know what they will need the next year? When ordering queens from producers, many times if you don't place your order early, you'll find queens are sold out for the season.
These are questions a beginner faces, the uncertainty of the future. But it does get easier with experience and the confidence that goes with it.
Here is an example of how I 'went with the flow' this year:
2013 ended up being a year for expansion for me. Instead of selling all the queens I reared as I had planned, I kept more colonies, let them grow to overwintering strength and increased my hive numbers. I would have done this anyway, but did it on a much larger scale because of one very important thing.
The price of sugar dropped dramatically from previous years.
From $15.50 in 2011 to $9.89 in 2013 for 25# C&H sugar at Costco. That was a big unexpected price decrease and I took advantage of it as well as I could.
It was a good year to make a lot of nucs.
When you make nucs, you have to feed. And have to be prepared to make more equipment. Lots of work and expense.
But in my opinion, your dollar is well spent when investing in a hive. You also invest in your ability.
I now have 80 nucs overwintering instead of about 25. In 2014, I will have the choice of keeping these nucs and allowing them to become production hives,making mating nucs and raising more queens or selling the overwintered nucs in early spring to generate some revenue to pay for more equipment and supplies. I will likely do all three.
I also took the opportunity to feed some colonies aggressively after the flow in order to get more new frames drawn out for use next year. Many times, I have found the lack of drawn frames was the only thing holding my back from progress. Getting frames drawn is still one of my highest priorities for good management and growth.
Although it wasn't planned, I took advantage of the low sugar prices and slightly changed direction for the year. No, that isn't quite right. I didn't change direction, I continued to progress After the flow was over and hives are generally doing nothing more than existing.
Your products from the hive can vary from year to year once the hive is well established, Some years it can be honey production, possibly pollination services, some years colony increases, selling nucs, raising and selling a few extra queens, harvesting wax for cosmetic or candle production. You can't be set in stone before the next season presents itself. I guess what I am saying is, If it ends up being a bad year for honey production, look for other opportunities to make the hive work for you.
Managing your hives is not only keeping them healthy and productive, but getting the biggest bang for your buck.
Remaining flexible and taking advantage of sales or seasonal opportunities. Make your hives work for you, not against you.
A hobbyist has the luxury of flexibility. One doesn't necessarily have to make a profit, but you can easily make your hives pay for themselves. No need to be a drain on the old bank account. A hobby that at least pays for itself makes for a happy supportive spouse.
My 2014 plans are to simply continue with building my hive numbers for both queen rearing and honey production. Apply what I figured out last year. Buy as many 8 frame deeps, black rite cell and unassembled frames as I possibly can afford, in bulk during Mann Lakes Black Friday sale. With the inevitable price increases and value of the dollar declining, those prices will likely never be seen again.
With the fact I am only three hours from commercial apple production in Eastern Washington State and my hives have reproduced like rabbits over the last few years, I have to also consider pallitizing my hives and getting into pollination on a small scale (50-100 hives). I already have the truck and trailer to do the job and it would fund my bees for the rest of the year, pay for II equipment and allow me to continue research and developement. I already have this many hives, but am not palletized yet and won't jump into pollination until I have researched the in's and out's. 2015 would be the year for that if I do it.
(Although this thread is directed at hobbyist's, you commercial guys please chime in. We know the scale of your business is quite different, but we would be interested to hear of your challenges and goals for the upcoming season too)
I'll keep on making swarm traps...